TULSA, Oklahoma — Sixteen months ago, Jordan Spieth spent a long time in post-round press conferences answering questions about what was wrong with him.
Or what was missing from his once prized golf game.
The world’s top-ranked men’s player for much of 2015-16 and the winner of three major championships in roughly the same period, Spieth had dropped to 92nd in the world rankings by January of last year. His best finish at a 2020 major was a tie for 46th.
During this time, Spieth handled the nearly weekly Inquisition as to whether he would ever regain his form with poise and sincerity. For the most part, he kept his smile. But that smile is now much wider. Rallying in 2021 with a second-place finish at the British Open and rising this year with a 13th PGA Tour win and two second-place finishes, Spieth has climbed back into the top 10 in the world.
On Wednesday, a day before the first round of the 2022 PGA Championship, Spieth met with reporters and happily spent most of his time answering questions about whether he would achieve a measure of immortality in golf this week. to achieve.
Only five golfers—Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, and Tiger Woods—have won each of the game’s major championships. With victories at the Masters, US Open and British Open, Spieth, 28, only needs a PGA Championship title to join that gold-plated group.
“It’s the elephant in the room for me,” Spieth said Wednesday with a small grin. “If you told me I would win a tournament for the rest of my life, I’d say I want to win this one. In the long run, it would be really cool to say that you have conquered the four biggest golf tournaments in the world which are also played in different parts of the world and in different styles. So you feel like you’re sort of an accomplished golfer when you win a career Grand Slam. †
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Successful golf? As in mastering it? That’s an almost celestial ambition in a sport that cruelly grounded nearly all of its devotees on a regular basis. But Spieth can be forgiven. With his game in an abyss, he endured many months muttering to himself as he marched off the tee into the high rough. And no golfer mutters so systematically, yes professionally, to himself with the insane zeal shown by Spieth.
Even as his golf ball sails straight and on, Spieth hasn’t stopped with his frequent self-commentary on the golf course, always with his forbearing caddy, Michael Greller, the former sixth-grade math teacher, nodding silently as he walks beside his boss.
Greller’s role should not be underestimated given Spieth’s active brain (and mouth). Spieth acknowledged that on Wednesday.
“I’ve been trying to really have a little more fun, and Michael is doing it well,” Spieth said. “If I wake up a little on the wrong side of the bed tomorrow, like we all do, he’ll try to talk to me about something other than golf. He’ll step in, and having some kind of friend on the bag who can hold the light can sometimes turn things in that direction.”
Spieth will be tested in other ways in Thursday’s first round. He will play with Woods and four-time major champion Rory McIlroy, a group likely to be followed by about 70 percent of the tens of thousands of fans on the grounds of the Southern Hills Country Club. The atmosphere is loaded and because a golf gallery doesn’t sit around like other sporting events, it will become more of a noisy, chaotic, ever-moving wave.
But Spieth, whose wife, Annie, gave birth to the couple’s first child, son, Sammy, in November, had a different view.
“I’ll tell my kid about this one day — I have to play with Tiger in a major,” Spieth said.
He added that he had done it before, but when acknowledging Woods’ near-fatal car accident in February 2021, he added: “Last year you weren’t sure if that would ever happen again.”
Spieth admitted that the huge crowd could be a distraction, but he’s gotten used to it. When he nearly won the Masters as a 20-year-old and finished first in the tournament a year later in 2015, Spieth himself drew a teeming crowd.
“Sometimes when the crowd gets big enough, it’s just a color fade in a way,” he said. “But Tiger and Rory are great to play with. They’re fast. They’re positive. I think you have to embrace it and recognize that it’s cool and of course great for golf.”
The grouping could even be a boon, Spieth said, as a way to take his mind off the chance to take the career Grand Slam of major championships.
“If I can play well in the coming days, given the crowds that will be there, then I think the weekend could feel a bit like a breather in a way,” he said. “So that’s how I look at it.”