Jordan Spieth: Is He Progressing or Stalled in Comeback?

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, SOUTH CAROLINA - JUNE 17: Jordan Spieth of the United States reacts during a practice round prior to the RBC Heritage on June 17, 2020 at Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
HILTON HEAD ISLAND, SOUTH CAROLINA - JUNE 17: Jordan Spieth of the United States reacts during a practice round prior to the RBC Heritage on June 17, 2020 at Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /

Jordan Spieth went from unknown at the beginning of 2013 to world No. 1 by August of 2017.  By the beginning of 2020, plagued by poor finishes, he had slipped beyond 50th.

A former leaderboard regular, Spieth was almost nowhere to be found in 2019 except for two instances: a third at the PGA and a 6th at the Northern Trust.

How did his slide happen?  Can he get his game back? More importantly, does he want to?

The downward spiral started when he caught mono in 2017 at the end of that season.  It seemed to drag him into an abyss.

But was something else really going on?  He’s now at the point where we are about to find out which Jordan Spieth he really is. The Spieth of three majors?  Or the Spieth of the last three years.

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At the outset of the first post-COVID tournament, his world ranking was 56th. He contended.  After two rounds, he was one back of the leader, Harold Varner III.

The third round proved to be one of his escape-artist performances. It even included a four putt. A four putt.  From one of the best putters ever. Despite that, he was just one back starting Sunday.  He was showing signs, a glimmer, of the player who had won 11 times.

Then the other Jordan Spieth showed up

He looked like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football.  You know he wants to do it, you think he wants to do it, and yet, after a big charge and some wicked work by Lucy, he makes a cataclysmic slip and crashes to earth.

Some of the fall from grace has come from redoing his swing, whatever that entails and wherever the idea came from.  Why anyone would mess around with a swing that won three majors and got to World No. 1 is beyond me, but he did.  He’s not the only high quality golfer to fall into that trap. Legions of golfers have taken two steps or more back trying to get better.  Even Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.

Spieth also went on a distance chase, and that’s not always a good situation.  The foray went like this.  In 2015, his driving average was 291.8 yards.  In 2017, it was 295.6.   At the end of 2019, it was 295.2.  It’s currently 303.2.  So, was 11 yards worth more than 50 world ranking points and numerous missed opportunities?

Then there was the bad luck, catching mono at the end of 2017. It ruined his attempt to regain his form for 2018.  And things didn’t improve in 2019.  Now we’re all challenged by a pandemic.

Golfers always think they will have another season to get ready, another week for victory or another year to win that next major.  Well, Spieth, once called Golden Child because he seemed to get every good bounce and break on the golf course, is now 26.  He’s thinking, I’m not in my prime yet.

Here’s the shocking news:  once he reaches his prime, what’s next is beyond his prime.  No one thinks about that.  The days and weeks and months slip away and pretty soon it’s Phil Mickelson and Sam Snead not winning the U.S. Open or Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson not winning the PGA.

As of now, we’d have to say that Jordan’s Spieth’s make-up was like a big game hunter for three years only to who turn into a middle-of-the-packer for three years.

As Spieth’s travails continue, I keep remembering something my mother said after Fred Couples failed to win The Masters one of the several times when he had a chance to win a second one.

“He doesn’t want to win,” she said. “Maybe he doesn’t want the spotlight anymore.”

She was absolutely right about Couples.  He hated everything about being in what Spieth used to call the white hot light of fame, except perhaps the money.  And that’s the trade off.

I thought of what she said when Spieth blew up on the back side at The Masters in 2016.  I recalled it again, when he couldn’t mount a charge at the 2017 Masters.

It looked like he had overcome it with his 2017 British Open victory, but since then Spieth has been in what has to honestly be called a slump.

Is it as simple as what Arnold Palmer said about himself at the 1966 U.S. Open in the book Men In Green? When retelling the disappointment of his loss to Jack Fleck in a playoff at Olympic Club, Palmer said simply he lost his edge.  That he was never the same after that.  No other golfer has ever admitted to that.

“The first thing you want to do is win an Open,” Palmer said. “Then, after you win it, you have to stay aggressive, stay the way you were when you won it. And it’s difficult to do.”

It’s Tiger Woods difficult.  It takes exceptional mental strength that most people just do not have, plus the physical gifts to make it happen.

Now, there’s the chance that Spieth is so happy with his life that he doesn’t want to do anything to change it, even winning.  While we may feel that he’s cheating us out of watching him win, he may have decided that he wants to spend his life out of the limelight.

So, as Spieth, visits another leaderboard at the RBC Heritage, we wait and watch.  Will he reach his former heights, or will the football be yanked away?  He may think he has plenty of time.  But those years will go faster than he thinks.