CHARLOTTE – So Jordan Spieth’s wait for next year begins. Now the soonest he can complete the career grand slam is Aug. 12, 2018, when the PGA Championship will wrap up at the Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis. This week, two weeks into 24, Spieth was trying to become the youngest player to complete the slam. But after rounds of 72, 73 and 71, the Texan is 10 shots behind the leader, and nobody—not Hogan, not Tiger, not God—is shooting 59 on this Quail Hollow course. He’s not winning this 99th PGA Championship. He can dine out on that crazy-assed, long-sleeved win at Royal Birkdale for the rest of the year and the rest of his life.
Golf being the hilarious game it is, Spieth, one of the youngest players in the field, played on Saturday with the oldest golfer to make the cut, the Fijian legend Vijay Singh, who played his way into the Hall of Fame by winning a Masters and two PGA Championships. He’s 54. By the time Jordan Spieth was born on July 27, 1993, Singh had already won four times on the European Tour, once on the PGA Tour and in at least a half-dozen other countries, including Nigeria, Malaysia and Morocco. And there he was on Saturday, still at it. Spieth would go bounding down the damp fairways, Tar Heel steam rising off them, with that Spiethy walk of his, and here was Veej, sauntering along—you ain’t rushing this guy—frat-boy spectators lifting Bud Lights and Goose Islands in both their directions, acknowledged by Spieth, ignored by Singh. Singh doesn’t do the fan-friendly thing.
Spieth, freakishly mature for his age, talks regularly about having a long future in the game. You’ll hear him talk about 10 years, 20 years, 30 years. (That gets him to 54.) Or maybe that last part is me. Regardless, he said this before the tournament began, “If I don’t win [a PGA] in the next 10 years, then maybe there’s added pressure. Hopefully, we don’t have to have this conversation in 10 years. But if we do, then it might be different.” Talking about his rivalry with Rory McIlroy, he said the other day, “I think it’s cool that we’ve both had the success that we’ve had at such a young age, and I think the coolest part about it is, what’s it going to be like for the next 20, 25 years?” Have you ever known a twenty-something to even think about life in the thick of middle age? Of course not. ‘Cause 45 is old.
McIlroy’s up next. Come April, he will have his fourth chance to complete the career grand slam. (He has a U.S. Open, a British Open and two PGA titles.) In June, when the U.S. Open is at Shinnecock Hills, Phil Mickelson will have his fifth chance to complete the career grand slam. (Fifth if you count this year, when he chose not to play.) He has three Masters titles, one PGA and one British Open.
Only five have done it, and many of the greats have not. Raymond Floyd won three of the four, but never a British Open. Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson are missing PGA Championships. They don’t just give you the fourth one. Hardly. Sam Snead won the 1946 British Open at St. Andrews. He already had a Masters and a PGA. After that win at St. Andrews, at age 34, Snead played in 25 U.S. Opens. You know what didn’t happen? He never won his national championship.
So Master Spieth played with a legend on Saturday, along with the charming, talented 26-year-old Englishman, Tommy Fleetwood. Singh has never won a British Open or a U.S. Open, but he’s a legend for a million other reasons, including his capacity for hard work. They finished their five-hour round at 4 p.m. All three of them ended their days with double-bogeys. They then climbed 59 steps to go up and down one players-only bridge, then another 47 to negotiate another. Spieth was taking them by two. Singh was lumbering along. The Goodyear blimp whirred loudly over their heads as they walked across the 10th tee and the practice putting green on their way to the scorer’s room. Their workday was finally over, with Singh signing for 79, Fleetwood for 73 and Spieth for an even-par 71.
Spieth climbed a few more steps to stand on a riser and answer reporters’ questions with a PGA Championship scrim behind him. Was it inspiring to play with Singh, a man still at it at 54, a man older than his own father?
“I wouldn’t say it inspired me,” Spieth said. “I’ve played a few rounds with Vijay before. But he’s a Hall of Fame golfer, somebody who has had unbelievable success that only a few have had in the game. It’s kind of a cool moment, more than it is inspiring. Just to say, ‘I’m playing with this guy I grew up watching.'” Before long, he was in the splendid air-conditioning of the Quail Hollow clubhouse, eating fried chicken and looking for ice.
Fleetwood made a quick dash through the clubhouse but before leaving for the day talked about his experience with Singh. He spoke of Singh as almost a Zenmaster of calm, “What you learn watching Vijay is acceptance,” Fleetwood said.
Singh went straight from the scorer’s room to the range. He was told what Fleetwood said. If it impressed him at all, you could not tell. “You learn that, over the years,” Singh said. He plays golf with glasses on now, as he did early in his career.
“I played with young guys today, but everybody’s young today and I’m old,” he said. “The game will keep you young but only if you’re fit enough to play.” Singh said. Singh has put on some weight over the past decade, but he’s still strong and limber.
He was asked about Spieth, and what he’s done as a golfer two weeks past his 24th birthday. “I’ve played with Jordan before,” Singh said. “He’s a great kid but he’s still learning how to play the game. Seve [Ballesteros] was like that. He hit it in some crazy places when he was young, he wasn’t that good yet, but he still won.”
Singh’s locker is in the section for former PGA winners. His alphabetical neighbor is Phil Mickelson. Spieth is with the common folk. His neighbor is Kyle Stanley. Maybe someday Spieth and Singh will be alphabetical neighbors at a PGA Championship. It won’t be next year.
In 30 years, Spieth will be the age Singh is now. Does Vijay think Spieth will have won a PGA Championship by then?
Singh smiled and said, “We shall see.” And then he hit two dozen drivers, launching them into the steamy air.