Most American golfers dream about slipping into the Green Jacket or winning the US Open. Jordan Spieth grew up with his eyes on a prize a bit further from home
It was 21 minutes that will live long in the memory of Jordan Spieth, not to mention everyone watching both at Royal Birkdale and those glued to their TV screens at home.
Standing on the 13th tee at Royal Birkdale on the final day of the 2017 Open Championship, the Texan, level with playing partner Matt Kuchar on 8-under, pushed his drive right. Way right.
As soon as it left the clubface, he put his hands on his head. “I knew at that moment I was staring at six, seven, eight and out of the tournament,” he said afterwards.
A member of the crowd on the dunes separating the 13th and practice ground found Spieth’s ball and, after much deliberation with caddie Michael Greller, he decided to take an unplayable.
Spieth’s only option? To head back onto the practice area flanked by the various brands’ enormous tour trucks. Greller slogged to the top of the hill to give his man a line.
“Mikey!” screamed Spieth. “Number?”
After a Moses-style parting of the crowd, Spieth settled on his club and let fly. His ball came to a rest just shy of the front greenside bunker. From there he bumped one to six feet and made the most unlikely of bogeys.
One back of Kuchar, he was still in the tournament.
What happened next was one of the most remarkable sequence of holes in Open history. Spieth almost aced the 14th before tapping in for birdie, then drained a 50-foot eagle putt at 15 that sparked the now famous “Go get that!” that he yelled at Greller, which Spieth later admitted it was to avoid any more hold-ups – “I just felt so bad about how much time I’d taken at 13.”
Two more birdies followed before a par at the last and a three-shot victory to lift the Claret Jug for the first time and complete three-quarters of the Grand Slam. Something, he tells me when I visited him at his home club of Dallas National in January, was a dream come true.
“The trophy itself, the Claret Jug, is the coolest trophy in our sport,” he says. “And the history, how far back the history goes into the late 1800s and the fact that it was the standard for championship golf, for competitive golf, when the sport was first coming out. The historical significance is what the Open means to me.
“It’s the most sought-after trophy in our sport and, once you have control of it, it’s the greatest feeling. You feel like the champion golfer, you are announced as the champion golfer, and it’s the title you want to have.”
There is a neat little footnote to Spieth’s win at Birkdale. A week before his 16th birthday, Spieth had been at the the same venue to watch the Open for the first time, having just finished second in the Junior Open at nearby Hesketh.
“Watching Opens growing up the number one thing I remember is seeing guys battling it out in the weather,” Spieth explains.
“I remember playing the Junior Open and then going out to the Open Championship at Birkdale, the year that Padraig Harrington won, on the Wednesday and Thursday. It was just so brutally cold, wet, and windy. I was thinking to myself, ‘This looks like a tough golf course and these guys are playing in these conditions.'”
But it didn’t deter him. If anything it made him think it was a tournament he could one day go on and win.
“Growing up in Texas in the wind, I embraced that. I really liked that idea that a lot of golfers wouldn’t enjoy that and therefore it might make it easier for me, someone who likes playing in the wind.
“Similar to Augusta, I remember thinking, man, there is a lot of feel that goes into this, a lot of imagination that goes into how you play tee to green and especially on and around the greens with the massive slopes of links golf.
“The uncertainty of what conditions could come about in the next hour or two on certain days. Wind being one, rain being another, as well as dropping and rising temperatures.
“It will be even more so in Ireland this year.”
Spieth, like his major record in general, has done well at the Open, with finishes of T44, T36, T4 and T30 before that 2017 win. Last year he was left kicking himself after playing in the final group at Carnoustie thanks to a third-round 65 before carding a 76 to fall to T9 and miss a golden opportunity to be the first player to defend the Claret Jug since Harrington 10 years before.
And he puts his stuttering debut down to the Muirfield conditions taking him by surprise.
“I got in because of the previous week, so it was last minute and it was bone dry. It was a dead golf course that was playing so firm and fast,” he explains. “I would think that there was no way my 4-iron would reach a bunker and then I’d hit it and it would either go into the bunker or past it, it was almost uncontrollable. You just have to deal with it. We had perfect weather and it made the course play firm and I honestly felt like that was a disservice to the tournament.
“It’s only now after playing in a lot of other crazy conditions that I’m like, ‘Wow, that was unusual.’ At the time, I remember thinking, ‘I don’t remember it being this nice over here.’ So, my first experience was a little different but since then it’s just changed to expect the unexpected.”
And that might just be the best kind of mentality with which to go to Royal Portrush.
Jordan Spieth’s record at the Open
- 2013: T44 (+10, 69-74-76-75)
- 2014: T36 (-2, 71-75-67-73)
- 2015: T4 (-14, 67-72-66-69)
- 2016: T30 (+2, 71-75-72-68)
- 2017: 1 (-12, 65-69-65-69)
- 2018: T9 (-4, 72-67-65-76)