Tour Confidential: Jordan Spieth Wins U.S. Open For Second Career Major

June 22, 2015

Every Sunday night, conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

1. Jordan Spieth won the U.S. Open and became the youngest national champion since Bobby Jones in 1923. How can you put into context what this 21-year-old is doing and what did you learn from Spieth this week? 

Joe Passov, senior editor, GOLF Magazine (@JoePassov): I picked Spieth to win in our video Tour Confidential for reasons both anecdotal – mental strength, course management skills, caddie with local knowledge – and empirical. He’s top-10 on Tour in scrambling, top-3 in 3-putt avoidance…Everything to me pointed to a Spieth victory. What I learned was what was reemphasized all week: He plays the measured, cautiously aggressive style of a 35-year-old veteran. He thrives on the moment. As a 21-year-old, he doesn’t have the firepower, the Oh My God, how-did-he-do-that arsenal and aura that Tiger had. Yet to me, he’s the new Hogan. He doesn’t dominate with power and sizzle. He dominates with his will and grit and with his ability to get the ball in the hole when he has to. He’s absolutely amazing, yet he makes it seem quite routine. 

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: He makes you think about Woods, and that’s saying something. He doesn’t do anything as well as Woods, except putt and play with heart. And he’s way more likable than Woods was in his prime.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF Magazine: (@JoshSens): He’s become such a fixture in the final group in big events that you pretty much take it for granted when he’s there. Tiger used to put a hurting on the competition and then note, somewhat patronizingly, that he didn’t have his A-game. Spieth is too smooth to ever put it that way. But he didn’t appear to be firing on all cylinders all week. Not his A-game. But there was always the sense that he would be there at the end. That says a lot about him.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): Spieth is Destiny’s Child. The fortunate son, not the rock group. He’s got the clutch gene – see the putt at 16, the second shot at 18 – but he’s not perfect and he’s not a dominating type player. He’s just a winner who, it seems, can do no wrong. He’s an opportunist in the mold of Nick Faldo, who racked up six nice majors. 

Jeff Ritter, senior editor, SI Golf Group (@JeffRitter): To be halfway to a Grand Slam at age 21 is incredible and unprecedented. It’s hard to imagine two courses more different than Augusta National and Chambers Bay. By winning majors at those venues, Spieth proved that he has the game to win anywhere. 

Jessica Marksbury, associate editor, GOLF Magazine (@Jess_Marksbury): Jordan is AWESOME. What more can you say? His grit and determination were inspiring. It would have been easy to collapse after that untimely double on No. 17 on Sunday, but instead he pumped his driver down the middle and hit what I believe to be one of the best shots I’ve ever seen (under the circumstances) to give himself a makeable eagle putt on No. 18. He got a bit lucky with DJ’s three-putt, but he deserved to win. Jordan’s got the whole package: looks, personality, humility and serious game. Because of him (and Rory), I’m not as afraid for golf’s Tiger-less future.

2. Dustin Johnson three-putted from 12 feet to miss a playoff with Spieth. Johnson seems to have the tools necessary to be a world-beater, but this is his fourth collapse late in a major. What’s missing in his game when it matters?

SENS: Mostly, it’s his putter that appears to let him down. That, and the intangible that allows the best of the best to stand up to the pressure of the most important moments. DJ led the field in putting going into Sunday, but when the heat was really on coming down the stretch, the flatstick let him down, well before that cringe-inducing calamity on 18.

VAN SICKLE: Dustin missed a handful of shortish putts Sunday alone. He’s not a great putter. Under pressure, he’s really not a great putter. It’s that simple. Seriously, all he’s got to do is two-putt from 12 feet to get in a playoff. It’s a shame he couldn’t do it and now he’s going to have to live with a Scott Hoch-like stigma until he wins a major… if he does.

MARKSBURY: That was probably the most shocking and unexpected thing I’ve ever witnessed in a major championship. His ballstriking was so clutch, especially on No. 18, but his putting just wasn’t there at all for the final two rounds. If he made just 20 percent of the putts he missed inside of 10 feet this weekend, he would have run away with the championship.

RITTER: All of D.J.’s four collapses were distinctly different, which makes it hard to pinpoint a single aspect. The easy answer today is “short putts.” He missed several makable shorties on the back nine even before the dreaded yak on 18. He has all the talent to get that elusive major, but this one is going to sting for a while.

BAMBERGER: This is a pure guess, but I wonder if he really wants what comes with being not just an excellent player, which he of course is – I think he’s the most purely talented player in the game right now – but a truly elite one. One that all eyes are looking at all the time, under constant observation and scrutiny. But I really have no idea.

