Jordan Spieth Is Muttering Less and Smiling More

TULSA, Okla. — Sixteen months ago, Jordan Spieth spent long stretches during post-round news conferences answering questions about what was wrong with him.

Or what was missing from his once prized golf game.

The world’s top-ranked men’s player for much of 2015-16 and the winner of three major championships in roughly the same period, Spieth had tumbled to 92nd in the world rankings by January of last year. His best finish at a 2020 major had been a tie for 46th.

In this time, Spieth handled the almost weekly inquisition about whether he would ever regain his form with poise and sincerity. For the most part, he kept his smile. But that smile is far wider now. With a rally in 2021 that included a second-place finish at the British Open and a surge this year that has included a 13th PGA Tour victory and two second-place finishes, Spieth has climbed back into the top 10 worldwide.

On Wednesday, one day before the first round of the 2022 P.G.A. Championship, Spieth met with reporters and happily spent most of his time answering questions about whether he might achieve a measure of golfing immortality this week.

Jordan Spieth chipped to the green on Wednesday while practicing for the P.G.A. Championship in Tulsa, Okla.Credit…Matt York/Associated Press

Only five golfers — Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods — have won each of the game’s major championships. With victories at the Masters, the U.S. Open and the British Open, Spieth, 28, needs only a P.G.A. Championship title to join that gilded group.

“It’s the elephant in the room for me,” Spieth said Wednesday with a small grin. “If you told me I was going to win one tournament the rest of my life, I’d say I want to win this one. Long term, it would be really cool to say that you captured the four biggest golf tournaments in the world that are played in different parts of the world and different styles, too. So you feel like you kind of accomplished golf when you win a career Grand Slam.”

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Accomplished golf? As in mastered it? That’s an almost celestial ambition in a sport that keeps almost all of its devotees cruelly grounded on a regular basis. But Spieth can be forgiven. When his game was in an abyss, he endured many months muttering to himself as he marched off the tee on his way to the high rough. And no golfer mutters to himself so systematically, indeed professionally, with the zany zeal that Spieth exhibits.

Even with his golf ball sailing straight and farther now, Spieth has not stopped his frequent self-commentary on the golf course, always with his forbearing caddie, Michael Greller, the former sixth grade math teacher, nodding silently as he walks alongside his boss.

Greller’s role should not be underestimated given Spieth’s active brain (and mouth). Spieth acknowledged as much Wednesday.

“I’ve been trying to really have some fun more, and Michael does a good job with that,” Spieth said. “If I wake up tomorrow a little on the wrong side of the bed, as we all do, he’ll try and talk to me about something other than golf. He’ll step in, and having kind of a friend on the bag that can keep it light can sometimes turn things in that direction.”

Jordan Spieth handed a club to his caddie, Michael Greller, during a practice round leading up to the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club in April.Credit…Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Spieth will be tested in other ways in Thursday’s first round. He will play with Woods and the four-time major champion Rory McIlroy, a grouping that is likely to be followed by about 70 percent of the tens of thousands of fans on the grounds at Southern Hills Country Club. The atmosphere will be charged, and because a golf gallery does not remain seated as at other sporting events, it will become more like a noisy, chaotic, ever-moving wave.

But Spieth, whose wife, Annie, gave birth to the couple’s first child, a son, Sammy, in November, had a different take.

“I’ll get to tell my kid about this someday — I got to play with Tiger in a major,” Spieth said.

He added that he had done it before, but as he acknowledged Woods’s near-fatal car crash in February 2021, he added: “Last year, you weren’t sure if that was ever going to happen again.”

Spieth did concede that the massive crowd could be a distraction, but one he has gotten used to. When he nearly won the Masters as a 20-year-old and finished first at the tournament a year later, in 2015, Spieth attracted some teeming crowds himself.

“Sometimes, when the crowds get big enough, it’s kind of just a color blur in a way,” he said. “But Tiger and Rory are great to play with. They’re quick. They’re positive. I think you have to embrace it and recognize that it’s cool and it’s obviously great for golf.”

The grouping might even be a blessing, Spieth said, as a way to keep his mind off the opportunity to achieve the career Grand Slam of major championships.

“If I can play well these next couple days, given the crowds that will be out there, then I think the weekend might actually feel a little like a breather in a way,” he said. “So that’s how I’m looking at it.”

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