Jordan Spieth knows all about pressure. He also knows about the history that awaits him at the PGA Championship.
Surprisingly, he doesn’t think the two are connected.
Spieth understands what is at stake in the final major championship of the year. A victory would make the 24-year-old Texan only the sixth player — and the youngest by about six months over Tiger Woods — to capture the career Grand Slam.
And he has never felt more at ease.
Maybe that will change when Spieth gets to Quail Hollow Club for the 99th edition of the PGA Championship, and the conversation shifts from his British Open victory and that amazing finish at Royal Birkdale to the prospect of owning all four trophies from golf’s biggest events.
“There’s going to be a bunch of buildup and hype around it, and it’s going to be said a lot,” Spieth said. “But it’s almost like if we don’t win … we’re free-wheeling. I’m going to play to win. And if it doesn’t go well, then so what?”
Woods was the most recent addition to golf’s most elite group when he won the U.S. Open and British Open in a span of 35 days in 2000.
It took 13 years before anyone else even had the chance, and now there are three candidates. Phil Mickelson picked up the third leg of the career Grand Slam at the 2013 British Open, and Rory McIlroy joined him by winning the claret jug a year later. In both cases, they had to wait until the following year for their opportunity to get the last one — Mickelson at the U.S. Open, McIlroy at the Masters.
Spieth only has to wait three weeks, which is one reason he doesn’t feel any anxiety.
For him, the pressure was getting to this point.
It was having a three-shot lead going into the final round of the British Open, knowing that everyone was watching to see if he would have a repeat of the 2016 Masters, when he crumbled in a three-hole stretch on the back nine.
“I had to get over some added pressure and fear, which shouldn’t ever happen — fear of what I was going to have to answer and how long I would have to answer,” he said. “It’s annoying more than anything. What’s asked and what’s published is ultimately what the public ends up thinking. And it’s then your reputation to an extent. The only reputation I should care about is first off, what I think of myself. Secondly, what our teams thinks. Third, the other guys, my peers. After that, you shouldn’t care.
“But that’s something you have to work on,” he said. “And that’s a crash course out here at the speed we’ve been going through things.”
Spieth surely could draw on his experience from two years ago, when he won the Masters and U.S. Open at age 21 and headed to St. Andrews to pursue the calendar Grand Slam. He missed a playoff by one shot in the British Open.
In both situations, he already had won a major that year.
The same can’t be said for McIlroy and Dustin Johnson.
Johnson never imagined he would come to the final major without even being in contention for one this year. Before the Masters, he was coming off his third straight victory. Then he slipped down the stairs and wrenched his back, sidelining him on the eve of the Masters. He missed the cut at the U.S. Open. He fell behind early at the British Open.
McIlroy hasn’t won all year, and he split with his caddie after the British Open. McIlroy understands the value of major championships. In a year without a victory, how would he measure his season if he were to win the PGA Championship?
“Awesome,” he said. “Great year.”
McIlroy has reason to be excited about this PGA Championship in Charlotte, North Carolina. He won his first PGA Tour event at Quail Hollow in 2010. He won again two years ago by seven shots.
“There are courses that you’re going to go to that you’ve played well at before, and it’s not going to be too much different just because it’s a different tournament,” McIlroy said. “It’s the same golf course, same shots you need to hit.”
It’s mostly the same course.
Quail Hollow returned to the PGA Tour schedule in 2003, though it went through some dramatic changes in recent years. The club combined the opening two holes (a par 4 and a par 3) into a 524-yard first hole that plays as stout as any par 4 in a major. It turned a par 5 into two holes — a par 3 and an uphill par 4.
The sum of the parts adds to 7,600 yards and a par 71.
The PGA Championship has the strongest field of all the majors, with 98 out of the top 100 in the world ranking. Martin Kaymer and Scott Piercy are injured.
For now, it’s mostly about one player and his bid for the career Grand Slam.
Of the five players with the career Grand Slam — Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen — no one ever won the final leg at the PGA Championship. The only two players lacking the PGA were Tom Watson and Arnold Palmer. They spent the better part of two decades chasing it.
“I believe I’ll have plenty of chances, but it doesn’t have to be this year,” Spieth said. “If it’s this year and it happens, that’s great. That’s another lifelong goal that we’ve then achieved. Getting three legs of it is much harder than getting the last leg — although I’ve never tried to get the last leg, so it’s easy for me to say.”