PGA Championship 2019: Jordan Spieth still searching for old golf swing with history on the line
FARMINGDALE, N.Y. – For the third straight PGA Championship, Jordan Spieth could make history with a title that caps a career grand slam.
Unlike his first two shots at it, Spieth is floating under the radar this time. At least for now.
Tiger Woods has cannibalized golf coverage after his Masters win, and Brooks Koepka enters with three titles in two years and a newfound quotability. Spieth? He’s so 2017. That summer he won the British Open at Royal Birkdale, which will be forever remembered for his approach shot from the driving range in the final round.
That title left him one jewel short of becoming the sixth player in history to finish a career slam. A month later at the PGA at Quail Hollow, all eyes were on him as he placed 28th while his buddy Justin Thomas hoisted the Wanamaker. Last year, Spieth finished 12th at the PGA at Bellerive as Koepka fended off Woods for the title.
Along the way, Spieth’s game has, to phrase it politely, drifted. Since Birkdale, he hasn’t won anywhere. Not in Texas or Florida or California. Not in Europe or Mexico or Australia. At his press conference here Wednesday morning, Spieth, 25, was asked if it’s been awkward to fade from the spotlight while facing questions about a slump.
“I didn’t, like, go away from the game for five years, I just happened to not win in the last year and a half or so,” he said. “I’ve had friends on Tour reach out and say, ‘Hey, everyone goes through ups and downs. Stick to it, you’re doing the right things.’ The wording that’s used to describe me by media or whatever over the past year has only come up because of the amount of success that I’ve had.”
Two summers ago, he really was The Guy. He’d rung up three major titles before his 24th birthday. He was fiery, honest and candid. Sports Illustrated slapped him on a cover while heralding “The Spieth Era.” How quickly the worm can turn. Last week Spieth played the AT&T Byron Nelson, which is staged outside Dallas at Trinity Forest CC, where he’s a member. A perfect setup. He tied for 29th.
Where has it gone wrong? Spieth says it all starts with his driver, and the stats bear that out. He currently ranks 202nd on Tour in strokes gained off the tee out of 214 players.
“Even on some of the good rounds I get away with a bad couple of drives, but then over the course of four rounds, you just can’t continue to get away with them. Kind of the foul ball type thing,” Spieth said. “Balls need to start more on line, and it’s happening. It’s getting there. And I feel like I’m working on one swing feel now instead of changing it up each round, which allows me to be more consistent, to recognize where the club face is and be able to time it a little bit better. And that’s only been the last week or so that I’ve been really sticking to kind of one swing feel, really nailing it down.”
Spieth attempted to portray confidence. But this week at the range he might as well surround himself with orange cones and caution tape. On Tuesday, he made two extended trips to Bethpage’s practice range. At one point he was spotted hitting hard hooks with wedges, which any 15-handicap can tell you aren’t supposed to hook. He also fought the hooks last weekend at the Nelson.
“I was trying something Sunday that was kind of a test, and it was kind of a bad decision,” he said. “I kind of went away from what I was doing the other three rounds to try and bring a big draw back in play to see if it would work. But then I hooked a couple out of play because of that.”
If Spieth wins this week, it would likely go down as the most unlikely major title of his career. It would also be historic. But for now his search for that feeling from two years ago continues.
“My swing started to kind of go up instead of around me, and I’m trying to get it right back to where it was in 2017 where I was first in tee to green on the tour,” he said. “We have all the data points to do it. It’s just a difficult move for me right now, and it just takes a little bit of time to work it back and get the timing right.”
He has one day left to find it, or else history will have to wait another year.
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