CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In the tao of Jordan Spieth, it was rock bottom.
It was late 2019, and everyone (it seemed) was headed to Australia for the most anticipated Presidents Cup in years. At long last, the PGA Tour would return to one of golf’s great homes (Australia), at one of its most celebrated cathedrals (Royal Melbourne), with a hall-of-fame billing headlining the top of the card (captains Ernie Els and Tiger Woods). For an event in desperate need of oxygen, 2019 was poised to yank the Presidents Cup back to the surface.
But there was one person missing: Jordan Spieth.
Spieth, you probably remember, was mired in the worst slump of his professional career — a monthslong slog that included as many missed cuts as top 10 finishes (four) and extended his winless streak to two years. When the Presidents Cup rosters were finally announced in early November, he was left off the list. For the first time in his career, he would not take part in a team play event.
It’s 2022 now, and Spieth’s freefall is well behind us. The winless streak is over, and while the swing hasn’t quite returned to its pre-2016 form, it’s brought him back to a world ranking of 13 and the Presidents Cup for the first time since 2017. Spieth is a father now, and at 29, he’s quickly become one of the most experienced American competitors.
For most of us, 2019 feels like a lifetime ago. For Jordan Spieth, it very well was a lifetime ago. But it sure doesn’t feel that way.
“Everyone went on planes to go Australia, and I went on an anniversary trip with my wife, and I remember that I probably wasn’t the most fun,” Spieth said Tuesday at Quail Hollow. “I remember just being in a lull — being in contact with those guys and knowing they were in those team rooms. I just never thought I’d miss one after being on a number in a row.”
Even some three years (and a pandemic) later, 2019 still stings for Spieth, who watched from afar as many of his best friends in professional golf rallied around Tiger Woods in a dramatic, Sunday comeback victory.
“It sucked,” he said. “I remember it was a really tough spot. I hated every second of it because I know how fun they are and I know how beneficial these weeks are, these matches, for individually how you’re going to play the next year.”
Fickle as match play may be, competing in the Ryder and Presidents Cups gives players a clear view of how their game stands under pressure. For those looking for the missing link in major championship success, there are few better, more isolating tests than a high-stakes, high-intensity match.
That, he said, was the true twist of the knife. In missing the Presidents Cup team, he didn’t just miss out on the fun, he lost out on the experience.
“Every match feels like you’re going down the back nine at a major championship,” Spieth said. “It’s like every hole with the roars and you’re going two or three up, and you’re like, I got this. It’s a very similar feeling to the nerves and how anxious you are to get started and the nerves on the golf course to competing in a major.”
Spieth knows this because he has lived this. As a Ryder Cup rookie in 2014, he and Patrick Reed formed one of the most dominant tandems of the decade, overpowering the Europeans en route to 2.5 points and a 2-1-1 record in his first-ever start in the event.
The following spring, he took over the golf world, winning the Masters and U.S. Open and tallying top-five finishes in all four majors.
“I mean, the 2014 Ryder Cup did wonders for me in 2015,” he said. “I bet if you ask Scottie [Scheffler] he’ll say last year’s Ryder Cup did wonders for him this year. You see that trend a lot of times with guys who come out and play really well and win important matches and go on to use that as fuel. I certainly did. There’s a lot of advantages, and that’s another reason why I just hated missing it.”
Yes, Spieth isn’t quite over 2019. That’s good — because his teammates won’t let him get over it.
“Pat, Xander and Jordan and I were sitting together last night talking about Australia,” Justin Thomas added slyly. “He was sitting there, like ‘Cool, guys, I know.’ It wasn’t by coincidence. I’ll say that.”
At the Presidents Cup, there’s no salvaging yesterday, but there’s still plenty of reason to hope for tomorrow.
Maybe that’s not just at the golf course.