UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash.—This is not a joke. I am penciling in Jordan Spieth to win golf’s Grand Slam this year.
Can’t you feel the positive vibes or the harmonic convergence or the ghost of Tiger Woods? Yeah, that’s right, Spieth is solidly in the Can-Do-No-Wrong-Zone. Or haven’t you noticed that he’s got Tiger’s old early 2000s luck?
Spieth won the 115th United States Open here at Chambers Bay in a wild and crazy finish. He should’ve won it easily, then he should’ve lost it, then he should’ve been in a Monday playoff and then, again, he won it. Dustin Johnson handed him the trophy by three-putting from 12 feet.
There are two reasons why he’s going to win the Grand Slam this year, even though it seems ridiculous that a 21-year-old would win four majors in one calendar year (something Tiger or Jack Nicklaus never did) and they would be the first four major titles of his career.
One, Jordan Spieth has the clutch gene. He makes big shots and big putts when he has to. Frankly, it was shocking he missed the 15-foot eagle putt on Chambers Bay’s 18th hole—after watching Branden Grace’s putt on a similar line—that would’ve clinched the Open. Even more shocking, of course, was the three-putt double bogey at the par-3 17th after he’d birdied to open a seemingly insurmountable three-shot lead with two to play.
So he made a mistake but that birdie putt at 16 looked and felt exactly what colorful basketball analyst Bill Raftery likes to call “a dagger.”
Two, Jordan (I’d like to dub him Jor-El, the same name as Superman’s father, but it doesn’t feel like it would stick) has entered the Can-Do-No-Wrong-Zone.
Tiger owned that zip code in the early 2000s. Of course, Tiger was maybe the best player we’d ever seen, the most complete player. He got chances and he took advantage of them because he was that good. But other players were griping back then that Tiger had a multi-year run of majors in which he always got the best tee time, always ended up on the best side of the draw, always got the best pairings and got all of the breaks when things did go wrong. Remember the Phoenix fans who moved a boulder for him?
This latter reason is why I’m picking Spieth to Slam it up all the way this year. His tour nickname is Golden Child, a reference to the fact that he just seems to live a charmed life in every way. Spieth hates the nickname but if the golf shoe fits… He is the youngest player to win two major professional titles since Gene Sarazen did it in 1922. That’s more than luck, even The Squire (Sarazen) would agree.
“It’s cool to have two legs of the Grand Slam now and to conquer golf’s hardest test,” Spieth said. “The U.S. Open is the hardest layout in all of golf every year. The fact that we did it is amazing. I didn’t have my best stuff, ball-striking, at all. We really grinded over those four- and five-footers and that was the difference.”
Spieth birdied two of the last three holes, sandwiching them around that hideous double. He knew he had to hit a serious golf shot into the par-5 18th and he rose to the occasion, as usual, sending an approach into the back right corner of the green and playing a bank back toward the pin. It stopped 15 feet away. That was clutch.
But there was more in play than that. Jack Nicklaus won majors by letting the other guys beat themselves. He’d birdie all the par 5s, par the other holes and then sit back and wait for someone to hand him a silver trophy. Tiger Woods racked up wins by the bushel and before long, other players began falling down in front of him as soon as Tiger’s name appeared on the leader board. He had an intimidation factor that was rivaled in modern times only by Nicklaus.
Spieth doesn’t have what Jack and Tiger had. They were dominant players who dominated with their power and their putting. They were larger than life. Spieth is the fresh-faced boy-next-door who’s just really, really, really good at getting the ball in the hole.
If someone told you a golfer would get to 19-under par at the Masters this year and then settle for finishing at 18-under to tie the all-time tournament scoring record, how many guesses would you have needed before you got to Spieth, a medium-length hitter at best? If you picked a number lower than 30, you’re lying.
Rory McIlroy, the No. 1 player in the world, has the kind of power to be a dominant player. Rory already has four majors at age 26.
