FARMINGDALE, NY — Amid all the hubbub surrounding Tiger Woods and Brooks Koepka at the 101st PGA Championship, there’s one storyline that we keep forgetting about. Jordan Spieth is trying to join a fraternity that includes just five other men who have won all four of professional golf’s major championships.
After taking the Masters and U.S. Open in 2015 and Open Championship in 2017, this will be Spieth’s third swing at history. His third swing at what only Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Gene Sarazen have accomplished previously.
Spieth is unfazed by the magnitude of it all, but that doesn’t take away from what’s on the table.
“In the past, it hasn’t been tries at the grand slam, it’s been tries at the PGA Championship,” said Spieth of what he’s focused on this week. “So I’ve had six tries, and this will be the seventh. But it’s a major, and certainly we try and peak around the majors every year.”
This is the right approach to take, and Spieth is in a good spot. It’s not a championship that has eluded him for three decades like Phil Mickelson and the U.S. Open. It’s not a tournament that has been in his head at times like Rory McIlroy and the Masters.
But he’s also not been peaking anywhere in the last year. Spieth doesn’t have a top 20 on the PGA Tour this season and doesn’t have a top 10 since last year’s Open. He’s No. 135 in strokes gained and dropped to No. 39 in the Official World Golf Rankings. The opposite of trending.
For him, the problem has been less about scoring (he’s 18th in birdies on the season) and more about avoiding big numbers (he’s 148th in bogey avoidance). He’s gone low at times, but he also has a 75 or worse in six of the nine PGA Tour events he’s played so far this calendar year. Two steps forward and one step back is no way to collect the sport’s biggest trophies.
Regardless, he continues to talk like a man who is talking himself into the reality that he’s already an all-time great. A PGA Championship to give him all four of the big ones would solidify it.
“That would be a dream come true for me,” said Spieth. “But I also recognize that if I continue to stay healthy and play well, I’ll have, I don’t know, 30 chances at it. One of them is bound to go my way, right?”
Possibly, but we would have said the same about Ernie Els and the Masters and Mickelson and that U.S. Open. Spieth’s best finish at this even came in 2015 when he finished second to Jason Day. Since then, he has finished T13, T28 and T12 and hasn’t truly contended. So there are trends converging this week, but they aren’t the right ones.
“I just go week to week and try and set up to hit my first tee shot tomorrow down the fairway and then try to hit the second shot on the green and then make a putt and figure out how to birdie the next,” said Spieth. “It’s going to be very here in the moment for me, every PGA Championship, just as it is at every major. I feel like I’m more patient in majors with letting courses come to me than I am at other tournaments, and I feel like this is a good time for me to test that out.”
Winning a major at Bethpage Black — whether it’s run by the USGA or PGA of America — is a big deal. It’s certainly a greater test of skill than a place like Bellerive or Baltusrol. It would fit nicely next to Augusta National, Chambers Bay and Royal Birkdale, the sites of Spieth’s other majors.
“I think that the four majors provide four different tests of golf and four different normally locations around the world or the United States and the UK,” said Spieth. “It tells you your game travels anywhere and can win the biggest events on any type of course in any situation. Each one has its own identity, each major championship, and so you’ve kind of, I guess, mastered golf, is kind of an easy way to say it, if you’re able to complete a career grand slam.”
Spieth will win the career grand slam at some point. That point just won’t be this week at Bethpage. The park is too big and penal, and he’s been too wayward (outside the top 200 in strokes gained off the tee) and inconsistent to have a realistic chance.
But if he does — if he finds magic the way he’s found it so many times in his still-young career — one of the under-the-radar storylines of the week will take center stage and Spieth will once again be the toast of a golf world he’s often owned in the first seven years of his career.