PGA Championship: Jordan Spieth Aims for Career Grand Slam

Tulsa, Okla. – Sixteen months ago, Jordan Spieth spent long stretches during post-round news conferences answering questions about what was wrong with him.

Or what was missing from his once prized golf game.

The world’s top-ranked men’s player for much of 2015-16 and the winner of three major championships roughly the same period, Spieth had tumbled to 92nd in the world rankings by January of last year. His best finish at 2020 was a tie for 46th.

In this time, Spieth handled the almost weekly inquiry about whether he would ever regain his form with poise and sincerity. For the most part, he kept his smile. But that smile is far wider now. With a rally in 2021 that included a second-place finish at the British Open and a surgeon this year that included a 13th PGA Tour victory and two second-place finishes, Spieth has climbed back into the top 10 worldwide.

On Wednesday, the day before the first round of the 2022 PGA Championship, Spieth met with reporters and happily spent most of his time answering questions about whether he might achieve a measure of golfing immortality this week.

Only five golfers – Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods – have each won the game’s major championships. With victories at the Masters, the US Open and the British Open, Spieth, 28, needs only a PGA Championship title to join that gilded group.

“It’s the elephant in the room for me,” Spieth said Wednesday with a small grin. “If you told me I was going to win a tournament the rest of my life, I’d say I want to win this one. Long term, it would be really cool to say that you captured four golf tournaments in the world that are played in different parts of the world and different styles, too. So you feel like you kind of accomplished golf when you win a career at Grand Slam. “

Accomplished golf? As in mastered it? That ‘sa almost celestial ambition in a sport that keeps almost all its devotees cruelly grounded on a regular basis. But Spieth can be forgiven. When his game was in an abyss, he endured many months of muttering to himself as he marched off the tee on his way to the high rough. And no golfer mutters to himself so systematically, indeed professionally, with the zany zeal that Spieth exhibits.

Even with his golf ball sailing straight and farther now, Spieth hasn’t stopped his frequent self-commentary on the golf course, always with his forbearing caddie, Michael Greller, a former sixth grade math teacher, nodding silently as he walks alongside his boss.

Greller’s role should not be underestimated given Spieth’s active brain (and mouth). Spieth acknowledged as much Wednesday.

“I’ve been trying to really have some fun more, and Michael does a good job with that,” Spieth said. “If I wake up tomorrow on the wrong side of the bed, as we all do, he’ll try and talk to me about something other than golf. He’ll step in, and having the kind of friend over a bag that can keep it light can sometimes turn things in that direction. “

Spieth will be tested in other ways in Thursday’s first round. He will play with Woods and the four-time major champion Rory McIlroy, a grouping that is expected to be followed by about 70 percent of the tens of thousands of fans on the grounds at the Southern Hills Country Club. The atmosphere will be charged, and because a golf gallery does not remain seated at other sporting events, it will become more like a noisy, chaotic, ever-moving wave.

But Spieth, whose wife, Annie, gave birth to the couple’s first child, a son, Sammy, in November, had a different take.

“I’ll get to know my kid about this someday – I got to play with Tiger in a major,” Spieth said.

He added that he had done it before, but as he acknowledged Woods’ near-fatal car crash in February 2021, he added: “Last year, you weren’t sure if it was ever going to happen again.”

Spieth did concede that the huge crowd could be a distraction, but one he’d gotten used to. When he won the Masters as a 20-year-old and finished first at the tournament a year later, in 2015, Spieth attracted some teeming crowds himself.

“Sometimes, when the crowds get big enough, it’s kind of just a color blur in a way,” he said. “But Tiger and Rory are great to play with. They’re quick. They’re positive. I think you have to embrace it and recognize that it’s cool and it’s obviously great for golf. “

The grouping might even be a blessing, Spieth said, as a way to keep his mind off of the opportunity to win the Grand Slam’s major championships.

“If I can play well these next couple of days, given the crowds that will be out there, then I think the weekend might actually feel like a breather in a way,” he said. “So that’s how I’m looking at it.”

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