Column: Spieth can see progress in return to Open and Torrey
SAN DIEGO (AP) — Jordan Spieth is more interested in what lies ahead than what’s in his rearview mirror.
This week affords him a chance to look back because it’s the U.S. Open and it’s Torrey Pines. Both represent a low point and a turning point in the rough road back.
Spieth had gone three years without winning and two years without seriously contending when he showed up at Winged Foot last September for the U.S. Open. It was not a course to get by on smoke and mirrors, and he went up in flames.
“I three-putted the first and left a ball in a tree on my second hole of the tournament at Winged Foot,” Spieth said Tuesday. “And from there, it wasn’t very good.”
He did well to battle back for a 3-over 73 in the easier morning conditions. The following afternoon, he posted an 81 — his worst score ever in a major — to miss the cut.
Spieth decided to start this year at Torrey Pines in the Farmers Insurance Open. He was in reasonable shape until playing the last 12 holes with four bogeys and no birdies to miss the cut by one shot. He fell to No. 92 in the world, his lowest spot since he was a 20-year-old trying to earn a full PGA Tour card.
And then everything changed.
Spieth played in the final group the next two weeks, sharing the 54-hole lead in Phoenix and leading by two at Pebble Beach. More than progress, he was a regular contender again, and he finally cashed in by winning the Texas Open in early April.
Is he back? That’s a poor choice of words. Spieth never likes hearing that “he’s back” because in his mind, he never went anywhere. He just lost his way with his swing and played bad golf.
“This is all part of what happens in a career,” he said.
He’s not alone. Rickie Fowler is just now beginning to emerge from a slump that knocked him out of the top 100 in the world. He fell one shot short of a chance to qualify for the U.S. Open. This is the second major Fowler has missed this year after being eligible for them all for a decade.
Bryson DeChambeau also knows the feeling.
He swept all the big amateur events in 2015, was low amateur in the Masters the following year, earned his PGA Tour card in his first year as a pro and then went south in a hurry.
“I don’t know if people realize that, but I missed 14 cuts in a row,” DeChambeau said.
He knows his science, but his math was off. The start of 2017 included a stretch of not making the cut in 15 out of 18 tournaments, included eight in a row. No matter how it adds up, it was not good golf and he was searching like never before.
“I didn’t know how to deal with it, emotionally, physically, how to practice, what I needed to do to make that next little leap. It just took a lot of grit and resolve,” DeChambeau said. “Those moments, even though I hated it in the moment, I look back as defining me and making me the person I am today. I have to appreciate those moments as much as possible.”
Whether Spieth is better for his struggles was not something he could answer. He wasn’t sure he even needed to think in those terms.
That’s where he was. This is where he is.
He’s moving forward with his cup maybe not running over but more half-full than half-empty.
That’s a change from his last U.S. Open.
“Winged Foot was, ‘Oh, boy, here we go.’ And I think this week I’m in a position where I think I can stand on the 10th tee on Thursday and win this golf tournament,” he said. “As much as you want to say you can fake it till you make it, I needed that confidence between then and now to really think that standing on the tee.”
He has never handled the South Course at Torrey Pines particularly well in January, much less a U.S. Open with its gnarly rough that make the fairways feel narrower. In his 12 times playing it during the PGA Tour stop, he has yet to break 70 and has finished under par only twice.
But the confidence is there. That had been missing.
“I was out here yesterday and I’m like, ‘Man, I remember this shot just being no chance earlier this year,’ and now I feel really comfortable about it,” Spieth said.
He is not so comfortable that he can declare the worst is behind him.
Torrey Pines in January indeed was a turning point that he didn’t see coming at the time. Out of anger or frustration, he worked hard on his weekend off and then received immediate feedback from the best source in golf — the scorecard. That included a 61 in Phoenix.
He twice has failed to convert 54-hole leads this year. That used to be a failure. Now it’s progress because it represents a chance to win. He went a long time without that.
“I think back sometimes, and I’m like, ‘Man, I’m appreciative of where I’m at.’ Because I hope to be back thinking this way, feeling this way, when it didn’t seem like I could get out of the way I was thinking and feeling,” he said.
An occasional glimpse in the rearview mirror never hurts.
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