Jordan Spieth's time was up, but it was fun while it lasted.
In keeping with tradition, last year’s British Open champion had to give the Claret Jug trophy back to officials from The Royal and Ancient Golf Club on Monday.
Breaking up was hard to do.
“I thought maybe somebody would meet me in the parking lot, and I’d just give them the case back, and we’d move on,” Spieth said. “But it was a ceremony. And because of that, it actually hit me harder. I was like, man, this was in my possession. I took it to all the places that allowed me to get to where I am today. My family was able to take it around. Members of the team were able to take it.
“It’s the coolest trophy that our sport has to offer. So having to return that was certainly difficult. Kind of hit me a little bit on the tee box.”
If this tournament goes according to plan for Spieth, that trophy won’t be out of his hands for long. But this is an unpredictable tournament, particularly under these conditions, when Carnoustie — already known as the toughest course in the championship’s rotation — is baked brown and hard as asphalt.
“It’s a completely different course,” Tommy Fleetwood said. “I played it yesterday, just I’ve never played it this firm or fast. Shots that you’ve hit have literally no relevance for a lot of it. It was definitely apparent that the difficulties this week are probably going to be putting it in play and putting it in the fairways and go from there.”
A year ago, Spieth put together a beautiful Sunday back nine at Royal Birkdale – including a run of birdie, eagle, birdie, birdie – to pull away from Matt Kuchar and become the second player after Jack Nicklaus to win three majors before turning 24.
The pivotal point in that final round came on the par-4 13th hole, when Spieth pushed his drive far to the right and atop a hill. The ball was in an unplayable spot, so he was able to take a one-stroke penalty and move it no closer to the hole but on the same line as the original shot.
Spieth wound up moving it all the way back to the driving range behind him, getting another drop because there were equipment trucks in his way.
Then, with no look at the hole, he hit a miraculous blind 3-iron that flew more than 200 yards and landed within 25 yards of the pin. A chip and a putt later, and he escaped with what his caddy would call “the greatest bogey I’ve ever seen, by a mile.”
Less than a day later, Spieth and Greller were back in the U.S. watching a replay of that round.
“I just remember a couple things: One, how long it took on 13 versus how long it felt it took,” Spieth said. “It felt like I was making decision, decision, decision kind of quickly, concisely.”
He said it took so long on TV, though, “I had to fast-forward through it.”
It felt to him like it took a while to regroup from that. But when he watched the replay, Spieth said, he was surprised how quickly he was able to regroup.
He needs to regroup this year, particularly with his putting. Although he was third at the Masters, he hasn’t finished in the top 20 in any other event. That includes missing the cut at both the Memorial and U.S. Open.
“I was kind of dragging along, cut-line golf for a while, and playing a pretty heavy schedule,” he said. “I needed to kind of get away from the game, which I did. I feel good about the way I did it and the coming back to it.”
He went to Seattle, where his sister was in a cheering competition at the Special Olympics USA Games. While there, he and his caddie, Michael Greller, visited Chambers Bay, where Spieth won the 2015 U.S. Open. He also made a Mexico trip to Cabo San Lucas with friends. He played a bit of golf, but it was “fun golf.”
Spieth returned refreshed and ready to fine tune his game.
He said he “put on the grind the last week or so” in preparation for this week’s championship.
“I was working hard at home,” he said. “I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working – working hard at my game on the golf course, and it was nice to kind of have that itch to get back. It was nice to start from scratch, almost like wet concrete with parts of my game.”
As for the Claret Jug?