Jordan Spieth was on the 14th green and battling in conditions so severe the wind approached 40 mph.
“They pulled us off the course,” he said.
Spieth wasn’t talking about St. Andrews.
This was Sunday at Whistling Straits, where he took a two-day scouting trip of the course that will host the final major of the year Aug. 13-16.
Spieth was one shot away from making the PGA Championship the most significant golf event since Tiger Woods completed his sweep of the majors in 2001 at the Masters. The 22-year-old Texan was trying to become the first player to win them all in one season, and he came closer than any of the other three greats – Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Woods – to getting the third leg of the Grand Slam at the British Open.
His three-putt on the 14th green at St. Andrews, when the second round resumed in wind so strong Spieth was heard to say, “We never should have started,” is not what cost him a chance at the claret jug. He had four other three-putts that round. He took four putts on the eighth green in the final round. He also made a bunch of birdies all week, and at the end of 72 holes, he needed one more. Simple as that.
If there was a hangover, it didn’t last long.
Spieth was playing golf in Dallas with friends when his roommate mentioned the “weirdest feeling” about watching the Open. He told him that it seemed as though Spieth had an off week at St. Andrews, perhaps because he already had won the Masters and U.S. Open. Maybe it was ingrained in everyone, Spieth included, that anything but a victory at the British Open was not going to be acceptable.
“We played good golf given everything,” Spieth said. “It’s still good to play a major and lose by one shot. But that was one shot from being the greatest week of my life, instead of being on the back burner. That’s what put it in perspective for me.”
It was a memorable run, and now it’s time to move on.
Spieth already has shown at such a young age he is equipped to do just that.
His goal at St. Andrews was to ignore what was at stake and treat it like another major. Put the ball in play. Make putts. Get in contention. He said when it was over the historical significance never crossed his mind even when he was tied for the lead with two holes to play.
His approach to Whistling Straits isn’t much different.
“I really don’t think it changes at all,” Spieth said. “Like I said, the historical part never factored into my preparation or knowledge of the course or whatever. All in all, I have the exact same feeling. I may feel better. I knew what was at stake, and there was an added element to that off the course. Those were the questions everyone was asking. That’s what the crowd was saying as you go hole to hole in the practice round. ‘The Grand Slam is alive.’
“I wish they were still saying that,” he said. “But since they aren’t, that might ease the burden as far as practice.”
He laughed when asked about the American Slam — winning the three U.S. majors in the same season.
“When did that start?” he said, already knowing the answer.
No one ever talked about an American Slam until it was served up as a consolation prize to Woods when his shot at the Grand Slam ended in the wind and rain at Muirfield in 2002. Woods made a strong run at the PGA Championship that year by making birdie on his last four holes, only to finish one shot behind Rich Beem.
Now the opportunity falls to Spieth. It’s still a chance to achieve something no one has ever done, though it feels hollow compared with what he was chasing a month ago at the home of golf.
The Grand Slam is over. His season is not.
Spieth knows what it’s like to adjust goals during the course of the season, just as he did as a rookie in 2013 when he started the year without a PGA Tour card and finished it as the youngest American (20) to play in the Presidents Cup.
Looking back, he set modest expectations for 2015.
“My goals for this year were to make the Presidents Cup team, contend in at least one major and make the cut in all the majors,” he said. “In 2013, they were tangible, specific goals I could shoot for. Right now, what’s bigger than what we’ve done? We had a chance to do something no one has done – win all four majors in a year.”
Part of the challenge is to finish strong. That’s what Spieth failed to do last season, when he finished out of the top 20 in six of his final seven events on the PGA Tour. In his eyes, a new season starts this week at Bridgestone Invitational in Ohio, followed by the PGA Championship and then four FedEx Cup playoff events.
“I would like to win one of these last six events,” he said. “I’d like to be in contention and close one of them out, stay focused on trying to win one of these six and forget about how this year has gone. This is so new for us. It’s hard as a team for us to sit back and not want to soak in what’s happened.”
A lot has happened. And even in the final two months, there’s a lot left.