Americans Are Coming Through in the Clutch Like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson Once Did

May 27, 2015

This is 2015, The Golf Season, and these are a few of my favorite things:

The Clutch Gene. I don’t want to join the campaign to give sainthood to Jordan Spieth. It feels a little like a rush to judgment, even though we all agree he looks like the real deal. He won the Masters by a bunch? Impressive. Louis Oosthuizen once crushed the British Open field at the Old Course, and last summer Martin Kaymer demolished the U.S. Open field at Pinehurst. Except when he acted as the foil for Bubba Watson’s first Masters win in 2012, Oosty hasn’t been much of a factor since, and Kaymer’s image should be on milk cartons. Anybody seen him since last June? So it’s possible that this year at Augusta Jor-El (new nickname?) just had a career week. I don’t believe that, though. I believe Spieth has the Clutch Gene.

If he’s got to hole a bunker shot on the final green to get in a playoff, like at the 2013 John Deere, he does it. Make a succession of amazing par saves, then drain a 28-footer over a mound for a playoff win at Innisbrook in March? Done. He scraps around Colonial and gets to the final green, needing an 18-footer to maybe get in a playoff, and he pours it in the middle. Ridiculous.

American golf hasn’t had a guy who pulls off clutch shots with regularity since, well, Tiger and Phil. We’ve seen a lot of guys who win now and then and sometimes do it by accidentally coming through in the clutch. Mostly, the Americans have been weak closers. Winning is hard.

Spieth isn’t alone. Rickie Fowler showed he has the Clutch Gene in his Players win. Now he’s just got to access it more often. Patrick Reed? He’s got it. Jimmy Walker too. And how about some of these younger guys like Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Chris Kirk and Billy Horschel? Keep the over-40 bunch off the next U.S. Ryder Cup team, and it just might be close for a change. Davis Love III, are you taking note?

The Whine Factor. The best part about the U.S. Open used to be the moaning. In the 1980s and ’90s, it wasn’t an Open unless the players complained about the course setup. Never mind that the USGA course setups were so difficult that they negated ability and equalized the field. Thus, some of those surprise Open winners you remember.

Well, the Open is going to Chambers Bay near Tacoma, and players have already started in. Ian Poulter called the course “a complete farce,” and he hasn’t even been on the property. USGA honcho Mike Davis said the pros who get only two practice rounds aren’t going to learn enough about the course to win. Then Rory McIlroy, the former nice little freckled kid next door, responded with, “What’s Mike Davis’s handicap?” It’s on now!

I couldn’t be happier about the squawking. I want Chambers Bay to uncork a case of whine. Then it’ll feel like a real U.S. Open.

The Triple Crown. My favorite major is the British Open, or the Open Championship as it’s known across the pond. This is the summer of links golf because three Opens will be contested on such tracks.

All right, one real Open and two fake Opens. The Old Course in St. Andrews is holy ground. There is no setting in golf that is more…what’s the word? Compelling? Authentic? Nostalgic? Quaint? Pick one. The Old Course is the most interesting piece of flat ground in the golf world that, by the way, isn’t flat at all when you’re playing on it. If you could walk just one course in the world, pick the Old Course. Chambers Bay has one only tree, behind a par-3, and views of Puget Sound on all but one hole. It’s going to have the look and feel of a British links course, and it will feature fescue greens, a first for the U.S. Open.

In August, the PGA Championship returns to Whistling Straits on the shoreline of Lake Michigan in Wisconsin. The Straits is a Pete Dye track, and he more or less sculpted a dunesy course out of flat farmland, then finger-painted a thousand tiny bunkers all over it. It looks like a refugee from Ireland, mostly, but Dye couldn’t help putting forced carries and an obligatory water hazard in the middle of the course. The Straits has some amazing par-3 greens overlooking the lake and a stunning vista, but it’s no links layout. Still, when you’re playing the course and looking down at the water, it feels special. It’s a golfing experience.

There won’t be another year of linksy major sites like this again, maybe ever. At least not until the PGA Championship moves to Australia. Wait, what?

The Big D. Say goodbye to this year’s Texas Swing this week at the AT&T Byron Nelson Championship at the TPC Four Seasons. This will be the last of four Tour stops in Texas and unlike the Florida Swing and the West Coast Swing, the Texas events aren’t played in succession. I’m pretty sure Spieth could get elected mayor of Dallas right now, if not governor of Texas. He was a runner-up at Colonial and if he wins his home game — remember, he contended here on his first try when he was still in high school — they should just hand him the keys to the city and erect his statue a discreet distance from Byron’s.

The Nelson always draws well and while the course is funky, the resort is first-class. It may be even more fun to walk through the gym area and see which Tour players are playing racquetball, one-on-one hoops or H-O-R-S-E.

In my next life, I plan on living at the Four Seasons.

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