ST. LOUIS — When Jordan Spieth is upset, he just can’t hide it. It’s one of the qualities that endears the young superstar to fans. But Spieth’s on-course frustrations are usually restricted to the verbal; when he’s nervous, anxious or upset, on-course microphones pick up his stream-of-conscious emotions, which are often directed at caddie Michael Greller.
It was slightly out of character, then, when Spieth snapped in a moment of physical rage on the 17th hole Friday. Bunkers guard the left side of the fairway at the par-5, and a hazard runs down the right. Spieth had found that hazard en route to a late bogey on Thursday that soured his opening-round 71, but he stepped to the tee on Friday with a fresh spring in his step. Two early birdies had him in red figures for the tournament, and good thing: the leaders were approaching double digits under par. A good drive would put Spieth in position to go for the green and add to his birdie count.
Instead, he hit a push-slice tee shot — just as he had Thursday — and again found the hazard. After a brief search, Spieth found his ball in the brambles bordering the water. He snatched it from the hazard and stepped back up to the fairway, and then it happened: Spieth whirled around and spiked his Titleist back into the creek.
It was the type of reaction fans typically associate with Spieth’s playing partner, Jon Rahm, who has a penchant for outbursts. But it was also a reminder that things aren’t coming as easy for Spieth these days. In 2018, he has more missed cuts than top-fives. He’s slipped from No. 2 in the world to No. 8. And although he’s contended at two majors, a Sunday swoon at Carnoustie is surely still fresh in his mind. Old frustrations can lurk on the golf course, and compound.
Jordan Spieth is not having fun pic.twitter.com/kBgGmQExYq
— Dylan Dethier (@dylan_dethier) August 10, 2018
But Spieth only broke character for a split-second. Before the ripples in the creek had even settled he was asking the marshal where he should drop his ball to get back in play. He hit a layup down the fairway, leaving himself 113 yards. And then he did the sort of thing we’ve come to expect Spieth to do with a wedge in his hands and a crucial challenge before him: he stuffed his approach to six feet and poured in the putt.
The par save may prove to be an irrelevant moment in the context of the tournament; Spieth was hanging closer to the cut line than the lead for much of his Friday round. But it was a reminder of three things: Spieth is a perfectionist, he’s as competitive as they come and he’s frustrated with the way things are going. It’s been more than a year since Spieth’s last win, the 2017 British Open. In 2018, two of his best results have come at major championships. Don’t count him out just yet.