ST. ANDREWS, Scotland—Jordan Spieth handles press conferences with such aplomb that you’d swear he’s reading his responses off a teleprompter or at the very least provided the questions in advance. The 21-year-old—21!—is thoughtful with his answers, employs just the right amounts of zeal and reverence, and rarely stammers or stumbles. If this Tour pro thing doesn’t work out, he’d make a great attorney.
The latest evidence of Spieth’s poise-beyond-his-years came on the eve of this 144th Open Championship, when the square-jawed, baby-faced Texas faced the media less than 24 hours before he will go out and try to make history on a course that has produced reams of it.
He was composed: “I have a chance to do what only one person in the history of golf has done…but by the time I start on Thursday, it won’t be in my head.”
He was charming and funny, when asked about whether he thinks he strikes fear in the heart of his rivals: “I don’t look like an intimidating person.”
He was appropriately respectful of his surrounds: “I don’t think there’s anything more special than playing an Open Championship in the Home of Golf.” (Somewhere Peter Dawson was grinning.)
Actually, there is at least one thing more special and that’s winning the third leg of the calendar-year slam while playing an Open Championship in the Home of Golf. Which, you might have heard, is precisely what Spieth is trying to achieve this week. His strategy, or at least as much of his strategy as he was willing to divulge, is to try to dial down the enormity of the moment.
“It’ll be about how I can bring this Open Championship down to just another event,” he said.
But it’s not just another event. It’s the event. The Open. At St. Andrews. With Spieth chasing a feat that hasn’t been accomplished since 1953, when another Texan, Ben Hogan, swept the season’s first three majors.
Spieth prepared somewhat controversially (as if anyone had the right to question the preparation of a guy who has led seven of the eight major rounds this season). Instead of joining many of his counterparts to fine-tune his links game at the Scottish Open, Spieth rolled into Silvis, Illinois, to play in the John Deere Classic at the decidedly unlinksy TPC Deere Run.
“The whole point was trying to feel pressure over the weekend and try and perform my best, see what tendencies I got into that we could adjust for major championship pressure,” he said.
If Spieth felt the pressure, it didn't show. In the third round, he carded a career-low 61, then a day later won the tournament in a playoff over journeyman Tom Gillis. By Monday evening Spieth already was on the Old Course, playing a practice round in borrowed clothes courtesy of a luggage snafu. Nine holes turned into 18 when he couldn’t bear to rip himself away from the auld girl, jet lag be dammed. On the 16th green he stopped for a chat with Tiger Woods, a two-time Open winner on the Old Course. (Mostly “just catching up,” Spieth said.) On Tuesday he re-played the “10 holes I really wanted to see.” On Wednesday morning, Spieth went back out for another full round, observing the subtleties of the course with his coach Cameron McCormick and math-teacher-turned-caddie Michael Greller, but not microdissecting it.
“We’ve kind of plotted our way already, and today will be a good test on just executing on the lines that we’ve all gotten over the past couple days,” Spieth said. “I think we could overanalyze this course, and I don’t think we are doing so.”
Spieth did have one complaint: the weather. Thus far it’s been far too tame for his liking. He was hoping for more wind switches and maybe a spot of rain to acclimate to the conditions that this exposed spit of land can throw at the players—and likely will throw at them later this week. According to the latest forecast, the skies will be bright and sunny and the wind down when Spieth tees off with Dustin Johnson and Hideki Matsuyama at 9:13 a.m. (local) Thursday. But none of that is likely to last.
The weather mavens are calling for heavy rain Friday morning followed by a severely gusty afternoon, when Spieth will begin his second round. If it really howls—they’re forecasting wind gusts of up to 40 mph—the afternoon draw could see its title hopes blown away. Not that Spieth would ever entertain such a thought. When asked about the cruel nature of getting caught on the wrong side of the draw, Spieth had—what else?—a thoughtful answer.
“If we wanted to get good weather, we’d go play in California,” he said. “We come over here to embrace the opportunity of handling these conditions. It’s how you handle adversity and rebound quickly.”
If Spieth can maintain that kind of positivity, he might well be handling something else on Sunday evening: the claret jug.