Spieth keeps pre-Championship plan

Spieth
USA TODAY Sports Images
Jordan Spieth won the U.S. Open last month in links-like conditions at Chambers Bay.
By
Scott Michaux
The Augusta Chronicle, Ga.

Series: PGA Tour

Published: Sunday, July 05, 2015 | 8:10 a.m.

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Jordan Spieth hasn't even gotten to St. Andrews yet, and the second-guessing has already started ... mainly because he hasn't even gotten to St. Andrews yet.

As only the fourth player to ever have the chance to dream of sweeping the modern Grand Slam at the season's midpoint, Spieth's quest will resume when his charter plane touches down on the Monday before the Open Championship starts. Weather permitting, he'll have three practice rounds to learn the nuances of the Old Course before the scores start counting on the historical ledger.

That the week before Spieth is honoring his commitment to play the PGA Tour's John Deere Classic -- where he claimed his first victory and earned his full-time PGA Tour status as a 19-year-old in 2013 -- has raised eyebrows. Is Spieth really taking his perhaps once-in-a-lifetime shot at history seriously if he's not going to Scotland early to prepare?

A lot of arm-chair experts believe that's the case.

"I think it's the first really poor choice made in the handling of Spieth's career," wrote blogger Geoff Shackelford, a Golf Digest and Golf Channel contributor. "The chances of winning at the Old Course greatly improve for Spieth if he and his excellent caddie spend time acclimating to the nuances, wind directions and complex putting surfaces, especially since he's shown an incredible ability to process information better than people twice his age."

It's awfully presumptive of anyone to start questioning the game plan of only the sixth player in history to win the Masters and U.S. Open in the same year. I'm not sure Craig Wood, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus or Tiger Woods had a lot of people criticizing their strategic tactics.

Frankly, there are only three players alive who can relate to what Spieth is going through right now -- Palmer, Nicklaus and Woods. They are the only three who ever went to the Open Championship in active pursuit of sweeping the four professional majors. And only Woods can truly commiserate with the amount of scrutiny Spieth will receive when he gets to Scotland.

Nicklaus, for one, seems to think Spieth has things figured out pretty well.

"He showed again that he is battle-tested and mature beyond his 21 years," Nicklaus said after the U.S. Open. "He now has two major championship victories, six wins, and 27 top-10 finishes, and he is still younger than I was when I won my first tournament at 22. I have always said that winning breeds winning, and that holds true even at the age of 21. This victory further validates that Jordan is not only one of today's great young players, he has become one of golf's greats -- period. Wow."

Even Woods -- who never competes the week before a major -- doesn't think Spieth is making a mistake by getting to St. Andrews late.

"I think it's great for him to play, get the playing feels, keep the playing feels going," Woods said this week. "Whether you're playing here or overseas, doesn't really matter. Long as you have your feels. Feels travel."

That's certainly been the case historically. Sam Snead rolled into St. Andrews for the first time on a train in 1946, offending the locals by describing the venerated course as looking "abandoned." Despite firing caddies after each of the first three rounds, Snead left with the claret jug.

Tony Lema had the same beginner's "luck" at the Old Course in 1964, playing links golf for the first time while defeating fellow St. Andrews rookie Nicklaus. Like Spieth, Lema was riding a hot streak into the Open, making it his fourth victory in six weeks.

That's the kind of "feels" Spieth is trying to take with him. It's a plan that worked beautifully already in April when he came late to Augusta after losing in a playoff the Sunday before in Houston.

"I'll be there (at the John Deere) trying to feel the heat of being in contention, trying to win," Spieth told PGATour.com. "That to me is the best way to prepare for the next major."

It's not as though Spieth has never seen St. Andrews. He played there in 2011 with his Walker Cup teammates, hitting the Old Course directly off the plane after arriving in Edinburgh on the way to Aberdeen. He reportedly was 5-under through 12 holes and took copious notes in his yardage book.

Having just won the U.S. Open in links-like conditions where the ground game was paramount, his game is already in proper links form.

"I think he's played enough links-type golf courses," Woods said. "He did all right at Chambers. He's played British Opens before. St. Andrews will be a little bit different. There will be a lot to learn in a short time. But he's young and he can spend the energy playing 18 holes every day and be fine."

While there's merit in the acclimation arguments, there's also something to be said for not overly obsessing about a major. The pressure and expectations on Spieth will be immense the moment he lands and arrives at the Old Course. Does he need to feel that weight on his shoulders any longer when he could focus on competing in relative calm at the John Deere instead?

"It's hard not to think about the Grand Slam," Spieth said in the days after winning the U.S. Open. "I've been reminded of it by so many people and the media the last few days."

What Spieth is doing instead is reminding us why he's such a unique talent. His loyalty is one of the primary elements of his makeup. His commitment to the John Deere is no different than his loyalty to Hilton Head Island, where he kept his promise and played immediately after winning the green jacket.

Tournament officials would certainly understand if priorities had to be adjusted in the short term because of some larger goal, but this is part of what makes Spieth tick so efficiently.

"Who are we to judge if Jordan is making correct decisions?" Clair Peterson, the John Deere Classic tournament director, told Golf Digest. "He knows his schedule and what he needs to do."

Spieth is in charge of his own fate in a quest that has proven impossible so far to the greatest players of all time. If he doesn't win the Open Championship in two weeks, it won't be because he didn't skip playing in Illinois this week to spend a few more days in the crucible. 

This article was written by Scott Michaux from The Augusta Chronicle, Ga. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.