DALLAS — Could playing less help Jordan Spieth win more?
That’s the goal.
When Spieth plays in the Australian Open next week at Royal Sydney Golf Club, it will mark his first start in a stroke-play event since the Tour Championship in late September. The downtime has been by design.
“I just wanted an off season. I needed some time off,” Spieth told GOLF.com last week at the opening of Trinity Forest Golf Course in Dallas, the future site of the PGA Tour’s Byron Nelson Championship in 2018 and home course of Spieth’s longtime teacher, Cameron McCormick.
Spieth said the only events he intends to play the remainder of this year are the Australian Open, which he won in 2014 and tied for second in a year ago, and the Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods’s tournament, in early December.
“We’ll just see how it goes from there,” Spieth said. “I might do more, but I want to take it slow and see what happens.”
That’s a marked departure from his schedule a year ago. After his landmark 2014-15 season, Spieth circled the globe in search of tournament wins, exposure and appearance money. He played in five tournaments in five different countries from November 2015 to January 2016, with two separate trips to Asia. Last spring he admitted he was run down.
“I don’t need that,” Spieth said of his extensive travels. “I didn’t miss it at all.”
Instead, Spieth filled his days this fall at home in Dallas with plenty of non-tournament duties, including delivering the game football for his former high school, Jesuit Preparatory.
“I hadn’t seen them play in forever,” he said.
Spieth played host to his own charity tournament in the Dallas area, attended a business summit, and hung out with his parents and girlfriend. But primarily he spent time digging answers out of the dirt with McCormick at Trinity Forest. McCormick’s teaching center there is not fully finished, so the pair have been working under an awning of a temporary building, discussing swing theories just as they did when Spieth was a junior.
They’ve also utilized Trinity Forest’s new par-3 course and the Bill Coore-Ben Crenshaw championship layout. Spieth says he owns the course record, a 66. “But my most impressive round here might be the 67 I shot after not touching a club for two weeks,” he said.
Few expected Spieth to exceed or rival his spectacular 2014-15 season when he ascended to No. 1 in the world with two major wins and seven victories overall. But his inconsistency in 2016 caught the golf world by surprise.
Among the highlights of his season were his eight-shot rout of the winners-only field at the Tournament of Champions in Maui, Hawaii, and a meaningful win at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, 30 miles from where he grew up.
But at the Masters Spieth stood on the 10th tee on Sunday with a five-shot lead and faltered, putting two balls in the water on the par-3 12th, ultimately finishing three strokes behind Danny Willett. In the three other majors he failed crack the top 10.
Asked what he needs to do differently in the 2017 majors, Spieth got straight to the point: “I’ve just got to do what I did in 2015.”
What was especially perplexing for Spieth and his team was the highs in his game were often followed so closely by lows. After winning in the Hawaii, his next two performances were a tie for 21st at Pebble Beach and a missed cut at Riviera.
In his first start after the Masters, he missed the cut at the Players. Two weeks later he won at Colonial. A week after that, he finished T-57 at the Memorial. He went 2-2-1 in the U.S.’s winning effort at the Ryder Cup but lost his Sunday singles match — a fitting representation of his uneven 2016 form.
Spieth said he has worked hard in recent weeks to improve his pitching game, especially shots from 60-75 yards out. (According to ShotLink, Spieth ranked 104th on Tour in approach shots from 50-125 yards in 2015-16, with an average proximity to the hole of about 18 feet.) “That’s one of the things Cam and I have really worked on,” Spieth said.
We’ll find out soon if the hard work — and time off — will pay off.