It would be easy to root for Jordan Spieth even if he weren’t chasing history. Gracious, smart, and poised, Spieth carries himself with a humility rare for world-class athlete, much less a world-class athlete who’s 21 years old.
But Spieth happens to be chasing history. The Masters and U.S. Open winner will begin his quest to go three for three in major championships Thursday at St. Andrews, Scotland, site of the British Open.
Only Ben Hogan has won those tournaments in the same season. Hogan accomplished the feat in 1953, when most American golfers preferred to compete in the PGA Championship rather than travel overseas for the British Open, then held concurrently with the PGA.
The notion of a modern Grand Slam wasn’t conceived until Arnold Palmer and sportswriter Bob Drum thought of it while chatting over cocktails during a transatlantic flight to the 1960 British Open. Palmer had won the Masters and U.S. Open that year, and as the story goes, he pitched the idea of a four-tournament Grand Slam to his pal Drum, who took it from there.
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If Spieth simply contends through the weekend at St. Andrews, it’ll be a blockbuster story. And if he duplicates Hogan’s achievement, it’ll be the sports story of the year, and think about this for a moment: The sports story of the year could find Chambers Bay occupying a prominent role in the plot line.
So much was made about Chambers Bay’s inconsistent, not-so-green greens that it’s easy to forget five of the world’s top 10 players placed on the leaderboard. It’s easy to forget, too, that if Dustin Johnson doesn’t three putt from 12 feet on No. 18, the 2015 U.S. Open might be known as the championship Spieth coughed up with a double-bogey at No. 17.
But Spieth rallied with a birdie at the finishing hole, at which point everybody looked ahead to St. Andrews. Well, almost everybody. Spieth looked ahead to the John Deere Classic in Silvis, Illinois, where he won his first PGA Tour event two years ago.
Despite the age difference between Chambers Bay and St. Andrews — one has been golfed upon for seven years, the other for seven centuries — the links courses share some quirks. Golfers were told that making a last-minute acquaintance with Chambers Bay could be problematic, and a similar warning applies to St. Andrews, if for no other reason than adjusting to the time zone.
But Spieth was committed to a tournament in the Quad Cities region of western Illinois because of the substantial jump-start it gave him as a fledgling PGA Tour pro in 2013. After his playoff victory Sunday, Spieth gave a shout out to a favorite Quad Cities restaurant and noted how the fans “were some of the nicest people in the world.”
Quite a compliment, considering the source.
Although Spieth fired a career-best 61 in the third round, he admitted to having some misgivings about his drives and approach shots. Specifically, the ability to take something off a swing when wind is a factor.
Wind will be a factor at St. Andrews, where gusts as powerful as 40 mph are expected to wreak havoc on those with late-Friday tee times. Spieth — wouldn’t you know it ? — has been assigned a late-Friday tee time.
But, hey, you play the hand you’re dealt. Don’t be surprised if Spieth weathers the weather and takes his attempt to become the first three-majors-in-a-season winner since Hogan deep into the weekend.
As for Spieth’s Grand Slam aspirations, he’s not wired that way. Spieth is wired this way: He’s two for two, with a chance to go three for three. Four for four is moot until he goes three for three.
“No thoughts past next week will come into my head while I’m there,” Spieth said the other day about sustaining his Grand Slam run at St. Andrews.
If another golfer speaks those words, my eyes are rolling. No thoughts past next week? Yeah, right. Whatever.
But when Spieth speaks the words, I believe him, trying to remember he’s merely a terrific golfer, not a miracle worker.
And if Spieth stuns the world by winning his third major of the season? Chambers Bay, the bad boy in University Place that rocked and rolled last month with the kind of energy associated with a smashed guitar at the end of a concert, will share a place in the same discussion with hallowed St. Andrews, the spiritual birthplace of golf.
It will be up to Jordan Spieth to certify the link.