Historians and mathematicians agree: Jordan Spieth will not win the Grand Slam this year.
Too many good players. Too many variables. Too much pressure.
Sorry, but I’m still not convinced.
Spieth didn’t just become the fourth player in the past 60 years to win the first two majors of the year. He also showed a primetime television audience of more than 11 million that he’s good enough to become the first Grand Slam winner of the modern era.
Since it’s officially halftime of major season, let’s recap what we know:
Spieth, who turns 22 on July 27, is the youngest player to win both the Masters and U.S. Open. He’s the youngest two-time major winner since Gene Sarazen in 1922. He’s the youngest U.S. Open winner since Bobby Jones in 1923.
“That’s a piece of golf history,” he said Sunday night, “and as a golf historian, that’s very special and it gives me goosebumps.”
It gives me reason to believe he’s not done yet.
Everything clicked when Spieth won at Augusta – he pured his shots, made every putt he looked at and strolled around like he owned the place. Nothing came easily at the Open. It was a battle. It was imperfect. He rolled in a clutch putt on 16 and hit two perfect shots at 18, but mostly it was guts and guile.
Both major titles are special; the latter was more revealing.
Spieth proved that he can win different ways, with his A-game and then something much less. He proved that he can win on a linksy design, which is useful, because the next two majors are played on the most famous links in the world (Old Course) and a neo-links that certainly looks the part (Whistling Straits). And he proved that luck is now squarely on his side, as it was for Tiger in the early 2000s.
Think about everything that went Spieth's way down the stretch at Chambers Bay: Branden Grace, one of the game’s straightest drivers, blocked a tee shot near the railroad tracks when he was tied for the lead; Louis Oosthuizen’s drive on 18 caught the fairway bunker; Spieth's final drive took a soft bounce on the baked-out fairways and came up short of the bunker; and Dustin Johnson’s approach into the last hung on the back slope instead of funneling back toward the hole. Change any of those outcomes, and it’s a different story.
But that’s not how it all unfolded. Spieth won the Open not by playing perfect golf, but by playing well enough and then waiting for others to make mistakes. Somewhere, Jack and Tiger must’ve been smiling.
Spieth isn’t like those legends, at least not yet. He doesn’t dominate and intimidate. You don’t watch him play and marvel at his raw talent. He simply has an uncanny ability to get the ball in the hole; this season he leads the Tour in putting average, putts per round and lag putting. Hey, good golf isn’t always sexy.
Augusta National and Chambers Bay have little in common, other than they are big ballparks that favor big hitters. Spieth isn’t a bomber – his 291-yard average ranks 69th on Tour – which means he must capitalize on his opportunities, limit his mistakes and lean on his trusty short game.
The scary thing about his U.S. Open performance? “We really grinded,” he said. “I didn’t have my best stuff.”
And yet it was still good enough, the mark of a rare talent.
Now, the sports world’s attention turns to the Old Course at St. Andrews, another course that favors the thumpers who can confidently shape their shots from right-to-left.
Spieth has played there only once, in 2011. Then a freshman at Texas, he and the rest of the U.S. Walker Cuppers stopped by the home of golf on their way to Royal Aberdeen. Because they already have reiterated their commitment to play the week before the Open at the John Deere Classic, Spieth and caddie Michael Greller will have only two-and-a-half days to design a game plan for the biggest tournament of their lives.
It’s also the most unpredictable, with the draw, the bounces and the weather.
Woods won the first two majors of 2002, but he was blown off the course during a wet-and-wild Saturday 81 at Muirfield. Palmer (1960) and Nicklaus (1972) each had a chance to win the third leg of the Slam, but they finished second at the Open, one shot back.
Spieth should receive plenty of resistance from Rory McIlroy, Johnson and the rest of the world’s best, of course, but St. Andrews has a history of crowning golf royalty; Jones, Nicklaus (twice), Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo and Woods (twice) are among those who have won the Open there. The Golden Child may be next in line.
Spieth says his greatest obstacle to the claret jug will be blocking out the noise, managing the hype, staying focused.
His entourage consists of his family, his caddie, his girlfriend, his manager and a few high school friends. Together, they weathered the uncomfortable storm of leading the Masters in wire-to-wire fashion. Two months later, most of the clan went through a similar experience at the U.S. Open; Spieth then overcame the late-round adversity with Greller pumping positive thoughts into his ear.
Spieth’s team supports him, but also keeps him grounded. They won’t let him get sidetracked. Not with this much history at stake.
“Of course the expectations will continue to grow,” said Spieth’s father, Shawn, after the Open. “Most important for me, for us, is to keep it in perspective. He’s still 21. He’s got a lot of golf to play ahead of him. As long as he keeps it in perspective, enjoys it and has fun, he should have fun for a long time.”
The math wizards at FiveThirtyEight.com give Spieth about a 1 percent chance of completing the Grand Slam, and that’s probably true.
Only Ben Hogan, in 1953, won the first two majors and then picked off the Open. There’s too many good players. Too many variables. Too much pressure.
Jack and Tiger couldn’t do it. So there’s no way a 21-year-old could win the first four majors of his career in a four-month span …