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