AKRON, Ohio – As he made his way through the crowds surrounding the ninth green Wednesday at Firestone Country Club, Jordan Spieth was enveloped by calls for his signature, his attention or both.
Cries of “Jordan! Jordan!” interspersed with pleas for a selfie, along with the occasional “Mike, can you get this signed?” directed at Spieth’s caddie, Michael Greller, who walked closely behind him.
Make no mistake, with defending champion Rory McIlroy out with an injury and eight-time WGC-Bridgestone Invitational champion Tiger Woods nowhere in sight, Spieth is the main draw this week.
Great news for fans, sure. But here’s some bad news for the other 76 players in the field: Spieth is in Northeast Ohio with a chip on his shoulder.
While his season has surpassed every expectation and included more top-three finishes (eight) than results outside the top 10 (seven), Spieth’s most recent start ended in bitter disappointment. A 71st- hole bogey cost him a share of the lead at the Open Championship, and he finished just outside of a playoff that friend Zach Johnson ultimately won.
After months of seemingly every bounce and putt going his way, Spieth is using a rare dose of adversity as a big motivator heading into a pair of high-stakes events.
“I’m hoping to kind of prove, coming off of this last major, that I’ve got like kind of a little bit of revenge that I need to get out from having control of the Open Championship with two holes to go and not closing it out,” Spieth said. “That leaves kind of a bad taste in my mouth.”
Spieth has had other close calls this year, and he has demonstrated the ability to bounce back in quick fashion. A pair of second-place finishes preceded his runaway win at the Masters, and Spieth finished T-3 at the Memorial before capturing the U.S. Open two weeks later.
“The one thing I’ve always said Jordan does great is that he puts the past behind him immediately, whether he’s winning a major or whether we miss out on a playoff by one,” Greller said. “He’s not somebody that’s going to beat himself up over what happened at St. Andrews.”
But the history at stake last month on the Old Course was not lost on Spieth at the time, and after coming so close to a third straight major, he realizes the magnitude of the chance that slipped through his fingers.
“You don’t get many opportunities to contend in a major, in an Open Championship at St. Andrews, in your life,” he said. “So to have that chance and to feel like I was the one in control and to not finish it is a tough feeling on that flight home, especially with Zach and the jug there. I wish that it was in my possession there and not his.”
Spieth reiterated that the emotional toll of his T-4 finish in Scotland was not on the same level as the 2014 Masters, when he forfeited a final-round lead to Bubba Watson. Flying home to a pair of major trophies surely helps to soften that type of blow.
But its impact was still significant, especially considering it led him to change his post-major practice routine. While he took a full week off without touching a club following his win at Chambers Bay, Spieth only took two days off after the Open before returning to work with coach Cameron McCormick.
“It was different. I didn’t like the extra time it took for me to feel really comfortable controlling the golf ball by the time the British Open started,” he said. “Coming back this time, I knew coming to this golf course, what this was like.”
While Spieth will look to capture his first WGC title this week at Firestone, another potential carrot looms next week at the PGA Championship, where he could join Ben Hogan and Tiger Woods as the only men to win three professional majors within a year.
It will be a long stretch of golf across a pair of taxing courses, but Spieth plans to fuel the upcoming fortnight with the still-lingering pain from the one that got away.
“It just stings because the history element was there of winning an Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “Our team did everything to, again, put ourselves in position in yet another major, and then it was just my execution that wasn’t there.
“We had all the tools, but you just can’t close everything out. It just proves that it’s that hard.”
Spieth has already stamped his name as the best in the game for this year, beating back the world’s best with regularity across any number of venues. Now he tees off this week equipped with not only talent and confidence, but also apparently an axe to grind.
It’s scary to ponder, but should be exciting to watch.