PALM HARBOR, Fla. – For another month, the jacket of green is Jordan Spieth's to do with as he pleases. Masters champions get to hold their tailored trophy for the full year of their reign before the Augusta National reclaims the most famous loaner coat ever.
But club representatives may have to cut it off of this kid.
For as he said recently, "I don't want that thing to go away. It was fun having it with me this last year. I don't want it to stay on the grounds."
Barring a nasty scene, there is only one way the 22-year-old can retain possession of what is an 80-year-old's dinner jacket, and that is to become just the fourth player ever to back up his Masters title with another.
Only the best ever, the knighted and the culturally transformative – Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods – have done it. As for Spieth, who is not yet even in the first trimester of legacy-making as a golfer, becoming a repeat Masters champion would go quite far in marking him as special.
So, is he in any shape to go history hunting?
The problem with doing the forensics on Spieth's game is that when held up to his work in 2015, everything else gets warped. He just did such ridiculous things at such an absurd age: Winning the Masters in record fashion, getting halfway to a Grand Slam with a U.S. Open victory, winning a Tour Championship and FedExCup, pocketing better than $22 million just to play golf. After that, anything less than mind-bending becomes a disappointment.
After beginning the calendar year with a 30-under outing at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, crushing a winners' only field by eight strokes, Spieth seemed primed for a big encore.
"But I still think it's going to be very difficult to have a year like last year," he said after that one.
Since then, his work has been spotty: Missed one cut and put up mortal finishes of 27th and 17th before coming in 18th Sunday in defense of his 2015 Valspar Championship. He went over par twice this past week, his 73 Sunday four strokes worse than his amateur playing partner, the Georgia Bulldogs' Lee McCoy.
Departing the grounds Sunday, Spieth nonetheless said his preparations for the Masters were right on track, "although I'd like to get things sped up and contend again," he added.
One peer, speaking a couple weeks ago, didn't seem too concerned about Spieth's well-being. "Jordan has had a couple of average weeks but by no means is he going to slow down," Rory McIlroy said. "He's young enough to keep it going for a while – that's me talking as a 26-year-old. He'll feel more pressure, but I have no reason to believe that he'll slow down."
Like every other time the world's No. 1 draws back a club in public, Spieth's Tampa Bay area outing was sternly scrutinized. Every swing, every hiccup was parsed. An opening round 5-over 76 set off alarms. That he bounced back with some sub-par work (that's good in golf) afterward was at least personally satisfying.
As for his putter, it is not working up to its optimum efficiency. Various putting stats have not been quite as glowing this year as last, although it's not exactly like Spieth is employing a garden hoe out there. Coming into the Valspar he ranked 19th in strokes gained putting (ninth a year ago) and third in putts per round (first in '15).
"The putts haven't quite gone in this year, but they will," he said.
Dismissing the 79 he shot in Los Angeles and the 76 here, Spieth said, "I feel like I am in a better place on the PGA Tour season right now than I was last year." Entering the Valspar, Spieth had just as many victories (one) and top-five finishes (two) as a year ago.
And whatever troubles may afflict him currently, they can be righted almost instantly. he contends. For momentum is a thing in golf, Spieth says. "A huge thing, and it can be turned in this game because it's so mental. You can turn it positively very quickly," he said.
Another element to his preparation were the two winter visits Spieth paid to Augusta National, this time returning as a Masters-made man. The vibes were good.
"Guys are calling you, 'Champ.' And you have a different locker room. The members are coming up and introducing themselves and saying, 'We're really happy that you won, come back and do it again.'"
He'll be happy to oblige. Because otherwise, if they want that coat back, they might have to fight him for it.
This article was written by Steve Hummer from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.