Why this weekend will define Jordan Spieth’s entire season

August 9, 2019

JERSEY CITY, N.J. — If PGA Tour events were 36 holes, Matt Kuchar would have the lowest scoring average this season, followed by Tommy Fleetwood and Justin Rose. Fourth on that list is a more surprising name: Jordan Spieth — and that came before he blistered Liberty National to the tune of 67-64 at the Northern Trust Open’s halfway mark.

Spieth looked like the best version of his golf self during Friday’s second round. He drove it poorly but flushed his irons, rolled in a ton of putts and kept his always-frenetic energy under control. He hit just half his fairways but found 15 greens in regulation and poured in eight birdies against just one bogey. Asked about his confidence level after the round, Spieth didn’t hesitate. “Throw me up as high as I can be, yeah,” he said.

Spieth’s play should inspire confidence — but his recent weekend history may give him pause. The last time Spieth opened with a two-day total of 131 was…last week at the Wyndham, when he shot 64-67. “I’m finding new and improved ways to kind of get through the swing a little bit better, and I have no reason not to trust it on the weekend,” Spieth said, sounding upbeat after that round. Then he shot 77 on Saturday, fell 66 spots on the leaderboard and missed the secondary cut.

There were others. Spieth shot 77 on Sunday at Portrush and 76 on Sunday at Pebble Beach. There was the 74-75 weekend at Hilton Head. Ditto at the AT&T Pebble Pro-Am. And of course the Sunday 81 at the Genesis Open, which took him from T4 to T51. He declined to speak to reporters after that one.

Allow me a few more numbers; they’re crucial here. Spieth, the fourth-best weekday golfer on Tour, turns to the 172nd-best on Saturdays, just one spot behind Jim Knous. On Sundays it gets worse: Spieth’s 73.00 scoring average ranks 195th. Out of 196. There’s nothing random about that.

In golf, as we know, past performance is hardly a guarantee of future results. There’s no real reason Spieth can’t play well this weekend. He has very tangible incentives to do so. He has to secure his spot in the Tour Championship, which he missed last season. He’d love to send a signal to his Presidents Cup captain, sorely needed after missing the “possible team-members” dinner Tuesday night. And he’d really love to stop giving media members a reason to ask him about this very subject.

The most revealing thing Spieth has said to the press all week came after Thursday’s opening 67, when asked about 20-year-old playing partner Matt Wolff. “I love how aggressively he plays. It’s cool. I definitely know I used to play a little bit more that way, and I kind of need to get back into that.”

Confidence is not as easily practiced as bunker shots. But one of the things you can say about Jordan Spieth is this: he’s willing to put himself out there—again and again and again. I acknowledge it’s not a long list, but perhaps the noblest thing that pro golfers do is to go out each day knowing their efforts will be assessed by a single number by the end. That’s a vulnerable place to be. It’s one reason so many Tour players have trained themselves into emotional flatness.

There’s no flatness to Spieth’s on-course persona, which ranges from “pleasantly manic” to “fully deranged” depending on the day. Whatever scar tissue has built up, he’s willing to get hurt again.

Midway through Friday afternoon, Spieth still held a share of the lead. But Tour events are 72 holes, and they often get harder as you go along. Which is why Jordan Spieth needs his next 36 to measure up — though you won’t get him to admit that.

“I don’t need anything,” he said, then added to it. “Certainly would be nice.”

To receive GOLF’s all-new newsletters, subscribe for free here.