Tour Confidential: Can Jordan Spieth Pull Off The Grand Slam?

June 29, 2015

Every Sunday night, conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

1. If you are an oddsmaker, what odds do you place on Spieth winning the Grand Slam this year

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): 1,000 to 1. So much has to go right to win a tournament. To do it twice more in a row, on the biggest stages, with an ever-increasing amount of pressure…that’s a big ask.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: As a betting proposition, an interesting question. Really, impossible to handicap (but that won’t stop people from trying). What side of the draw is he going to be on at St. Andrews – will he get bad weather? But as a simple fan of the game – the fan who is trying to imagine what it is like to be Jordan Spieth right now – the question of the odds is irrelevant. Jordan Spieth’s golf ball is not going to know the betting action on it, and Jordan Spieth’s play is not going to be influenced by it.

Jeff Ritter, senior editor, SI Golf Group (@JeffRitter): The experts at 538 are never wrong, and they have Spieth at 1 percent to finish it off. But how can they account for things like grit and gumption? Or, more importantly, timely putting? Add it all up and I like Spieth twice as much as the stat-heads: give him a 2 percent shot.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF Magazine: (@JoshSens): Well, I’d give him a better chance at it than anyone, but I’d still be comfortable booking the other side at 30 or 40 to 1. Just too many quirks of fate await. Not to mention that Rory won’t putt as poorly at St. Andrews as he did at Chambers Bay.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): Oddsmakers want to set a line so an equal amount is bet each way, thus eliminating their risk. Spieth can definitely win at St. Andrews. It’s Whistling Straits I’m not so sure about. I’d rate him 50-1, which is pretty low odds to win any two majors, anywhere.

Joe Passov, senior editor, GOLF Magazine (@JoePassov): I’m not an oddsmaker, but I’ve seen their numbers so far – 1 percent – and I don’t agree. I’m hardly a statistician – I’m not even a good poker player – but if Spieth is healthy, how do you pick against him? I’m going with 25 percent. If he fails to win at St. Andrews, I’ll reassess.

2. Bubba Watson won the Travelers Championship in a playoff over Paul Casey one week after missing the cut at the U.S. Open. What makes Bubba so much better on the traditional PGA Tour venue, and why can’t Bubba’s game travel to venues like Chambers Bay where creativity and shot-making reign? 

SHIPNUCK: I don’t think it has that much to do with the venue per se, it’s more about an extremely persnickety player’s comfort level. There are some courses and towns that agree with Bubba, for whatever reason. And most don’t. It’s his great fortune that Augusta happens to be one of those places.

VAN SICKLE: I’m pretty sure Bubba has asked himself this same question and come up with the same answer as me: I have no earthly idea. Bubba operates in BubbaWorld. I would say that with his homemade all-feel swing, I would not expect him to be consistent week-in and week-out. So maybe that’s it.

BAMBERGER: Bubba has won the Masters twice, I see here in the record book. Few courses are more demanding in terms of creativity and shot-making than Augusta National. As for the TPC River Highlands, it is way underrated. It’s a really good course, almost a traditional U.S. Open course, although it plays much, much softer.

RITTER: Bubba’s attitude shapes how he plays, and for one reason or another he hasn’t been able to get that comfortable at majors outside of Augusta. I do think it’ll happen soon–maybe this year at Whistling Straits, scene of his near-miss in 2010.

PASSOV: Perhaps this question is better answered by a physician or psychologist. Bubba Watson seems to thrive in environments where he’s comfortable and struggles where he’s not. I predicted he would be the disappointment of the U.S. Open because I thought the randomness of the course and the funkiness of the greens would take him far from his comfort zone. Then I called him the favorite at Travelers, where he had a great track record, and he came through. That’s just Bubba being Bubba.  

SENS: Last I checked, Augusta calls for some imagination, so creativity seems less the issue than Bubba’s own attitude and idiosyncrasies. Bubba didn’t sound all that thrilled about Chambers the course or the setup itself, and – as long as we’re in the gambling frame of mind – when a player doesn’t embrace a venue, that’s a good indication that you should be against him.



3. Tiger Woods will compete at this week’s Greenbrier Classic, where he missed the cut in 2012 in his only other appearance at this event. The tournament’s par-70 Old White TPC typically yields low scores. What can we reasonably expect from Tiger this week? Is it a good idea for Tiger to get events like this on his schedule? 

RITTER: If Tiger’s goal is to contend at the next two majors, he needs to play somewhere to get ready. Given what we’ve seen from him lately, just making the Greenbrier cut would be progress.

