Spi­eth in mini-slump head­ing to U.S. Open

The Mercury (Pottstown, PA) - - SPORTS - By Barry Wil­ner

SOUTHAMP­TON, N.Y. » Lots of folks have be­come ac­cus­tomed to see­ing Jor­dan Spi­eth’s name atop leader­boards, par­tic­u­larly at golf’s ma­jors. So has Spi­eth.

Yet since win­ning the Bri­tish Open last July, Spi­eth barely has been a fac­tor on the week­ends. He be­lieved third-place fin­ishes in Hous­ton and at the Masters had in­di­cated a turn­around head­ing into this week’s U.S. Open. But since Au­gusta, his best show­ing in five tour­na­ments is a tie for 21st at the Byron Nel­son, and he twice missed cuts, in­clud­ing most re­cently at the Memo­rial.

Not quite the stuff that rock­eted Spi­eth to the top of golf, with Masters and U.S. Open wins in 2015, and his third ma­jor last sum­mer at Royal Birk­dale.

“Yeah, I think my pa­tience has been tested, just not go­ing into Satur­day or Sun­day with a le­git­i­mate chance to win but maybe once,” Spi­eth said Tues­day at Shin­necock Hills. “Tech­ni­cally the Masters, I didn’t re­ally have a chance. The back nine, I ended up giv­ing my­self a chance.

“Yeah, just the lim­ited num­ber com­pared to pre­vi­ous years of chances I’ve had on the week­ends has been frus­trat­ing.”

Spi­eth, 24, al­ways has been ma­ture as a com­peti­tor and per­son. When he went af­ter the ca­reer Grand Slam for the first time last year at the PGA Cham­pi­onship, he wound up 10 shots back. No one con­tem­plated he wouldn’t have won an­other PGA Tour ti­tle since, miss­ing two cuts be­fore the Masters and two more af­ter.

While ex­as­per­ated, Spi­eth, as al­ways, be­lieves he is close to the way out of this mini-slump — for him, at least.

“Over the last, since prob­a­bly in be­tween Austin (a first-round elim­i­na­tion by Pa­trick Reed in match play) and Hous­ton was a re­ally big week­end for me of set­tling down and get­ting back on the right track with things,” he said. “And rec­og­niz­ing that it’s a long ca­reer, and, you know, re­sults aren’t go­ing to come

by want­ing them to come. They’re go­ing to come by be­ing ob­sessed with the process, get­ting back to the ba­sics, be­ing an ath­lete, fig­ur­ing out within the swing, the in­tri­ca­cies of the game. Kind of the stuff — the rea­son I love to prac­tice — that’s what’s go­ing to kind of bring it back, and re­sults aren’t ev­ery­thing.”

Maybe not, ex­cept that when the re­sults have been so spec­tac­u­lar so quickly, they be­come how you are mea­sured by the pub­lic.

Spi­eth has won 11 times in his first five full sea­sons, in­clud­ing those three ma­jor cham­pi­onships. His putting skills are en­vied by many of his peers. So are his an­a­lyt­i­cal break­downs of shots, holes, his swing.

His op­ti­mism that all will be right is praise-wor­thy — and prob­a­bly ac­cu­rate.

“I feel like my game is in the best shape it’s been in a long time, in­clud­ing last year,” he said. “And my re­sults don’t nec­es­sar­ily speak to­wards that, but

I feel that way, and so I’ll stick with the process, and they’ll surely come at some point.”

If that point is this week, Spi­eth must out­shoot not only the fan choices (Tiger Woods and Phil Mick­el­son) but all of those young guns who have be­gun to grab ma­jors: Reed, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka.

“It al­most feels like I’m back in high school and col­lege,” Spi­eth joked. “These are the same guys we used to bat­tle it out with then,

and I’d win one, then they would win one. It’s just blown up now be­cause there was no cov­er­age; no one re­ally cared to watch us back then, and now peo­ple do.

“But it’s noth­ing dif­fer­ent than what we’ve kind of been do­ing with each other for a num­ber of years. It’s re­ally cool to be out here do­ing it, but I don’t think we ... think of it as a to­tally dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence than any­thing we’ve al­ways kind of done.”

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