Spi­eth feel­ing no pres­sure as PGA nears

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - DOUG FER­GU­SON

CHAR­LOTTE, N.C. — Jor­dan Spi­eth knows all about pres­sure. He also knows about the his­tory that awaits him at the PGA Cham­pi­onship in Char­lotte, N.C.

Sur­pris­ingly, he doesn’t think the two are con­nected.

Spi­eth un­der­stands what is at stake in the fi­nal ma­jor cham­pi­onship of the year.

A vic­tory would make the 24year-old Texan only the sixth player — and the youngest by about six months over Tiger Woods — to cap­ture the ca­reer Grand Slam.

And he has never felt more at ease.

Maybe that will change when Spi­eth gets to Quail Hol­low Club for the 99th edi­tion of the PGA Cham­pi­onship next week, and the con­ver­sa­tion shifts from his British Open vic­tory and that amaz­ing fin­ish at Royal Birk­dale, to the prospect of own­ing all four tro­phies from golf ’s big­gest events.

“There’s go­ing to be a bunch of buildup and hype around it, and it’s go­ing to be said a lot,” Spi­eth said

“But it’s al­most like if we don’t win ... we’re free­wheel­ing. I’m go­ing to play to win. And if it doesn’t go well, then so what?”

Woods was the most re­cent ad­di­tion to golf ’s most elite group when he won the U.S. Open and British Open in a span of 35 days in 2000.

It took 13 years be­fore any­one else even had the chance, and now there are three can­di­dates.

Phil Mick­el­son picked up the third leg of the ca­reer Grand Slam at the 2013 British Open, and Rory McIl­roy joined him by win­ning the claret jug a year later.

In both cases, they had to wait un­til the fol­low­ing year for their op­por­tu­nity to get the last one — Mick­el­son at the U.S. Open, McIl­roy at the Masters.

Spi­eth only has to wait three weeks, which is one rea­son he doesn’t feel any anx­i­ety.

For him, the pres­sure was get­ting to this point.

It was hav­ing a three-shot lead go­ing into the fi­nal round of the British Open, know­ing that ev­ery­one was watch­ing to see if he would have a re­peat of the 2016 Masters, when he crum­bled in a three-hole stretch on the back nine.

“I had to get over some added pres­sure and fear, which shouldn’t ever hap­pen — fear of what I was go­ing to have to an­swer and how long I would have to an­swer,” he said. “It’s an­noy­ing more than any­thing. What’s asked and what’s pub­lished is ul­ti­mately what the pub­lic ends up think­ing. And it’s then your rep­u­ta­tion to an ex­tent. The only rep­u­ta­tion I should care about is first off, what I think of my­self. Sec­ondly, what our teams thinks. Third, the other guys, my peers. Af­ter that, you shouldn’t care.

“But that’s some­thing you have to work on,” he said. “And that’s a crash course out here at the speed we’ve been go­ing through things.”

Spi­eth surely could draw on his ex­pe­ri­ence from two years ago, when he won the Masters and U.S. Open at age 21 and headed to St. An­drews to pur­sue the cal­en­dar Grand Slam. He missed a play­off by one shot in the British Open.

In both sit­u­a­tions, he al­ready had won a ma­jor that year.

The same can’t be said for McIl­roy and Dustin John­son.

John­son never imag­ined he would come to the fi­nal ma­jor with­out even be­ing in con­tention for one this year. Be­fore the Masters, he was com­ing off his third straight vic­tory. Then he slipped down the stairs and wrenched his back.

McIl­roy hasn’t won all year, and he split with his cad­die af­ter the British Open. McIl­roy un­der­stands the value of ma­jor cham­pi­onships. In a year with­out a vic­tory, how would he mea­sure his sea­son if he were to win the PGA Cham­pi­onship?

“Awe­some,” he said. “Great year.”

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