Once upon a time all eyes were on one player: Jordan Spieth. Now he's barely on the radar, and golf is desperate for his return
Of all the outlandish things that took place in the last decade the one that will always stand out is that a player came to the 72nd hole still in with the very real chance of completing the third leg of the Grand Slam.
At an Under Armour get-together on the eve of that Open Championship at St Andrews there was an exhibition which took the form of five players – the main man Jordan Spieth, Gary Woodland, Hunter Mahan (remember him?), Bernd Wiesberger and Matt Fitzpatrick – trying to smash a small pane of glass 25 yards away with a 3-iron-type stinger.
Spieth obliterated his target with his first attempt and, with another player struggling to find the target next to him, also destroyed his for good measure. At the time it seemed like nothing could go wrong in Spieth’s world.
A few weeks later he went into the final round of the PGA Championship just two shots back and shot a 68 only to come up against a Jason Day who was having the week of his life.
In his next major start there followed another second at Danny Willett’s Masters but the takeaway from that one is a very different one.
Even with his astonishing Open victory at Birkdale the following season those days seem like a short lifetime away. The player touted with the brain of Jack Nicklaus and the putting stroke beyond maybe anyone who has ever played the game is now an unfathomable 44th in the world.
For all the weekly jabber of Rory, Tiger, Brooksy and JT there is something different missing these days and Spieth always filled that hole, the player unable to overpower a course but still someone who could dismantle it with alarming regularity and a player who loves the biggest of stages. Plenty of us miss Spieth and all that goes with him.
He’s vulnerable and honest and we all like that in a player particularly when the same player has the mental and physical skills to bounce back off the ropes and produce moments like those closing few holes at Birkdale.
In recent months he failed to make it to the Tour Championship, for the second year running he was nowhere to be seen at Kapalua last week and he barely got a mention when it came to Tiger Woods’ Presidents Cup picks for Royal Melbourne, a course that would have surely got his analytical juices flowing.
Since 2013 he has been a part of either a Presidents or Ryder Cup team every year, last month he admitted that he planned to get away while the matches were taking place.
We’ll all talk about how nobody can keep holing all those putts but last term the 26-year-old was 2nd for Strokes Gained: Putting – in 2018 he crashed to an all-time low of 123rd – then we’ll hear about how he can’t find a fairway but that his iron play is better than ever. There’ll be three good rounds and one stinker and so on and so forth, whichever way you look at it Spieth has been going in reverse for some time now.
“Unfortunately, it’s not just one thing,” Spieth explained in the Bahamas on his last start where he finished 16th of an 18-man field. “I wish it was easy to say one thing but if it was then I would have already figured it out. I think it’s just part of the game. Tiger set a standard of dominance that is very difficult to match, impossible I would say, at this point, to match.”
His next start will now be at Torrey Pines in two weeks after he withdrew from this week’s Sony Open with a cold. Even that type of thing never seemed to happen back in the glory days.