SENS: A better score than at Chambers but still 10 to 15 shots off the lead. His game is just too out of sorts to recover so quickly. But given that a good part of his battle appears to be mental, it seems like the best approach is to keep fighting. What else is he going to do? Flip burgers at his new restaurant? He can save that as a fallback for when he loses his card.

VAN SICKLE: If you’re a basketball player, you can’t get out of a slump unless you keep shooting. Ditto for Tiger. His issue is getting his game from the range to the tourney, so he needs reps. He also needs a new gameplan/swing plan for his driver. We can expect Tiger to play better than he has lately. We have to expect that at this point.

BAMBERGER: It’s the best thing he can do if he is trying to improve as a professional golfer. Hogan’s answer was in the dirt. Tiger’s answer is with a pencil in hand. Playing at home will do almost nothing for him. Playing with a camera in his face, and the performance anxiety connected with it, changes everything.

PASSOV: At this point, smart scheduling. During his long reign at the top, he prospered everywhere, especially on tough courses, where he often decimated the field and obliterated par. Right now, however, he needs some confidence boosts, and playing tough courses like Muirfield Village, TPC Sawgrass and Chambers Bay isn’t getting it done. Maybe Greenbrier’s Old White TPC will be the tonic. I remember around 15-20 years ago when Nick Faldo was struggling. His coach David Leadbetter had him play practice rounds from the front tees, to get him to shoot some low scores and get his confidence back. Tiger from the Red tees? Let’s see what happens at Greenbrier first.

SHIPNUCK: Sure, the easier the better! Tiger plays such a condensed schedule he tends to turn up only for the biggest events, with the strongest fields on the toughest setups. It’s tough to always be searching for your game in these conditions. Tiger needs to build some confidence so a few rounds in the 60s will do him some good.

4. In the final round of the Travelers, Bubba hit a wedge over a tree and joked to a fan who suggested he hit a punch shot under it by saying, ‘That’s why you’re on that side of the ropes.” What’s the most memorable interaction you’ve seen between a player and fan during a tournament? 

BAMBERGER: Crusty old Tour pro is playing in the old Las Vegas Invitational years ago with four ams. Everybody is playing like sick dogs. COTP goes silent. One of the ams says to the pro something like, “I realize you’re playing lousy, but a couple words from you would really help.” Pro says, “You want two words?” “Yeah,” the guy says. “Just something to lighten things up.” Pro says, “Here’s two. F— you.”

RITTER: Here’s something recent: This year during a Masters practice round I walked along as Tiger played with his buddy Mark O’Meara. On the tough par-3 4th, O’Meara hits one to about 8 feet. Tiger tees up next, and some yahoo hollers “Don’t let the old man beat you!” Woods sticks it to two feet, yanks off his hat and takes a theatrical bow in the direction of his heckler. It was great. I can’t think of another time when he showed up a trash-talker like that.

VAN SICKLE:  Remember the time Phil Mickelson hit a wayward shot (imagine that!) and nailed a fan on the wrist, breaking his watch. As I recall, Phil signed a glove for the guy and then stuck a couple of hundreds in his hand. Phil is known as the biggest tipper in golf. Tiger is not.

PASSOV: What came to mind was Rory’s shot into a guy’s pocket at the 2014 Tour Championship and the good-natured banter that ensued. I didn’t see it, but years ago, Jonathan Byrd hit his fiancee with an errant shot during a PGA Tour event. Still, most of these stories involve Phil Mickelson giving away gloves, cash and watches to fans he’s hit. Most memorable for me, however, was his encounter with a fan he didn’t hit. I was attending the Phoenix Open in 2008, Phil had Super Bowl tickets for the game in town later that Sunday that he wasn’t going to use, and he instructed Bones (Jim Mackay, his caddie) to find a worthy recipient. On the third tee, Bones found an 11-year-old kid in a Callaway cap, there with his dad, and before you could say “You’re on the clock,” had fished the tickets out of the bag and presented them to kid and dad. Wow. 

SENS: A heckled, red-faced and defiant Colin Montgomerie at Brookline in 99 comes to mind. But for comic surrealism, I’ll take the time Webb Simpson got photo-bombed by the Birdman during his post-round interview at the 2012 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club, capped by Simpson telling the guy to enjoy his time in jail.


5. Tom Watson, at 65-years-old, made a spirited run at the U.S. Senior Open in Sacramento, where he almost shot his age with a 66. Has Watson rehabbed his image since the 2014 Ryder Cup? If not, what will it take to do so?

