July 25, 2017

Spieth and the Open Championship

The record speaks for itself. Three major championships, 11 PGA Tour victories in 121 starts, all accomplished before the age of 24. Jordan Spieth joins only Jack Nicklaus to accomplish this major victory total so early in his career. So why are we not lavishing him with the "greatness" tag?

Spieth dominated a stellar field in the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale for three rounds. He had a three shot lead over Matt Kuchar and a six shot margin over the next players in the field. So if he matched his form from the previous three days, he wins convincingly. However, he looked nothing like a world beater for 13 holes with five bogies and one birdie, to drop one shot behind of steady Matt Kuchar. His tee shot on 13 was easily one of the worst directional tee shots in modern championship competition. After that tee shot, the rest is epic and history making. Major championship on the line and you respond with birdie, eagle, birdie, birdie, and par to win by three shots. That stretch of clutch shots and putts is what legends are made of. It wasn't one shot, but a string of pressure demanding shots that secured the victory. Great players have a flare for the dramatic, but they usually don't self-implode before they switch their game into high gear. We haven't witnessed this type of dramatic turnaround in a major ever!

Tournament golfers know the hardest thing to do is to turn your game around in the middle of a round when your game and score is going south. Arnold Palmer blew a 7 shot lead with 9 holes to play in the 1966 US Open. Greg Norman wasted a 6 shot lead in the 1996 Masters. There are other examples, but once even these great players got on a bad streak, they couldn't turn it around. Jordan was on his way to repeating history the same way when he gave up a five shot lead on the back nine of the 2016 Masters. He tried real hard to give away the 2017 Travelers Championship three weeks ago with short missed putts and errant tee shots, before displaying his magic by holing a bunker shot on the first extra hole. On Sunday, he was repeating a familiar pattern. He was behind and fading. Then something mystical happened and the "great" Jordan Spieth took charge. Where he got the resolve and courage, maybe he doesn't know, but it surfaced and it was a thing of beauty.

Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods had powerful golf games and physically dominated their eras. Jordan is not that type of player, but seemingly has the same mental toughness and drive that propelled Jack and Tiger to greater heights. Greatness tags come after a sustained period of excellence. Jordan has been great since his arrival on the PGA Tour in 2013. His record speaks for itself and if he continues, he cannot be denied his place with the greats of golf. As for this year's Open Championship, it was unlike any other with an unbelievable closing five hole winning stretch. Great players do what seems impossible. Jordan did that!


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