Jordan Spieth’s Long Road Back

The hottest name coming into the Masters this week is a guy who most recently could be found on a slippery slope that looked set to take him out of the top 100, who hadn’t won in 45 months and whose juggernauting start to his golf career had long since faded to the back of fans’ minds.

How quickly things can change in sports. From ‘Jordan Spieth, man of yesteryear’ to ‘Jordan Spieth, Masters favorite,’ the narrative turned on its head in the space of a week.

Spieth, 27, doesn’t actually have the shortest odds when things tee off at Augusta National this week, but he’s darn close to it. FOX Bet has him at +1100, just behind Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau.

Yet there is no question who will have the closest attention paid to them. After slipping further and further away from golf’s spotlight, all the way down to 92nd in the world ranking, Spieth’s victory at the Valero Texas Open last weekend has thrust him squarely back to the fore.

“It has been a long time,” he told reporters after his win.
 
It had been one of the most mystifying drop-offs in the game. Spieth, the kid who couldn’t miss, suddenly could, would and did. The smooth-striking, clutch-putting, unshakably confident product of Dallas, whose big event moxie turned him into a lock for the Hall of Fame by the age of 23, then spent several years being just another player.

Spieth won his first Tour event at 19, and by 21 had both a Masters runner-up finish and a famed green jacket to his name. He then gave the career Grand Slam a shake, adding the U.S. and British Open to his resume. The British – collected in part thanks to an audacious Sunday recovery shot on Royal Birkdale’s 13th hole in 2017 – seeming to point to more greatness to come.

In fact, it would be his last tournament win for a long, long time, before the drought was finally broken last Sunday.

“There’s peaks and valleys in this sport,” Spieth said. “I never expected to go this long. Back then, in between wins, I took a lot more for granted than I should have. It’s very difficult to win out here and I’ll certainly enjoy this one as much as I have any other.”
 
It is easy to see why such excitement was sparked in the golf community by his victory in San Antonio. From the moment he arrived on Tour his talent has never been in question, becoming swiftly identified as a player with the rare ability to not just contend at the top but, if his game is truly on, to dominate. For a while, he did.

In Texas, it was a test of nerve and character as well as of his swing. Being chased by Charley Hoffman, Spieth got himself over the line with a 6-under 66.

“Where Spieth goes from here—starting this week at Augusta National, a course that has been his playground—is now the preeminent storyline in golf,” wrote Golf Digest’s Joel Beall.

When Spieth fell off, golf fans thought he would soon be back, and kept assuming, and only recently, as the struggles drifted on and on and on, did that faith begin to waver. Now it has returned. Time will tell if this revival sticks, but at least Spieth is being treated as if he was never out of the elite realm of the sport.

With recent form often being a strong predictor of Masters success, Spieth is right up there in the discussion as Thursday morning beckons. Furthermore, before he won the Masters in 2015, he finished second at the Valero and went in hot. Before his second Major, the 2015 U.S. Open, he placed in a tie for third at the Memorial. And ahead of that British victory, he was in the winner’s circle, triumphing in the Travelers.

And then … the slump.
 
“I think I’ve learned a lot of patience,” Spieth added. “I probably spent a year of struggling where I was forcing things, and it just made it worse. But it was just kind of hard not to force it because I just wanted to be back to playing good golf so quickly. Sometimes, less is more.”

Mostly, Spieth kept things the same, averting the temptation to chop and change in search of a remedy. He did not switch out his caddie (Michael Greller) or his swing coach (Cameron McCormick), but did seek advice from Butch Harmon. In the weeks leading up to the Valero there had been some positive signs, with two other 54-hole leads. But when you’ve been someone who wins, and then you don’t for a long while, there is only one way to truly break out of a slump.

If he can get into the mix at the Masters, it would cap an extraordinary turnaround.

Golf’s biggest event has a different feel to it this time, coming so soon after the last staging. Johnson won when it was held in November (rescheduled from April), cruising through after a week when all the lead-up talk had been about the huge-hitting DeChambeau.

DeChambeau is much talked about again, with no one knowing what club option he’s going to stick in his bag, while an intense yet sympathetic focus is also on the absence of Tiger Woods, who is being collectively wished a swift recovery from his February car crash.

Spieth adds another piece to the story. If it really is a return to the player of old, then the tournament, and golf in general, will be all the better for it.

Unsurprisingly, Spieth is feeling good about things and was delighted to arrive at Augusta on the back of a positive upturn. After everything that has happened, though, he is taking a circumspect approach.

“I’m a little over halfway there,” he said.
 
Here’s what others have said …

Kyle Porter, CBS Sports: “Jordan Spieth is seeing the odds to capture his second green jacket this weekend at Augusta National significantly boosted. Spieth went from around 50-1 to start 2021 to 10-1 with days to go. That’s the equivalent of going from sharing a neighborhood with Tommy Fleetwood and Joaquin Niemann to an upscale (and possibly gated) community with Justin Thomas and Dustin Johnson. It’s been a special two months for Spieth, who has six top-15 finishes (including a victory) in his last seven starts.”

Jim Souhan, Star Tribune: “(Jordan) Spieth has won three majors without the obvious advantages enjoyed by so many other champions. He lacks Johnson’s explosiveness, Arnold Palmer’s muscle, Jack Nicklaus’ forearms, Gary Player’s fitness fanaticism, Bryson DeChambeau’s bulk, Rory McIlroy’s power.”

Dennis Esser, The Athletic: “(Jordan) Spieth is coming into this tournament on an absolute heater. He won his group at the Match Play, but lost in the knockout round to a Matt Kuchar birdie at the 18th hole. With the way Spieth was striking the ball, I would have rather had him hitting an iron into the 18th instead of trying to get lucky with a good lie for a pitch shot, but who am I to question Jordan and his caddie, Michael Greller.”

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