Jet lag could be Jordan Spieth's big challenger, says Curtis Strange
By David Teel
Strolling to his hotel after Monday night's World Golf Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in St. Andrews, Scotland, Curtis Strange reflected on a young man who, decades from now, figures to join him in that exclusive club.
At the preposterous age of 21, Jordan Spieth enters this week's Open Championship at St. Andrews with the season's first two major championships, the Masters and U.S. Open, secured in his burgeoning trophy case. The only player to win the Masters and both Opens in the same year is Ben Hogan, in 1953.
"He's got that it factor," Strange said of Spieth. "The standout part you can't measure is his heart and his ability to play well when it counts the most. He's showed it so much this year, my gosh."
A Hampton Roads native, two-time U.S. Open champion and 2007 Hall of Fame inductee, Strange is part of ESPN's Open Championship broadcast team. He marvels not only at Spieth's beyond-his-years poise and modesty, but also a short game rooted in remarkable putting.
But Strange foresees a roadblock that has nothing to do with the Old Course or any of Spieth's competitors.
"The jet lag thing for Jordan is going to be a bit of an obstacle," he said.
Rather than join most elite players in traveling overseas the week before the Open, Spieth honored a commitment to play in last week's John Deere Classic, an event with which he has a history. The John Deere granted Spieth, then 18, a sponsor's exemption in 2012, and a year later he returned and won the tournament in a five-hole, sudden-death playoff, becoming the PGA Tour's youngest champion in 82 years.
With four Tour victories this season, including the two majors, Spieth certainly had cause to bail on the John Deere and head to Europe early to prepare for the Open. But he did not, and, with karma and talent on his side, won the Deere again, prevailing in another playoff before taking a charter jet to Scotland on Sunday night, arriving Monday morning.
"He's on a wonderful roll right now," Strange said. "Everything is going his way. I commend him for playing last week because they'd been kind to him and generous to him. ... But jet lag is a real thing, and acclimating to 60-degree weather and the speed of the greens are real things also.
"Jet lag, it hangs over you for two, most of the time three, days. So when you get over Monday, just doing the math, that leaves you Thursday night/Friday morning."
Strange speaks from experience.
From 1978-2002, he served as Kingsmill Resort's touring golf pro, and as such was obligated to play in the 22 PGA Tour events the James City County community hosted from 1981-2002. Half of those tournaments were contested the week before the Open, and in six of those years Strange red-eyed across the Atlantic for the season's third major.
He did not fare well, missing two cuts and tying for 14th, 13th, 61st and 72nd. Top-15 finishes are beyond respectable, but understand that on both of those occasions, in 1986 and '88, Strange opened with a 79 – there's that jet lag – and never sniffed the leaderboard.
Only twice in the 11 years did Kingsmill's champion compete at the Open. Fuzzy Zoeller tied for eighth in 1986 – he shot a first-round 75 at Turnberry after a Sunday 64 at Kingsmill – and Jim Gallagher Jr. missed the cut in '93.
Though Strange never thrived at the British – none of his 11 top-10s in majors came overseas – he does own the course record at St. Andrews, a 62 in the 1987 Dunhill Cup team competition. In Paul Azinger's mind, that bodes well for Spieth.
During a media teleconference last week, Azinger, the 1993 PGA champion and an ESPN colleague of Strange's, said: "Every time I see him, his swing reminds me of Curtis. And his demeanor, Curtis was strategic in his approach and he was fiery at times, and Jordan shows a little emotion. I think Curtis was probably as long by comparison as Jordan is by comparison. You know, that's thoroughbred stuff, man. ...
"I love Jordan Spieth, and the Curtis Strange comparison. I think the two golf swings, if you think about it, are very similar. We'll probably do a split-screen during the telecast to see how right or wrong I am."
I needled Strange about Azinger's lavish praise.
"It was very nice," Strange said. "In my dreams I filled up the hole as much as he does. Let me just say my colleague Paul Azinger embellishes a bit, too."
With the Old Course as green and inviting as he's ever seen it, Strange believes his record 62 could be approached, if winds remain calm. Might Spieth be the one to challenge?
With Spieth drawing a morning tee time Thursday – 9:33 a.m., in Scotland, 4:33 a.m., EDT – Strange suspects he'll be most vulnerable then.
"If he can somehow muster the energy, because you have to remember, when he wins last week that's tiring as well," Strange said. "If he can somehow survive Thursday and play decent, then game on."
This article was written by David Teel from Daily Press (Newport News, Va.) and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.