Spieth back in good spirits as he plots US Open challenge
Major winner leaps to USGA defence despite criticism of the event in recent years
Jordan Spieth: “I think big picture you still had the right champions every single time. And that’s what you want to do in Majors, you want to separate who is playing the best from who’s not.” Photograph: Etienne Laurent/EPA
Time will tell whether Jordan Spieth’s defence of the United States Golf Association proves a rarity this week at Pebble Beach. The support offered by the 2015 champion to those who organise the US Open was, at least, timely.
“We don’t sit there in locker rooms and talk about the USGA, ”said the three-times major winner.
This tournament has been beset by negative publicity for years – the course condition at Chambers Bay when Spieth won in 2015, the relative ease of Erin Hills two year later and a rules farrago involving Dustin Johnson at Oakmont in between are just some of the headline makers, which leaves many to wonder what trouble might befall the 119th staging of the event.
Spieth, though, suggested the criticism directed at the USGA might have been unfair.
“I think there’s been a couple of tough breaks,” he said. “I think overall we’re going to see certainly a trend of some fantastic championships. I have no doubt. I think recent history was just kind of a bit unlucky, one course played a lot easier.
“You had a rules thing and some greens that ended up not the way they were supposed to be going in. I don’t know necessarily if all the blame for all that goes to one place or a number of places, or there shouldn’t be any blame in general.
“If we’re going to look at 2015, I was playing the best going in, and so was Dustin and Jason Day, and look at the leaderboard on Sunday. Maybe it wasn’t ideal conditions but it didn’t separate who was playing the best that week. Same with DJ who was playing the best at Oakmont, he ends up winning.
“I think big picture you still had the right champions every single time. And that’s what you want to do in Majors, you want to separate who is playing the best from who’s not.
“I don’t see how that’s not had the right result in any of the previous years, even though certainly everything could have gone 100 per cent perfectly and it didn’t necessarily. I think we’re set up this week. I think we’re set up in the coming years to go places this championship has had great championships before.
“And therefore it’s a nice blueprint to go off of where it’s less likely for any uncertainty, other than weather, to have anything less than a great championship.”
Spieth has returned to form, including a third-placed finish at the US PGA Championship, after a relative slump following his Open win in 2017, his most recent Major win. Two years on from that success at Royal Birkdale, the 25-year-old is in fine spirits once more.
“I had a chance to win two Majors last year feeling like I had a C game,” the Texan said. “I mean, that’s realistic. I was in the final group Sunday of last year’s Open at Carnoustie, and I woke up saying: ‘How in the world am I in the final group at Carnoustie?’ That’s not just me not believing myself, that’s just legitimately, mechanically, how I felt through my swings. It just wasn’t good compared to when I was on.
“I felt like I was able to put myself in chances to win tournaments without really having much. So when I get it back, it’s just more consistent. I don’t shoot five or six under and then three over and three over and then five under. I shoot two under on the bad days and six or seven under on the good days. I’m just looking for more consistency. That’s the difference in winning and not.”
Spieth partnered Rory McIlroy at the recent Memorial Tournament, where McIlroy returned a rare missed cut. On Sunday at the Canadian Open, in his very next outing, he prevailed by seven shots after a closing round of 61.
Speith was not particularly surprised.
“I’ve never seen somebody get so unlucky in two rounds of golf,” he said.
“I’m talking like hitting rocks to go out of bounds. He had one off-day, he happened to get the worst bounces I’ve ever seen and it led to him missing the cut by a shot. When you’ve been there and when you’re even playing well and you miss a cut sometimes, it was just meant to be. It was just unfortunate.
“What he did on Sunday was pretty incredible. It’s just taking the tournament by the way he wanted to, right off the bat.”