He’s one of many: Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Rory McIlroy — all winners, champions. Yet Jordan Spieth also is one of a kind, a golfer who has others in awe, has them using words such as intangible when reflecting on his game.
“You can’t really describe it,” said Ernie Els when called on to analyze Spieth’s success, most recently in the British Open. Spieth was about to self-destruct with a terrible tee shot but went five under the last five holes to win.
“The guy,” Els pointed out, “finds a way of getting it done.”
As do all great players, overcoming their own failings, roaring back, creating excitement, creating a legend.
Now Spieth and the others are at the 99th PGA Championship, starting Thursday at Quail Hollow Country Club, the last major of the year but the first chance for Spieth to complete the so-called career Grand Slam, a victory in each of the game’s four big tournaments.
He won the Masters and U.S. Open in 2015, a double done in modern times only by Arnold Palmer in 1961 and Jack Nicklaus in 1972. Then three weeks ago, Spieth, with that historic finish, the drive 100 yards off line and a bogey, followed by three birdies and an eagle, won the British Open.
“Expectations?” Spieth said. “I don’t really feel any. This is a chance to complete the Grand Slam. I’m here, so I’m going to go ahead and try. But I believe I’m going to have plenty of chances, and I’m young enough to believe in my abilities that it will happen at some point.”
He is 16 days past his 24th birthday, and the British win made Spieth the only male golfer other than Nicklaus to grab three majors at age 23.
Golf, certainly, needs Spieth the way it needed Tiger Woods and Nicklaus and Palmer, the way tennis needed Venus and Serena Williams — individuals who capture the imagination while they capture victories, who draw attention and crowds.
“I’ve got an opportunity this week,” Spieth said. “If I can get the job done this week and then turn into the [FedEx] playoffs with the same kind of momentum, then I would consider it as good or a better year than even , which is pretty cool.”
But there’s no defense in golf, no way to stop any other player from shooting a lower score. And someone such as McIlroy, who won twice won at Quail Hollow when it hosted the Wells Fargo tournament, could outplay his friend and rival Spieth — even after paying tribute to Spieth’s mental toughness.
“Rory is the kind of guy who is very difficult if you come into a one-on-one situation, no matter where it is,” Spieth said, “and especially in the majors because he’s not afraid to hit the shot. I mean he plays so aggressively, and that’s what you have to do to win.”
Spieth makes putts, too, which you have to do to win.
“He has that knack,” McIlroy said of Spieth. “I call it resilience. I don’t know if there’s a better word to describe what he does. But he’s got this resilience where he gets himself in position in tournaments where you don’t think he can come back from, and he does. It’s awfully impressive.
“Yeah, resilience, mentally tough, strong, whatever you want to call it. That’s his biggest asset. Being able to forget about a bad shot and move on to the next one. That’s his greatest weapon.”
Like a relief pitcher who blows a save, Spieth seemingly has a short memory of his mistakes, other than being determined to correct them.
“I’ve taken a lot from the wins and a lot from the losses,” Spieth said. “It’s just about being able to adapt to situations quickly and to use that to my advantage.”
Something he’s done quite admirably.