PASSOV: Watson’s tactless, knuckleheaded behavior at the Ryder Cup is gone and forgotten. I don’t know that his image will ever totally recover, but with every amazing round he still shoots on occasion, with every ceremonial goodbye he’ll give (at this year’s British Open, for instance), he further embellishes his stature as one of the greatest players in the history of the game. That’s how I want to remember him and celebrate him. Let a little time pass and he’ll be fully rehabbed.

SHIPNUCK:  I think the Ryder Cup actually enhanced the Watson brand – it demonstrated to a new generation that he is the ultimate old-school hard-ass. His legacy was secured long ago and one bad week at the Ryder Cup did nothing to diminish it.

VAN SICKLE: I doubt that Tom Watson has spent two seconds thinking about his image. He plays golf, competes hard and tries to answer questions honestly. The Ryder Cup debacle is old news, but the meltdown will make a comeback next year as pre-Ryder Cup stories focus on Watson, Phil and the rest. Once the next Ryder Cup starts, his failed captaincy will be forgotten. But probably not until then.

BAMBERGER: The Ryder Cup enhanced Watson’s reputation. More people got to know who he really is. Whether you like that person or not is up to you. Watson doesn’t care. Now you might cite that letter of apology he wrote in the aftermath of the Ryder Cup. That to me was out of character. I actually don’t know what he was trying to achieve with that. Watson’s always talked best with 13 clubs and a putter.

SENS: There’s a wide gulf between Watson’s on and off-course reputations, but neither of those reputations has changed much since the Cup. I don’t think anyone is surprised to see him continue his ageless play. But I also don’t think anyone would want to see him captain the American side again either.

RITTER: The Ryder Cup may always linger a little, but Watson’s on his way back. His victory lap next month at St. Andrews should help move Gleneagles further out of our minds.

6. In a story, it was reported Spieth would play the John Deere Classic before flying directly to Scotland to prep for the British Open. Is this a good idea? Should the top players in the game play in the Scottish Open to get a feel for links golf or is Spieth doing the right thing to play the tournament that jump-started his career in 2013?

SHIPNUCK: It’s not a great idea but I salute Spieth for supporting the Deere – he’s gonna be a rock-star that week. The Scottish Open is the ideal way to prep for the Open, but Spieth will be ready to play when the gun goes off Thursday at the Old Course.

VAN SICKLE: Credit Spieth for doing the right thing. What a way to pay back the John Deere by playing there when you’re going for the Grand Slam! I’m not sure it’s the best way to prepare for the Old Course, but it’s a good way to sharpen his game. So far, Spieth hasn’t made a wrong move in his career. Very impressive.

BAMBERGER: Since that’s what Spieth wants to do, it is almost by definition the best thing for him to do. I imagine he thinks it’s good for his head, to keep faith with his John Deere people. He’s already shown in his 21 years that a good head will take you far in this game.

RITTER: Everyone has their own method for major-championship preparation. Spieth has good vibes at the Deere, and while it isn’t links golf, I’m assuming he views it as a confidence-builder. And we all know you can’t play your way around Hell Bunker without a certain level of self-assurance. 

PASSOV: If there’s any truism about preparations for a major, it’s that there’s no one right way to do it. Jack, and then Tiger always preferred to skip the week before. Phil has most recently preferred to play his way in. When the Scottish Open was played at Loch Lomond for years, you could argue why bother entering, since it wasn’t a links course. The other side would say you’re still acclimating to the weather and the time zone. I would think that a tuneup on a links course is the most ideal, but this isn’t like they’re sailing over on the Queen Mary anymore. These guys crisscross the globe on a weekly basis, and they’re used to figuring things out quickly. Still, kudos to Spieth, and to perhaps the most unsung PGA Tour event of all, the John Deere Classic, which hasn’t had this kind of attention since Tiger debuted as a pro in 1996.

SENS: This is only something worth getting worked up over during a very, VERY slow day in the media tent. It’s a non-issue. Last I checked, Spieth just showed that he could handle firm, fast and quirky conditions pretty well. And he’ll have a few more days of practice rounds at St. Andrews to further hone those skills. Of course, if he plays poorly on the Old Course, I’ll be sure to pile on him for skipping the Scottish Open.  But only if it’s a really, really slow day.

The Tour Confidential roundtable continues Monday on our new weekly show hosted by Jessica Marksbury. Tweet her your questions @Jess_Marksbury.