DUBLIN, OHIO – You could hold a United States Open at Muirfield Village Golf Club. Hell, you could hold a Masters Tournament here if Augusta National ever burned to the ground, for that matter. Founder Jack Nicklaus designed this place as his ode to Masters—Augusta National’s stunt double in a pinch.
The quality of Jack’s masterpiece means that it should identify U.S. Open champion-caliber players. You can’t connect all the dots on that theory, but you can connect some. Justin Rose won here in 2010, then the 2013 Open at Merion. Tiger Woods won here a bunch but that’s hardly unusual. Open champs Ernie Els, Tom Watson, Curtis Strange all won here but hey, now we’re digging up ancient burial grounds.
So with the U.S. Open lurking a scant two weeks away in Washington, any Memorial contender here in sunny Ohio should be taken seriously when golf makes like a Hitchcock movie and goes North By Northwest to Chambers Bay.
While golf predictions are seldom worth the digital bytes they’re displayed on, let’s get it out there that Jordan Spieth could well be the man to beat.
This is all stuff from the drawer of Capt. Obvious, since the man did win the Masters with a record-tying score. Spieth’s game has been a few hairs off since then but he combed it back into place here Sunday. He chipped in twice, once for eagle, and made five other birdies for a closing 65 that made the leaders think, since Spieth finished before Justin Rose and Francesco Molinari turned to the back nine.
Spieth didn’t win the Memorial, finishing two strokes out of a playoff between Rose and David Lingmerth after his torrid finish, but he made it clear that hello, world, he’s ready for an encore. The Masters made Spieth into superstar material. If he were to win the Open, too, he’d suddenly be halfway to the Grand Slam and JordanMania would break out.
So he’s got a major, he’s already considered America’s best player, he’s got the best short game in golf, he’s probably the best putter outside ten feet and he looks like he’s back on his game. Oh, and his caddie, Michael Greller, used to work at Chambers Bay, still lives near there and is the only person in the Open field who has serious local knowledge of the place. That looms as a potentially decisive advantage.
Spieth’s tour nickname is Golden Child. He hates it but things do seem to fall his way.
So his timing is perfect, too? That figures.
“I’m hitting the ball better each week,” Spieth said. “I putted well at Colonial but didn’t strike it great. I struck it better last week at the Byron Nelson and even better this week. Everything is kind of coming into place for the U.S. Open.”
Of course it is. Spieth isn’t just good, he’s smart. He’s way too smart to be only 21 (22 next month).
For example, he chipped in for eagle at the 15th hole. He had 242 yards to the pin from the fairway for his second shot and hit his hybrid, hoping to reach a front bunker. The shot cleared the bunker, and kicked into the fringe. Had it dribbled onto the green, it would’ve fed down toward the hole. So he’s got a dicey, curvey chip out of the rough except… the grizzled old veteran already knew the shot. A guy this young shouldn’t already have enough experience to rely on, should he? Well… “I had that shot two years ago on Sunday to the same pin from the left bunker and I made it,” Spieth said.
Of course he did.
“I landed it just on the green, it went all the way around and went in,” he recalled. “So I just tried to visualize that, pick the line and the spot. It was funny to have a similar shot that I made two years ago and see it go in again.”
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Once his latest shot was on the putting surface and rolling, Spieth yelled, “Do it! Do it!” Because he knew it had a good chance of going in, and it did. He likes talking to his shots. That’s his thing, as long as they don’t answer back.
There were other notables contending for the Memorial title, including past Open champs Rose and Jim Furyk. The fact that Spieth suddenly looks sharp, however, should be a red flag.
“That was exactly what we needed for some momentum going into the Open,” Spieth said. “I felt like it was coming along.”
He was going to sign autographs, get lunch and hang around for two hours to see if he’d be needed in a playoff but he was in a good place.
“No matter what happens,” he said, “today I gained a lot of momentum going into the Open.”
The only trouble spot in his game at the moment is putts inside ten feet. Spieth said he planned to work hard on that. He missed quite a few of that length over the last three weeks.
“I feel very confident off the tee right now, as good as I’ve ever felt,” he said. “My ball striking with my irons took a big leap forward this week, my wedges feel good, too. It comes down to knocking the short putts in the middle.”
Spieth spilled a little local knowledge from Greller about what to expect at Chambers Bay. Speed control on the greens is going to be big because of the undulations on the big greens. It’s fescue and the lies around the greens will be tight and fast with lots of slope, “Like at an Open Championship,” Spieth said.
Which means players will have to decide what kind of shot to play. Putt from what amounts to the fringe? Play a spinning chip with a sand wedge? Putt with a hybrid to launch it through the fringe? There will be options.
“You’re going to need practice flying some ridges with spin,” Spieth said. “I need a shot I can trust from the runoff areas.”
Spieth got into contention Sunday, which was the main thing. The best way to get prepared for a major, he said, is to “feel the nerves,” and while he would’ve liked to have that feeling all weekend, at least he got there on the closing nine.
“It felt awesome,” Spieth said, flashing his America’s darling smile. “It was nice to be back in the hunt.”
Look for him to be back in the hunt again in two weeks at Chambers Bay.
In fact, pencil him in for the whole next decade.