WHERE HE BELONGS BACK
Golf Monthly|October 2021
It’s been a tough few years for Jordan Spieth , but he’s back to winning ways and has his sights set on more Majors
BRIAN WACKER

When Jordan Spieth tapped in a one-foot putt on the 72nd hole of the Valero Texas Open earlier this year, he coolly plucked his ball from the cup, gripped it tightly with a muted fist pump then sheepishly smiled as he exchanged handshakes and hugs with his playing partners and caddies in the group. There was no primal scream, a river of tears or jump for joy, not then or afterwards. It was all very, well, normal.

Never mind that 1,351 days and 83 tournaments had passed between victories for the three-time Major Champion, former World No.1, and one-time ruler of the game. Just a handful of years ago, he’d found himself on the precipice of completing the calendar Grand Slam, but in the time since he’d nearly plummeted out of the top 100 in the Official World Golf Ranking and seen a meteoric career suddenly teetering on the edge of the abyss.

“I thought I would have the memories of the downs and the struggles and the climb back and really the progress and the momentum over the last few months, all that kind of hit me, and it just was like a one-footer to win,” Spieth said of the drought-ending victory in April, his first since a triumph at the 2017 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale. “I saw [my wife] Annie when that happened, and she was pretty emotional. I was happy that it didn’t hit me that hard, that it felt more normal, that it felt like me and that’s where I’m supposed to be and this is who I am.”

Over the last four years, however, the sprightly 28-year old Texan often wondered exactly who that was. Self-doubt, criticism and struggle were elements of a game with which the second-youngest player in the modern era behind only Tiger Woods to win three Majors and ten PGA Tour titles was unfamiliar.

This was true from his earliest days in junior golf when he routinely played up a level and succeeded against kids older than him, through to him reaching the very top of the professional game. But to understand how Spieth regained his balance in the midst of a long and inexplicable free-fall, one must understand just how high he climbed and why it all went so wrong in the first place. The reasons, like the solution to any complex problem, were myriad.

Playing through pain

Physically, Spieth revealed earlier this year that he had suffered a bone chip in his left hand in 2018, an injury he believes he sustained at some point while weightlifting. Rather than undergoing a procedure to have it cleaned up, he opted to play through the injury even as his game – and swing – began to come apart, with the lowest point coming in late 2020 when he didn’t touch a club for a few weeks. Continuing to play also proved fateful in that it forced Spieth to use a weaker grip and resist the swing changes that his coach, Cameron McCormick, was trying to impart.

“If I taped it up, it didn’t feel so bad,” Spieth said. “I wouldn’t blame anything on it other than that I probably fought changes that would have helped me turn things in the right direction a little bit sooner.” Instead, the weak grip resulted in a more open clubface, which in turn resulted in him needing to flip his hands at impact. It was a foreign sensation that also required impeccable timing. Put another way, it was a move that was difficult to maintain consistency with, particularly when it wasn’t part of the DNA of his swing.

From there, the drop-off was painfully obvious. After ranking 25th in strokes gained: tee-to-

Unable to recreate the swing that had taken him to the top of the sport, it wasn’t long before results started evaporating. From the beginning of 2019 through to the end of 2020, Spieth finished in the top 25 just 14 times in 45 worldwide starts and missed the cut nine times in that span. By the end of last year, he’d tumbled all the way to 82nd in the world, his lowest position since halfway through his rookie year in 2013.

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