JOHN HUGGAN

The true sign of great­ness is get­ting the best from ev­ery round re­gard­less of how you play. Spi­eth does just that.

Golf World (UK) - - CONTENTS -

The dif­fer­ence be­tween a good player and a great one is an abil­ity to play badly well. For ev­i­dence, look no fur­ther than Jor­dan Spi­eth.

Four-time Open cham­pion Bobby Locke – who fel­low South African Gary Player hails as “the great­est put­ter who ever lived” – called it “the art of play­ing badly well.” And no one to­day does that more ef­fi­ciently than the cur­rent “cham­pion golfer of the year,” Jor­dan Spi­eth.

Last June, Spi­eth holed a bunker shot on the 72nd hole to win the Trav­ellers Cham­pi­onship by a shot from Daniel Berger. It was an iconic mo­ment, closely fol­lowed by Spi­eth and his cad­die, Michael Greller, in­dulging in a spec­tac­u­lar and spon­ta­neous mid-air chest-bump.

None of which sur­prised the van­quished Berger, who un­know­ingly para­phrased Locke with his anal­y­sis of pro­ceed­ings. “That’s Jor­dan do­ing ‘Jor­dan things,’” he said with a shrug.

And an im­pres­sive list of things it is too. Since pick­ing up his first (plas­tic) clubs at the age of two, Spi­eth has achieved much that is ex­tra­or­di­nary. Twice US Ju­nior cham­pion - the first mul­ti­ple vic­tor since Tiger Woods – he won his maiden PGA Tour ti­tle at the age of 19. He was the first teenager to tri­umph at that level since 1931.

In 2014 – wit­nessed first-hand by this re­porter – Spi­eth won the Aus­tralian Open with a fi­nal round of 63 around The Aus­tralian Club in Syd­ney. On a day that was more than breezy, it was a breath­tak­ing per­for­mance, one that drew awed praise from, amongst many oth­ers, then-de­fend­ing cham­pion, Rory McIl­roy.

Then there was the 64 Spi­eth shot in the fi­nal round of this year’s Mas­ters. Al­most flawless, only a pro­trud­ing branch on the 18th hole pre­vented what could have been one of golf’s great­est come­backs.

“You can al­ways learn a lot from the way Jor­dan gets around a course,” con­firms 2006 US Open cham­pion Ge­off Ogilvy. “More of­ten than any­one, he seems to sign for one or two shots less than you think he maybe should have. That’s the sign of a great player. He is one who gets the best from al­most ev­ery round, some­thing we can all ob­serve and get some­thing out of.”

The mind in­evitably goes back to last year’s Open at Royal Birk­dale. On a fi­nal day when his play over the first 12 holes was some way short of stel­lar, Spi­eth con­trived a ridicu­lous turn­around. His last six holes rep­re­sented the best of golf. And the best of him. But here’s the thing. The man­ner in which Spi­eth grabbed the Claret Jug had noth­ing to do with num­bers and ma­chines and stats and physio and any­thing sci­en­tific. This was play­ing the game.

There are many lessons in that for all of us. None in­volve swing tech­nique.

“I’ve never seen a player pre­pare bet­ter to hit a shot than Jor­dan,” says for­mer US PGA cham­pion Wayne Grady. “His fo­cus is so ex­act. He re­minds me of a darts player hom­ing in on his tar­get.”

How does he do it? The man him­self isn’t let­ting on. Ask and all that comes back is an enig­matic smile.

“I feel like my game has im­proved each year,” he says. “In ev­ery as­pect. Plus, golf is all about get­ting the ball in the hole. I do that pretty well.”

Just a guess. But the re­source­ful, in­ge­nious and thrifty way Spi­eth plays golf is merely a log­i­cal ex­ten­sion of the man. And his younger sis­ter, El­lie, is a huge part of that. The teenager has spe­cial needs in life – she was born with a neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­or­der - and has given her older brother a breadth of per­spec­tive un­fa­mil­iar to many of the PGA Tour’s pam­pered elite.

“It’s hum­bling to see how she is and how she lives her life,” he says. “She has her own per­son­al­ity and is not so re­liant on other peo­ple. But she still has ev­ery day strug­gles. She can’t hang with her friends in the way my brother (Steven) and I do. When I think of that, I know how tough she has it. But she is happy. She smiles ev­ery day and does what she wants to.”

El­lie’s big brother is a lit­tle dif­fer­ent. On the course at least, he does what he has to do. What­ever it takes. Some­where, Locke is nod­ding his ap­proval.

John fol­lows the PGA and Euro­pean Tours and has writ­ten for Golf World for more than 26 years, as well as au­thor­ing seven books.

‘More of­ten than any­one he seems to sign for one or two shots less than you think he maybe should have’

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