PASSOV: Nothing is missing. He’s a phenomenal talent. He needs to make a few more putts, salvage a few more par-saves when it matters, so that he’ll be leading when he arrives to the 72nd hole instead of being tied or one back.


3. Tiger Woods failed to make the cut at the U.S. Open for only the second time in his career after posting 80-76 and seemed utterly lost on the course. Is there any hope for him at St. Andrews in a month? Or is there hope for him at all? 

BAMBERGER: I cannot imagine that Tiger Woods is done as a golfer. He was the best in the world in 2013! But he has got to find a way to simplify the game in his mind. It will come, I believe. But it will be gradual. St. Andrews will be very difficult for him. The rest of the year likely will be, too.

VAN SICKLE: You hit can it as far left as you want at St. Andrews and live to tell about it. Well, almost – Ian Baker-Finch could tell you a horror story about the first tee. Tiger has a couple of weeks to shape up his swing. Until he can figure out how to get a driver in play, he’s going to struggle. He can hit his irons well, his chipping and putting are in the vicinity but his tee shots are turning into big numbers. You can’t play tournament golf that way. Sure, Tiger has great memories at the Old Course, but those two wins were a different Tiger, a Tiger whose driver and length was the most fearsome and intimidating weapon in golf. He’s not that player now.

PASSOV: By his own account, he’s apparently having real issues bringing his A (or even his B) game from the range to the course. He’s won twice at St. Andrews, and it’s a very different course from Chambers Bay, but he’s not very good right now. I no longer like his chances at St. Andrews, but I’m not giving up on him long term yet.  

RITTER: As a two-time winner at St. Andrews, Woods has plenty of good vibes at the place. But his game is so broken, I don’t see how it can all come together in one month. Making the cut at the British would be progress.

SENS: Hope for him at all? I’ll always give a billionaire a fighting chance in life. But on the course, agreed. He’s gone so deep down the rabbit hole we should probably start calling him the cheshire cat. He’ll probably emerge from wonderland at some point, but not at St. Andrews. He has too far to go in too short a time.

MARKSBURY: The only reason I think there may be hope is the fact that Tiger has won at St. Andrews twice before, and he loves the Old Course. Tiger has a better chance at performing well at venues where he’s had past success (at least until this year’s third-round debacle at Memorial), so maybe that will work in his favor and he can at least make the cut. But I certainly don’t expect him to contend.

4. Chambers Bay was an uncommon venue choice by the USGA, and its setup, conditioning and bumpy greens dominated the conversation all week, most of it negative. Does this Open go down as a success or a failure?

MARKSBURY: I thought it was a raging success! That was the most fun I’ve had watching golf in a long time. Yes, I know the course was burnt out and the players hated the greens, but you certainly can’t argue with the leaderboard: a Spieth/DJ/Day showdown, with Sunday afternoon leaderboard runs by Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott and Louis Oosthuizen? What’s not to love? 

PASSOV: Let’s wait for the overnight ratings for the FOX telecast, but overall, given the setting, the weather, and the leaderboard it produced, I would call this U.S. Open a success. The greens are fixable and perhaps the fan experience can be significantly improved. That would make a return a very likely possibility. However, there were heavy negatives, too. I’m not blind to those awful looking, suspect-putting greens, nor the difficulty fans had in walking the course and seeing the action. I give it a B-, thanks to the finish.

RITTER: The final 45 minutes saved this Open. The course conditions were disappointing, but now those baked-out, lumpy greens will be bumped down the page in our stories, and in our memories. 

VAN SICKLE: The finish might have saved it but Chamber Bay’s fescue greens were clearly a failure. Not every experiment works. Replace the greens and remove the berms around the edges of the holes so spectators can see something. Otherwise, don’t bring the Open back.

BAMBERGER: Well, the best player won. In prime-time. With heartbreak and excitement. It was a great Open, bumpy greens and illogical course and all.

SENS: For all the warts, and there were plenty, the Open whittled the field down to the best of the best. Hardly a big name was missing from the action on Sunday. Even the world number one appeared out of nowhere for a cameo. In that sense, a success. Would I want to see the event again at Chambers Bay? Probably not. An entertaining one off, but in the end too quirky for my U.S. Open tastes.


5. While players complained about the course, fans on social media were complaining about Fox’s TV coverage. How would you rate the network’s Open debut?