Spieth still doesn’t look like a guy who’s going to dominate anyone. Yet seeing is believing. He is the Ben Crenshaw of a new generation, a putter for the ages, at least when he’s outside of five feet. It’s odd as hell that he sometimes struggles on shorter putts inside five feet, so much so at times that he looks at the cup while he putts them. I’m not sure that’s a good omen if you’re doing that at 21 but does it matter? Spieth has two majors this year and is halfway to the Grand Slam. The only other players who have won a Masters and U.S. Open in the same year are pretty strong company—Tiger, Jack, Arnold Palmer and Ben Hogan.
You can call what Spieth did at Augusta a career week. It’s a course that has rewarded all kinds of players but it’s ultimately a second-shot golf course and if you happen to be a bomber, it’s a much easier second-shot golf course.
Chambers Bay proved to favor big-hitters, too. Yet there was Spieth hanging near the lead all week.
He’s that good whether you believe it or not.
Tiger’s run of good luck ended suddenly in 2002 when the British Open returned to Muirfield. Tiger looked like a sure thing to win that Open and steamroll his way to the Grand Slam when his fortunes suddenly did a Mongolian reversal. A freakish storm blew in just before Tiger’s afternoon tee time, wreaking havoc with everyone on the course with high winds and cold, sideways rain. Tiger struggled to an 81 and his calendar-year Grand Slam was over. He’d already pocketed the Tiger Slam by then, four majors in a row but not in the same calendar year.
A few years later, Ernie Els looked back and said, with some relief, that Muirfield was when everything quit going Tiger’s way. Ernie was right temporarily but then Tiger started piling up major championships again with Hank Haney as his coach. Muirfield, in hindsight, looks more like halftime for Tiger.
Sunday at Chambers Bay, Spieth was neck-and-neck with Grace, one of golf’s straightest drivers. At the 16th hole, Grace blocked a 3-wood out of bounds to the right. If a fence wasn’t protecting the area, his ball would’ve clanged off the adjacent railroad tracks. Mr. Straight became Sir Crooked at just the right time for Spieth.
Dustin Johnson, all he’s got to do is not three-putt the final hole from 12 feet and we’re all back here on Monday for an 18-hole playoff. Whoops.
Louis Oosthuizen was the hottest golfer on the course on the back nine. He made five birdies in a row, parred the 17th and left an eagle putt at the 18th an inch short. That birdie gave Oosthuizen a back-nine 29 and left him at 4-under par. Spieth’s subsequent winning birdie got him to 5-under.
McIlroy went on a birdie spree, too. He shot 32 on the front and that included three birdie misses inside eight feet. He still got to 6-under through 13 holes, then stumbled coming in. McIlroy’s name might’ve scared somebody if he could’ve posted at 3 or 4-under but he couldn’t get it done, either.
Everyone else played their part just right and the dominoes fell in precisely the necessary order so Spieth could win this Open.
It happens. So here with are with JordanMania. He’ll take his Grand Slam hopes and his down-home smile to the Old Course in St. Andrews. Of course, he shouldn’t win there. It’s a big hitter’s course. It’s perfect for the big hitter who hits it right to left, since the Old Course has adjoining fairways. It’s perfect for McIlroy, who shot 63 in his first Open championship there (and then he shot 81 the next day in a serious reality check).
Tiger dominated the Old Course twice back when the driver was his biggest weapon. He went around the place without hitting into a single bunker, a notable feat. The greatest names in golf history have won there, from Nicklaus to Tiger to Seve Ballesteros to Nick Faldo to Bobby Jones to Sam Snead and Peter Thomson. The Old Course has seen the likes of John Daly, Louis Oosthuizen and Kel Nagle, too It doesn’t matter. Spieth finds a way.
By August, JordanMania will be a global virus as he goes to Wisconsin for the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.
He shouldn’t win there, either. All that pressure. A big sprawling golf course. Unfriendly winds blowing in off Lake Michigan. All those cheese curds.
But he will. He holds two legs of the Grand Slam and looks more golden then ever.
“I can’t seem to wrap my head around today’s finish,” Spieth admitted. “I mean, this is incredible. It’s incredible.”
What’s incredible is this is only halftime for Spieth. Two down, two to go. Check back in August. The Golden Child may be going for golf’s greatest gold. I wouldn’t bet against him.