Coming off a season that gave us the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to a variety of social issues and other difficulties, 2021 has been an important year for the PGA Tour.
On the positive side, 2021 has also signaled the valiant return to the world’s elite for three-time major champion Jordan Spieth.
Submerged in a lengthy slump, Spieth had been stuck on 11 career victories since his triumph over Matt Kuchar at the 2017 Open Championship. He seemed more lost with each year that passed, and in 2020 he sunk to his lowest point, with just four finishes inside the top 25 in 17 starts, including a 10-tournament stretch where he missed five cuts and failed to record a result of better than T38.
His problems were largely mental, by Spieth’s own account, but something finally seemed to click in early February.
“I’m not sure if there was a single turning point,” said Spieth on Tuesday at Kiawah Island. “I think it was kind of a progression of finding some feels that allowed me to stand comfortably over the ball and hit a shot under pressure, and then doing that for multiple days in a row and then having that happen a couple tournaments in a row.
“So it was back to that Phoenix-Pebble time frame where I kind of thought, ‘Man, I know it’s not where I want it to be, but it doesn’t need to be for me to at least tap in to how to contend out here.’
“I think it was kind of that two-week time frame that was really big for me.”
A third-round 61 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open gave him the 54-hole lead before finishing T4. He was T3 the following week at Pebble Beach, and while he was still struggling on Sundays, he was finally getting into contention again. He finally closed the deal again at last month’s Valero Texas Open, winning by two strokes over Charley Hoffman.
Now, heading into the PGA Championship, Spieth has finished in the top 15 in eight of his past nine starts, including the win and a T3 at The Masters. A former No. 1 in the world rankings, Spieth fell to 92nd early in 2021, but has risen back up to his current position of 26th.
Despite his return to prominence, Spieth says his swing is still a work in progress.
“I’m still quite a bit a ways away from where I want to be in my golf swing and in the performance and in the feels, but it’s getting closer,” said Spieth.
“And the closer it gets, the more I’m able to trust those shots I’m talking about and the more it not only gets rid of the scar tissue.
“But can actually kind of prove advantageous under pressure.
“I hit — for how I kind of felt over the ball under pressure in San Antonio, I hit some of the better tee shots under pressure that I’ve ever hit just by knowing my game a little better and being able to compensate for those kind of tendencies that I have.
“Ideally that just gets better and better.”
If Spieth is able to win at Kiawah Island this week, where he currently shares the second-best betting odds, he will become just the sixth golfer in PGA Tour history to complete the career grand slam, joining Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, and Tiger Woods.
“I want to win this one as badly as I ever have,” said Spieth, who has two career top three finishes at the PGA, finishing runner-up to Jason Day in 2015, and T3 in 2019.
“Once you move on to the U.S. Open, the same.
“Majors are — yeah, again, like you mentioned, that’s what we’re trying to peak for those. I feel like I’ll have a lot of chances at this tournament, and if I just focus on trying to take advantage of this golf course, play it the best I can and kind of stay in the same form tree to green I’ve been in, all I can ask for is a chance.”
Spieth will be paired with Will Zalatoris and Webb Simpson in the first two rounds of the 2021 PGA Championship.