PGA Championship: Jordan Spieth a long shot for career Grand Slam

BETHPAGE, NEW YORK - MAY 14: Jordan Spieth of the United States plays a shot from the sixth tee during a practice round prior to the 2019 PGA Championship at the Bethpage Black course on May 14, 2019 in Bethpage, New York. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)
BETHPAGE, NEW YORK - MAY 14: Jordan Spieth of the United States plays a shot from the sixth tee during a practice round prior to the 2019 PGA Championship at the Bethpage Black course on May 14, 2019 in Bethpage, New York. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images) /

The PGA Championship is the only thing missing from Jordan Spieth’s illustrious list of achievements, but Bethpage Black might be too much for the struggling star.

Jordan Spieth knows the value of every major championship he plays in. This week is magnified in a lot of ways, as the PGA Championship is the only leg of the career Grand Slam that has eluded him in his still-young career. This week at Bethpage Black, he’ll have another shot at making history, as just the sixth player in history to win all four modern majors.

But then there’s a bit of reality to consider. Spieth has been struggling with his game for what feels like forever now. His last top-ten finish came at last summer’s Open Championship. His last victory? The 2017 Open, when he famously made bogey from the driving range (and behind the equipment vans!), eventually beating Matt Kuchar for the Claret Jug. Yeah, it’s been a while.

All year, Spieth has remained outwardly confident, despite his results – and world ranking – tumbling by the day. He’s always known what to say, putting “we” ahead of “me” and letting his golf do most of the talking. But, frankly, his game hasn’t been saying a whole lot that matches his words recently.

To his credit, Spieth did shoot three rounds in the 60s at the AT&T Byron Nelson, the first time he’s done that all year. He didn’t get the best draw of tee times through the week, but the T-29 finish despite a Sunday 71 was a glass half full result.

"“I don’t take the disappointment. I take more confidence than disappointment,” Spieth said. “The actual result doesn’t show really how well I played. We kind of had a tough draw the first two days and then still be — what was it 11 under for the week? — is solid playing on any golf course.”"

Translation: It wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Raise your hand if you ever thought that would be a benchmark for Spieth’s game. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

I’m an unashamed fan of Spieth, both the person and his game. From our vantage point as fans and onlookers, he’s really done everything right. Heck, maybe it’s all been a little too easy? Sports fans love a superstar, but we love a redemption story maybe just a little bit more. Minor setbacks for major comebacks and all that.

That brings us right back to this week at Bethpage State Park. We all know how tough the course is – have you seen the sign enough recently? Spieth has succeeded on some equally tough tracks, but how will he fare against a major-quality field?

Thankfully, this isn’t a U.S. Open. The USGA would have rough two feet long and greens running at 18 on the stimp even with the rains that have rolled through in the past few days. But even without the USGA mucking around, the rain has amplified one of Bethpage’s already daunting features.

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This course is playing long. The type of long that even has the Tour’s bombers commenting on it. Brooks Koepka doesn’t get as much mic time as he might like, but this might be the most revealing thing you’ll hear all week about the PGA Championship course:

"“This golf course is already long,” said Koepka. “But being wet, it’ll be interesting to see. It makes the fairways a little bit wider, which I think could be in our benefit or especially the longer hitters, because we can get it a little bit further down there. And usually the longer hitters aren’t as accurate, so open up those fairways for us, and these greens will be quite receptive.”"

Jordan Spieth is a heck of a player when he’s on, but one thing he’s never been accused of is being long, at least by Tour standards. He’s currently ranked 86th on Tour in driving distance, and a brutal 205th in accuracy, hitting just 52.30 percent of fairways in regulation. If he finds himself short and battling the rough, that could be a recipe for disaster.

Spieth has been improving with his putting recently, and that’s one thing that could save him this week. Bomb-and-gouge is great and all, but if Spieth can find a little magic in the flat stick, that could be a big-time equalizer.

This PGA Championship has a lot of intrigue, and Jordan Spieth going for the Grand Slam is no minor storyline. However, I’m not quite ready to dive into that one head first. I just haven’t seen enough consistently solid play from him to put myself through that kind of stress just yet.

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I’ll still be pulling for Spieth to turn things around, and I hope he can find some magic here like he has so many times in other majors. It’s just too long of a shot to believe in until I see it.