Jordan Spieth’s relationship with caddie Michael Greller might be the perfect partnership. But from this point forward, it might be more of a silent partnership.
For any other player on the PGA Tour, tying for 57th and 37th in his past two events might not seem like a slump. But when it happens to a skyrocketing star that turned in a historic season in 2015, it seems like the sky is falling.
Spieth came to the $9.5 million World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational this week at Akron’s Firestone Country Club searching for something. Part of it lies in his ball-striking, which sent him to the driving range after Thursday’s first round, but the essence of the quest is improving his mental toughness.
To that end, Spieth has decided to cut down the chatter.
No more complaining when a shot bounces from the fairway into the rough. No more chastising himself, at least out loud. No more over-analysis that led to him being told to play faster in two consecutive rounds at the Masters Tournament.
“I told Michael before the round, I’m going to start the rest of this year to be a lot stronger mentally than I have been and just not dwell in conversation on each shot,” Spieth said. “I’m trying to speed up my process, as well, and I think we did that, too.”
It led to Spieth playing the final four holes at Firestone South in 4 under par, his 2-under 68 good for a tie for fifth, 4 strokes behind 2016 Memorial Tournament champion William McGirt.
“This is one of the happiest 2 unders I’ve ever shot for sure,” Spieth said. “I kind of wish we kept on playing, even though I felt so kind of poor most of the round.”
Spieth is not a whiner. He is a humble, grounded 22-year-old who falls prey to the perils of his perfectionism.
He also set his personal bar high with five victories last year, including a fling with the Grand Slam after winning the Masters and U.S. Open. That ended with a tie for fourth in the British Open, but he still went on to earn more than $12 million, capture the Tour Championship, the FedEx Cup and Player of the Year honors.
So much glory presumably lies ahead. But the pressure and the expectations could weigh heavily on a young man who turns 23 on July 23.
Especially when he’s already won twice this year and finished second at the Masters. But a tie for 57th at the Memorial and a tie for 37th at the U.S. Open led to whispers of a slump.
He called it “a little lull,” and admitted part of it is technical.
“This is kind of a phase that I feel like everyone goes through,” Spieth said. “A down phase in ball-striking where you’re just trying to find something that frees you up to swing through the ball.
“My chipping is on, short game is on, and I’m working towards it. I’ve been hitting a lot of balls. Once I find something that clicks, I can run with it.”
If he does, that is a dangerous proposition for his peers, especially world No. 1 Jason Day, trying to widen his points lead on Spieth this week and tied for second after a 67.
When they did talk, former schoolteacher Greller told Spieth before the round that if he shot 2 under for four days, he’d have a chance to win. That might not have looked likely after a 2-over 37 on the front nine. But a 31 on the back made it seem feasible, especially if Spieth worked out something on the range.
But just as important was that Spieth said, “I won the mental battle with myself.”
Before the month ends, Spieth will play two majors in a three-week span. Should another eye-popping season be in store, what he deemed “a big round for me” might be considered the turning point.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.