SENS: From a viewer’s standpoint, it turned out to be a great weekend, but that had very little to do with Fox. The backdrop was stunning, and for all the oddities of the venue, we wound up with a marquee leaderboard and a gawker of a finish. That was almost enough to overshadow the glitches in the coverage, which were many. Glitchy shot tracking. Shoddy information-gathering. Embarrassing bloopers, as when David Fay repeatedly referred to Dustin Johnson as Justin. Or when Greg Norman tried to go all Grey’s Anatomy on us by detailing Jason Day’s medical condition, only to wind up swallowing his tongue. On the upside, Joe Buck showed that he knows when to stay out of the way. And those microphones in the cups were cool, weren’t they? Bottom line: not a disaster, but a long way from the revolution we were promised.

VAN SICKLE: I’ve said all along that Fox is going to need some time. They threw this together in a year and a half. They need reps. That said, they blew any credibility they might have had Sunday when Joe Buck said, as Dustin Johnson walked up the tenth fairway, “Dustin Johnson has this tournament by the throat.” What? DJ had a two-shot lead with nine holes to play. He didn’t have anything. Even worse, Greg Norman replied, “Absolutely.” Norman, of all golfers in history, should’ve corrected Buck’s boneheaded comment. At least one Fox announcer called a bunker shot a “chip shot.” That’s bad but for your glamor anchor team to agree that a two-shot lead with nine to play at an Open course is having “The tournament by the throat” is ignorant and inexcusable. That’s about the only part of the main telecast I heard and guess what, I don’t need to hear another word after that.

BAMBERGER: Johnny will always be an important symbol of the the U.S. Open to me, and I missed him. Really, I should recuse myself – I know too many of Fox’s people. But I liked it. They’re just starting out. I’m from the live-and-learn school. Even in the bigs.

PASSOV: There is tons of room for improvement from Fox. That said, it was their first big show. I’m OK giving them more chances. They have the resources and incentive to reassess and retool. I wish we could have seen a bit more from the other players who were zooming onto the leaderboard. That was also a problem with ABC 30 years ago. Need better graphics other than the Top 4 on the screen leaderboard. Is there something so terrible about the occasional scroll, or to take one minute to run through the entire field, rather than having the cameras hone in on the broadcasters so often? And until I get to place the voice with the person, it would be good to know who’s speaking, since most of these announcers (voices) are new to us. Do it with a graphic. Some embarrassing gaffes, with comments and references that make it seem like the speaker knew nothing about golf. Lots to fix. I’ll give a C grade.  

MARKSBURY: I give it a B. There were a few awkward moments, but overall, I don’t think it was that bad. I still saw most of the shots I wanted to, and I’m sure they’ll work out whatever kinks they need to as the year progresses.

RITTER: I liked Fox’s liberal use of shot-tracer, and the extra microphones that picked up player-caddie banter. (Mike Greller telling Spieth to “paint the picture” a couple times on the back nine was fascinating and insightful.) It’s like being in an NBA huddle. There were also of course a lot of bumps, some of which were embarrassing, like the loss of scoreboard graphics on day one. As Tiger likes to say, it’s a process.

6. After an opening 69, Phil Mickelson fizzled and finished tied for 64th place. Do you think he’ll ever win a U.S. Open to complete the career Grand Slam?

PASSOV: Unlikely, though every one of us is rooting for him. So many references to Phil’s wild, inconsistent game, yet somehow he has conquered narrow, nasty U.S. Open courses often enough to post six runner-up finishes. He’s playing better as of late, did OK here, so I wouldn’t count him out, but given his age and frequent physical issues, he’s not a good bet for Oakmont next year.

RITTER: Sorry, Phil fans. This was his last stand. Next year we move to Oakmont, which isn’t a Phil venue. Then it’s Erin Hills, a Chambers-like wild card. Then it’s Shinnecock, site of one of his runner-ups, in his age-48 season. That’s too late. The clock has simply run out.

VAN SICKLE: Phil is one of a kind and unpredictable. Oakmont is definitely not his cup of tea and by the time he gets to Erin Hills, he’ll be 47. I suppose anything is possible with Phil. I would not wager on him to win an Open, but I’ll admit, I’d love to see him do it.

BAMBERGER: As a math problem, probably not. But as an emotional matter, I’m rooting like hell for him.

MARKSBURY: Why not? As long as Phil continues to hit the ball as far as he does, he can contend with all the young kids. And he can catch fire at a moment’s notice. There’s still time for the stars to align for Phil.

SENS: No. He wants it badly, probably too badly, for obvious reasons, and time’s a wastin’. I hope I’m wrong.

The Tour Confidential roundtable continues Monday on our new weekly show hosted by Jessica Marksbury. Tweet her your questions @Jess_Marksbury.