PGA Championship: What's wrong with Jordan Spieth?

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FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — “What’s wrong with Jordan Spieth?”

Of all the talking points around the PGA Tour this year, one of the most frequently whispered around the range has to do with the ongoing struggles of the three-time major winner.

Spieth’s last victory came in July 2017 at the British Open at Royal Birkdale, a win that put the then 23-year-old in position to become only the sixth player to win the career slam. But reaching that territory on his third opportunity by winning this weekend’s PGA Championship at Bethpage Black seems like a long shot.

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Make a list of things that have struggled this year — Russell Westbrook, “Game of Thrones,” Beto O’Rourke — and Spieth is right near the top. He has yet to record a top-20 this calendar year — his highest finish was T-21 at the Masters — and he’s ranked 39th in the world golf rankings. That’s his lowest position since his pro career took off in 2013.

Whereas people once thought Spieth would lift golf to a post-Tiger future, it’s Tiger Woods once again occupying that penthouse.

Meanwhile, a cadre of other young guns including Brooks KoepkaJustin ThomasJon Rahm and Xander Schauffele are powering golf’s future at a much higher rate than Spieth.

Yet as peers like Rory McIlroy can attest, most young golfers go through a rough period and that’s where the 25-year-old Spieth currently resides. To his credit, he dutifully showed up in the media tent on Wednesday and fielded questions that not-so-subtlety danced around the fact his game has gone south.

A sampling from the transcript:

Q. As you're in this bit of a slump, as you described it –

Spieth: Was.

Q. Was, did you find that people — I'm not talking about outsiders, I'm talking about the people that you run into in the practice range and whatever, were almost walking around on eggshells around you; that people didn't really know what to say to you -—

Spieth: No.

Q. Almost an awkwardness, and what's that like?

Spieth: No, I mean, 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.

“Not winning,” however, almost undersells the situation. Spieth currently ranks 86th in driving distance, 205th in driving accuracy and 152 in greens in regulation percentage.

He’s 138th on the money list with $447,838 in checks cashed (though we’re guessing those Under Armour checks mean things are still OK around the Spieth household.)

Jordan Spieth has not won a tournament since the 2017 British Open. (Getty Images)
Jordan Spieth has not won a tournament since the 2017 British Open. (Getty Images)

As for the slump being in the past tense: Spieth finished T-29th at the Byron Nelson, which was held at his home course of Trinity Forest and under the watchful eye of his swing coach Cameron McCormick.

Spieth still chooses to take the optimistic side of things, which is about the only way to handle struggles on the course.

“I don't want to use the word negativity,” Spieth said on Wednesday. “But the questioning and 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.

“So it actually could be looked at positively, as well, because if I didn't have the success that I've had, then, first of all, I wouldn't be in here [answering questions] right now.”

Spieth credits his slide to getting “a little bit lazy” with his swing, identifying that his hands have slid high. While work with McCormick has produced a few outlier low rounds, doing it consistently is another issue altogether.

“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, and we have all the data points to do it,” Spieth said. “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 ... to consistently time it is just going to take a little bit of time.”

Spieth will tee off Thursday afternoon with Rahm and Dustin Johnson. He says he hopes he’ll take the advances he has made with his driver the past few weeks will benefit a Bethpage setup that he says will reward accuracy over distance on most holes. His highest finish at a PGA Championship came when he was runner-up to Jason Day at Whistling Straits in 2015.

While there has been no sign in 2019 a Spieth breakout is coming, the only thing he can do is get out there and try to put his name on the career slam list where only first names are necessary.

Gene, Ben, Gary, Jack and Tiger.

“[Winning] would be a dream come true for me,” Spieth said. “But I also recognize that if I continue to stay healthy and play well, I'll have, I don't know, 30 chances at it. One of them is bound to go my way, right?”

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