PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — He did so well so quickly. Jordan Spieth couldn’t miss a putt, it seemed, and winning two majors before his 22nd birthday surely meant that he couldn’t miss becoming a Hall of Fame golfer. Didn’t his teenage pals call him “The Golden Child”?
As we know, however, even the best in sport have their off days — Tom Brady struggled in that Super Bowl — or, as was the case with Spieth in 2018, their off years. And in golf, there’s no relief pitcher or anyone else to pick you up when the game slips, as it always will. You’re on your own.
Spieth, who had won 11 times including three majors during his first five years on Tour, was supposed to be the game’s next big thing with the aging, injuries and decline of Tiger Woods. Yet he didn’t win a tournament of any kind in his sixth year, 2018.
Didn’t even qualify for the Tour Championship.
The calendar has turned. Spieth married in December. Now he’s back at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, which starts Thursday on courses pummeled the past few days by rain and hail. He knows what is possible. So do we.
It’s hard to explain why the game goes bad — a slight misalignment, a bit of a twist while regripping a club, an unpredictable loss of confidence. The whole idea is to get the situation corrected while doubts grow and the bogies multiply — and the questions continue.
“I’m getting comparisons to other years I’ve had,” Spieth, 25, said Wednesday. “But I’m used to that now.”
If not used to falling from No. 2 in the world rankings to No. 17. If not used to sitting out the year-end Tour Championship, for which only the top 30 qualify, an event he won a couple years earlier. He didn’t fail by much. He was 31st. But he failed.
His magical putting — remember that eight-footer for a bogey at Royal Birkdale that got him back on track to win the 2017 British Open? — was less magical. He wasn’t saving pars or chances to win.
“At this point,” said Spieth, “it’s how do I improve to get myself into contention this week, and what do I do next week, and just staying in the present and recognizing the longevity of a career and that your career is not defined by a couple of bad years.
“And I could have really poor years the rest of my career and still have a pretty fantastic career.”
That is not the issue. What happened and why? Bad habits? Bad breaks? Bad putting?
“I’m in a good place right now,” said Spieth, who signed a new contract to continue as an endorser for AT&T. “I feel like my game’s trending (in) the right direction. And sometimes that means results are coming soon, and sometimes it means they’re coming later.”
What’s coming, certainly, is a weekend of storms — Crosby weather, named for Bing Crosby, who created the tournament, which came to the Monterey Peninsula in 1947 — although maybe not until Friday.
“It was pretty snarly the year I won,” Spieth reminded of his 2017 victory here. “These golf courses (Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill, Monterey Peninsula), each one’s got its own challenge, and you also typically have to battle the elements, which I love to do.”
He also loves to play well. What golfer doesn’t? What athlete doesn’t?
“Sometimes I look at myself as a great putter,” he said when asked about his game. “Sometimes I look at myself as, man, my iron play is phenomenal. Just kind of depends on the time, what I feel.
“There’s always a part of the game we’re trying to improve. Even when you win, there’s something you could have done better.”
He was asked how he thought people saw him.
“I think they look at the major championships first,” said Spieth, who needs the PGA to sweep all four. “Then for two years I was first or second, with Jason Day, in strokes gained putting. For me, it’s nice to get on the green, and I feel my playing partner thinks my putt from 15 feet away is going in.”
Which, until last year, it usually did.