Hey, Jordan Spieth, who’s better: 2015 Spieth, or … today’s Spieth?
A disclaimer before we begin: A lot has happened over the past seven years, and many golf balls have been hit, so Jordan Spieth’s self-analysis here is not exactly scientific.
To that point, his recall of the 2015 Open Championship is a bit foggy.
“I really don’t remember but a few shots here or there,” he said. “Obviously the closing stretch Sunday I remember. But I remember starting out, I birdied No. 1, I remember on Sunday. (Editor’s note: He’s right!) And I remember 16 in (birdie), but I didn’t even remember 13 (par), 14 (par), 15 (par). I didn’t even remember the holes until I got back on property, which is a bit odd.
“I think it’s going to play significantly different this year because I think we only had one day where it was maybe calm in this wind direction. The other three were blowing hard the other way. So it’s a totally different golf course.
“We hit driver the entire back nine; you’re hitting mid-irons into greens. Now, I hit a hold 4-iron on 16 that almost reached the bunker at 3, whatever, holding the wind. So it’s playing totally different as far as each hole specifically.”
This week, Spieth will play the Open Championship as one of the favorites, and deservedly so. He has five top 10s this year, which include a win and a tie for 10th last week at the Scottish Open. He’s 12th in the world. And from just a golf sense, his game embraces the subtleties of links golf; it demands creativity, and Spieth is a right-brain golfer.
Of course, in 2015, Spieth was the pick. In December of 2014, he won. In March of 2015, he won. He won the Masters. He won the U.S. Open. A week before the Open Championship, he won. Then at St. Andrews, where the Open is also being played this year, Spieth finished a single shot out of the three-man playoff that determined the winner.
All of which led to an engaging question to Spieth on Tuesday in his pre-tournament press conference:
“Do you think of yourself as a better golfer now or when you were here in 2015?”
His answer? As expected, yes and no. Did you think he was going to answer he’s a lesser player than he has been, just two days before the start of the event? Probably not. Then again, it’s notable. Before this recent stretch, Spieth had been mired in a well-documented valley, and if the man is saying he can hang with his best self, that’s at least something.
“I think of myself as having a bit more momentum in 2015,” Spieth answered. “I don’t know how you can have more. But I think there’s certain parts of my game that I feel are stronger, and there’s certain parts of my game where I’m just trying to get right back to where they were at that point in time.
“So I would say if I played against myself then, if I beat myself then this week, then I would be holding a trophy. So it would be obviously, certainly a big challenge, but I don’t necessarily know that I could answer that because I feel I hit it farther, I feel that my knowledge, round to round, of seeing a lot more majors and a lot more tournaments can mentally make me just a little bit — maybe I have some advantage on a shot that I wouldn’t have thought about then. But I was also canning everything that I looked at then, and I can’t say that’s going to happen every week forever, but it certainly can happen in four days.”
To continue the conversation, and for fun, let’s look at some of the Strokes Gained figures from this year and 2015. Of course, not that they are the end all, be all, but they tell you both that Spieth’s run seven years ago was, indeed, ridiculous, but also he’s at least comparable now, except in one very glaring way:
SG: Off the Tee, 15th overall (.494)
SG: Approach the Green, 11th (.618)
SG: Around the Green, 7th (.471)
SG: Putting, 9th (.571)
SG: Tee to Green, 4th (1.583)
SG: Total, 2nd (2.154)
SG: Off the Tee, 32nd overall (.389)
SG: Approach the Green, 41st (.397)
SG: Around the Green, 25th (.303)
SG: Putting, 145th (-.133)
SG: Tee to Green, 20th (1.090)
SG: Total, 31st (.957)
You know the story here: Should his putter get hotter, Spieth could very well be there again on Sunday. Granted, we can say this every week, which is why maybe the whole conversation of confidence from earlier takes on more relevance.
Think of it this way: If you’re wanting a Spieth putting breakthrough, you don’t want him sounding tepid.
“This is unlike any other tournament really, The Open at St Andrews,” Spieth said. “It certainly hasn’t disappointed being on the grounds this week. The course is incredibly firm. The greens are flawless, and the setting as you come in these closing holes is even more grand than it was seven years ago.
“So very exciting. I think, if you’re not getting amped up to play in this Open, I’m not sure this is the right sport for you. It’s extremely, extremely exciting. I’m looking forward to getting out there. I guess I’m off at 3-ish on the first round. So get to see a bit of how the course is going to be playing to start, which might be a good thing, and then go out and brave the wind.”