CHARLOTTE, N.C. – There was Jordan Spieth on Wednesday at a 9 a.m. press conference, the day before the PGA Championship; a young guy in shorts, dismissing any idea that he is burdened by the big to-do about being on the doorstep of the career grand slam, at barely 24.
No one has accomplished the feat at his tender age. Neither that young man once in a hurry, Tiger Woods, nor Jack Nicklaus, nor Ben Hogan, nor Gary Player, nor Gene Sarazen. They are the five members of the most exclusive Grand Slam Club.
“Expectations, I really don’t feel any,” he was saying Wednesday. “Do I have to be the youngest? No. I don’t feel that kind of pressure. Would it be really cool? Absolutely.”
Cool, and remarkable. He will be 24 years and 18 days old on Sunday, when he could hold aloft the Wanamaker Trophy and ask those five legends to move over and make room. Who in sport climbs such mountains at that age?
At 24-18, Tom Brady had thrown three passes in the NFL. He had completed one, for six yards.
At 24-18, Michael Jordan had won one professional postseason game in his life. Peyton Manning had won none. LeBron James had seen one NBA Finals. Steph Curry had never been in an NBA playoff game. Larry Bird had won one postseason series.
At 24-18, Babe Ruth was a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. Barry Bonds had hit 60 career home runs. Pete Rose had barely 300 hits.
At 24-18, Muhammad Ali had just been designated 1-A by his draft board.
At 24-18, Mike Krzyzewski was serving in the U.S. Army. Gregg Popovich was an assistant at Air Force. Joe Maddon was a catcher for Salinas in the Angels organization, Nick Saban was coaching linebackers at Kent State. Bill Belichick had just left a $25-a-week assistant’s job with the Baltimore Colts to coach special teams for the Detroit Lions.
At 24, Spieth has become a record book-rattling, majors-winning phenomenon, from Augusta to Chambers Bay to Royal Birkdale, leaving his competitors to describe how he does what he does.
Rory McIlroy tried this week. “Resilience, mentally tough, strong, whatever you want to call it. That’s his biggest asset. Being able to forget about a bad shot and move on to the next one, that’s his greatest weapon.”
Phil Mickelson, too. “He has that intangible of when he doesn’t have his best stuff, to still find a way to win. You can’t really identify and say it’s this or it’s that. It’s just that indescribable trait that he has to find a way – to find a way to get it down, find the will to win.”
Spieth took a whack himself Wednesday morning, with a soliloquy on SpiethGolf.
“You know, you try to hit it point A to point B to point C, and if you go off course, you make up for it with some other shot. I think when we get into these high-pressure situations, when I get off-course a little bit, there’s no negativity that comes to play in my mind, and maybe that makes a difference. It’s not like the fear of it not going well.
“I mean, we’re all good enough that our brains tell our hands to do something. We’ve hit all these shots before. The more you’re focused on it, the more likely it is to happen.
“When any other thoughts come into play is when the potential for bad comes in. And I’m not saying that you can’t focus and then just mis-execute. But the chances go up that something beautiful could happen.”
He already has his scars. The Sunday meltdown at Augusta in 2016 looks like fate went at him with a bayonet. “I’ve gone through what will probably and hopefully be the worst loss of my career, in the most public eye that golf has.”
He survived. He thrived. And now everyone assumes it is a matter of when for his Grand Slam clincher, not if. Maybe Sunday. The scrutiny from the public and press at Quail Hollow will be impossible to miss. But one thing this place doesn’t have for him is a ticking clock.
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At 24-18, Ben Hogan had never won a PGA tournament. Jack Nicklaus had three majors. Player had just won his first.
“It’s not a burning desire to have to be the youngest to do something, and that would be the only reason there would be added expectations,” he said. “The more years you go on playing PGAs, and if I don’t win one in the next 10 years, then maybe there’s added pressure then. Hopefully, we don’t have this conversation in 10 years.”
At 24-18, Arnold Palmer was in the Coast Guard.
There's one thing most guys that age have, and Jordan Spieth has it, too. Nothing but time.
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