#AskAlan mailbag: Was Birkdale Jordan Spieth’s defining moment as a pro?

July 25, 2017

Go get that, he said. And so I did. Here is a cornucopia of this week’s questions – thanks as always to everyone who sent in their thoughts.

“Have you ever witnessed anything like Spieth’s recovery from that drive on 13? If he’d missed that bogey putt it could have been different story.” -Sean (@SeanT666)

If Jean Van de Velde had birdied every hole of the playoff at the 1999 Open then, yes, we would have witnessed something similar. For drama, nuttiness and sheer chaos, JVDV’s folly on the 72nd hole at Carnoustie is the only thing I’ve seen that compares to Jordan’s career-defining bogey. But of course Van de Velde couldn’t rally after his cock-up, because he’s merely human, unlike Spieth.

“Under the rules could Kuchar have completed the 13th hole while JS got his ruling, explored his options, etc.? If yes, wouldn’t that have been advisable?” -Patrick (@Paddyf67)

In stroke play, there is no penalty for playing out of turn. So yes, Kuchar could have walked up to the green and tried his birdie putt rather than getting iced for the better part of half an hour. But it would have been awkward in the extreme – Spieth’s ball could have materialized out of the ether to doink him on the head, the crowd would have been restless/distracted, and it would be been such a breach of protocol that Kuch would’ve had trouble pulling the putter back with all the juju swirling around. So, he made the right call, even though that meant having to stew on probably his most important putt of the day…which he missed, failing to apply extra pressure on Spieth when it could have been monumental.

“Arnie at Cherry Hills in 1960: 3rd major victory, front nine 30 on Sunday was his defining moment as ARNIE. Birkdale 2017, Spieth’s 3rd major, was this his MOMENT?” -David (@DStan58)

Unquestionably. Spieth didn’t just secure a massive victory, he restored his brand in an audacious way. I said this on Twitter, but for all the Tiger comparisons that come with Spieth’s precocious achievements, he reminds me more of Phil, in that there is a volatility to Jordan’s game and at any moment he’s capable of a big miss. But on Sunday at Birkdale, Spieth combined the best of both of them, scrambling like Phil and then closing ruthlessly like Tiger.

“I didn’t like Rickie and JT drinking out Spieth’s Claret Jug. Would Jack have drank out of Arnie’s?” -@cmjnova

Hell to the no, but it’s a different time, and these guys are closer than Jack and Arnie were. (That friendship didn’t flower until much later in their careers.) I thought it was great fun to have Thomas (and others) fan-boying Spieth in real-time during the closing holes. The friendship in that crew runs deep, so why not celebrate your pal’s great achievement?

“I’ve always wondered how guys decide who flies home together. It was obviously a hot ticket to get on Jordan’s flight home – who/when/how decides?” -@GolfLaugh

It comes down to geography, friendship, finances and the size of the plane. And it can be fluid – I’ve overheard conversations on Sundays (and occasionally Fridays, after the cut has fallen) where guys are scrambling to find a ride home. Of all these factors, friendship is the biggest – there’s not many places to hide on those jets, and you better enjoy the person’s company if you’re going to be cooped up together in a tin can for 8 or 9 hours.

“I found watching Rory painful – constantly making basic errors at the wrong time. Yet still he tied for 4th. Is this a sign of decline or promise?” -Mark (@mocycling)

Both. It was another maddening performance in a long string of them. Hard to believe McIlroy has now gone three calendar years without a major championship victory in what should be the prime of his career. There have been injuries, lawsuits, equipment changes, marriage proposals, a lavish wedding, putting slumps and various other extenuating circumstances, but the bottom line is that since the start of 2015 he’s down 3-0 to Spieth in major wins. Given this fitful year and his awful start at Birkdale, Rory’s eventual finish has to be considered a positive, though I remember a similar spin after McIlroy’s backdoor T7 at Augusta. He now has one tournament left on one of his favorite courses to salvage a lost year. Which brings us to…

“How important is the PGA to Rory?” -Aaron (@atf8912)

Well, it means everything. If he wins it’s the ultimate clap back to Spieth. Given his track record at Quail Hollow, Rory has been the presumptive favorite for about five years. But it’s asking a lot to suddenly find the old magic after scuffling for six months. It’s a major gut-check for Rory and it will be fascinating to see how he responds. Nothing I’ve seen tells me Rory is ready to ball-out for a full 72 holes, but he has now become the game’s ultimate enigma, and it’s almost impossible to predict what he’ll do next.

“Dream Sunday scenario to cover at Quail?” -Anna (@AnnaH24)

Playoff between Jordan, Rory, Dustin and Phil. The Twitter servers would combust.

“#AskAlan Kuch has to be the best without a major, right? And don’t give me this Lee Westwood nonsense.” -Scott (@s1rweeze)

I’ve been saying for a long time that Westy’s time has passed. With some misgivings I anointed Fowler with the dreaded title of BPNTHWAM following this year’s Masters but Kuchar has definitely entered the conversation. One of the prerequisites is you have to have had your heart broken in a few majors, and getting run over by the Spieth train certainly qualifies. Kuchar’s advanced age makes him a better candidate, too; he is quickly approaching the now-or-never moment that Westwood passed years ago. I’d say it’s pretty much a toss-up between Fowler and Kuchar, but just typing all of this has questioning my allegiance to Fowler. Let’s see how the PGA plays out…

“Early pick for Carnoustie in 2018?” -Wyatt (@WJZangl)

Oh gawd, really? Can’t we just enjoy this one? (Spieth.)

“Alan, do you think the R&A or Royal Birkdale officials should put a plaque on the spot of Spieth’s shot on 13 from the practice facility?” -Duffy (@duffyross)

A plaque seems too mundane. How about a 30′ tall periscope? That way you’d actually be able to see the green from over there.