A disclaimer before we begin: A lot has happened in the last seven years, and a lot of golf balls have been hit, so Jordan Spieth’s self-analysis here isn’t exactly scientific.
At this point, his 2015 Open Championship encore is a bit hazy.
“I really don’t remember, but a few hits here or there,” he said. “Obviously the home stretch on Sunday that I remember. But I remember when I started, I birdied No. 1, I remember Sunday. (Editor’s note: he’s right!) And I remember 16 in (birdie), but I didn’t even remember 13 (par), 14 (par), 15 (par). I didn’t even remember the holes until I came back to the property, which is a bit strange.
“I think it’s going to play out very differently this year because I think we’ve only had one day where it was maybe calm in that wind direction. The other three were blowing hard the other way. So it’s a totally different golf course.
“We hit the driver all the way back; you hit the mid-irons into the greens. Now I hit a waiting 4-iron on 16 that almost hit the bunker at 3, whatever, holding the wind. So it’s a totally different game with respect to each particular hole.
This week, Spieth will play the Open Championship as one of the favorites, and rightly so. He has five top 10 finishes this year, including a win and a tie for 10th place last week at the Scottish Open. He is 12th in the world. And from a simple golf sense, his game embraces the intricacies of links golf; it takes creativity, and Spieth is a right-brained golfer.
Of course, in 2015, Spieth was the take. In December 2014, he won. In March 2015, he won. He won the Masters. He won the US Open. A week before the Open Championship, he won. Then at St. Andrews, where the Open is also being played this year, Spieth finished a single shot on the three-way playoff that determined the winner.
All of this led to an engaging question to Spieth on Tuesday during his pre-tournament press conference:
“Do you consider yourself a better golfer now or when you were here in 2015?
His answer ? As expected, yes and no. Did you think he was going to answer that he is less of a player than he was, two days before the start of the event? Probably not. Again, this is remarkable. Prior to this recent stretch, Spieth was mired in a well-documented valley, and if the man says he can hold on to his best, at least that’s something.
“I think I have a bit more momentum in 2015,” Spieth replied. “I don’t know how you can get more. But I think there are certain parts of my game that feel stronger to me, and there are certain parts of my game where I just try to get back to where they were at the time.
“So I would say if I was playing against myself then, if I was fighting this week, then I would be holding a trophy. So that would obviously, definitely be a big challenge, but I don’t necessarily know if I could respond to that because I feel like I’m going further, I feel that my knowledge, in turn, of seeing a lot more majors and a lot more tournaments can mentally get me a bit – maybe I have an advantage on one shot which I wouldn’t have thought of at the time. But I also canned everything I watched at the time, and I can’t say that will happen every week forever, but it can certainly happen in four days.
To continue the conversation, and for fun, let’s look at some of the Strokes Gained numbers from this year and 2015. Of course, not that they’re the end, or all, but they both tell you that the Spieth’s race seven years ago was, indeed, ridiculous, but also it is at least comparable now, except in one very blatant way:
SG: Off the Tee, 15th overall (.494)
SG: Approach to green, 11th (.618)
SG: Around green, 7th (.471)
SG: Putting, 9th (.571)
SG: Tee to Green, 4th (1.583)
SG: Overall, 2nd (2.154)
SG: Off the Tee, 32nd overall (.389)
SG: Approach to green, 41st (.397)
SG: Around green, 25th (.303)
GS: Putting, 145th (-.133)
SG: Tee to Green, 20th (1,090)
SG: Overall, 31st (0.957)
You know the story here: if his putter gets hotter, Spieth could very well be there again on Sunday. Of course, we can say this all week, which is why maybe the whole confidence conversation from the beginning takes on more relevance.
Think of it this way: if you want a breakthrough from Spieth, you don’t want him to look lukewarm.
“It really is unlike any other tournament, the St Andrews Open,” Spieth said. “It certainly didn’t disappoint to be on the pitch this week. The course is incredibly firm. The greens are immaculate and the setting as you enter these final holes is even grander than it was seven years ago.
“So exciting. I think if you’re not motivated to play in this Open, I’m not sure it’s the right sport for you. It’s extremely, extremely exciting. I can not wait to go there. Guess I went 3-ish in the first round. So see a bit how the course is going to unfold to begin with, which might be a good thing, then get out there and brave the wind.
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