Spieth calm in advance of bid to emulate golfing greats
PGA Championship win would see American join elite group of Grand Slam winners
Jordan Spieth addresses a press conference during a practice round prior to the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, North Carolina. Photograph: Warren Little/Getty Images
History makers come in different guises. Old and young, tall and short, but all aware of the path they’re treading; of what is evolving around them.
As he walked across the footbridge from the 18th green back towards the player locker-room here at Quail Hollow Golf Club, Jordan Spieth paused to throw a signed cap back to a young fan below; and then, with a renewed focus, continued on his way.
Just a fortnight beyond his 24th birthday, the Texan knows only too well what can be achieved in this 99th edition of the US PGA Championship where history beckons.
If – and, it is not fanciful at all – Spieth were to win. If he were to add the Wanamaker Trophy to the Masters trophy, the US Open trophy and the British Open’s claret jug to complete his collection of golf’s ultimate prizes, then he would become the youngest ever player to achieve the career Grand Slam.
That would be something to behold in the golfing world. He would follow in the illustrious footsteps of Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Gene Sarazen, the only five men to have accomplished the feat.
Yet, in its own way, the list of those who came up one championship short in that career quest for golfing immortality only serves to underline the achievement of those who succeeded. It evaded Arnold Palmer. Walter Hagen. Lee Trevino. Sam Snead. Byron Nelson. Tom Watson. You get the drift?
And, of the current generation, only three players have got within touching distance. Phil Mickelson is a US Open shy. Rory McIlroy is short a Masters. And Spieth a PGA. Now, less than a month on from his British Open success, there is an opportunity for Spieth to complete the collection.
Can he? Yes. Will he? Now, that’s a different question.
As Ernie Els observed of the difficulty in completing the Slam: “there’s only five guys on that list, and it is almost like the Holy Grail in our sport to win all four at least once. It’s been done in tennis more times than in golf (eight against five), and that just shows you how difficult it is in our game to emulate that”.
So, you’d imagine Spieth would be feeling the heat, that the pressure would be stifling. Not quite.
“There will be pressure, this is a Major championship, this is one of the four pivotal weeks of the year that we focus on. So, there will be pressure. But there won’t be added expectations or pressure (to complete the career Grand Slam). I just don’t feel it. It’s not a burning desire to be the youngest to do something, and that would be the only reason there would be added expectations,” said Spieth.
One thing in Spieth’s favour – unlike Rory McIlroy who is faced with months and months of anticipation ahead of each visit to Augusta National for the Masters each April in his own attempt to complete the career Grand Slam – is that the Texan has had so little time to absorb the enormity of what he is on the threshold of potentially achieving. His feats of escapology and resilience at Royal Birkdale, only three weeks ago, are too fresh for that.
If Spieth is to turn that elite quintet club of achievers into a sextet, though, various obstacles face him. One is the course, playing extremely long due to recent rainfall which has taken virtually all the run away from drives landing on the fairways; another, is the weight of expectation, if not from himself, then from others.
But perhaps the biggest obstacles of all to Spieth are the players he must overcome. McIlroy, for one. But also world number one Dustin Johnson. In-form Hideki Matsuyama. Jason Day. Brooks Koepka. Rickie Fowler. Justin Thomas. Jon Rahm. Sergio Garcia.
That list potentially stretches to upwards of 30 players and more with genuine aspirations, which amounts to many speed bumps for Spieth to overcome if he is to reach his destination. There’ll be no room for errant driving, no miracle shots from in-bound practice grounds.
For McIlroy, if it were needed, there is the added incentive to stop Spieth in his tracks in that quest to reach the career Grand Slam milestone ahead of him.
Quail Hollow might be a long way from Holywood where he learnt the game, but it has become the Northern Irishman’s domain: in seven appearances, he was twice won the Wells Fargo on a course which plays to the strength of players who drive the ball long and accurately.
“I like the flow of it. I like the shape. I like the visuals that it gives you off the tee. Everything sets up pretty well for me,” said McIlroy, without a win on tour this season never mind a Major. He is hoping the driver – the favoured club in his bag – will deliver the goods.
For now, though, all eyes are on Spieth, a young man with a wise old head on his shoulders and possessing what Pádraig Harrington calls the “X-Factor”, that indefinable something that sets him apart.