The 2017 Travelers Championship brought about one of the most iconic moments of the season. Jordan Spieth, the 54-hole leader in the midst of an underwhelming final round, was caught from behind by Daniel Berger, and then needed to get up and down out of a bunker on 18 just to make par and bring the tournament to extra holes.
Again in the playoff, Spieth found himself in a greenside bunker, but this time he holed the shot for the victory, exploding into a joyous celebratory chest-bump with caddy Michael Greller.
On Tuesday at a press conference, Spieth said he actually blacked out after the ball dropped and doesn’t remember much about the celebration that went viral.
“I mean that was pretty special. I don’t think we could do that again no matter how many times we tried. Michael just throwing the rake up in the air, and the fact that nobody got hurt with either one of those was great too, and with the chest bump that neither one of us got hurt,” said Spieth.
“Just that celebration in general, I blacked out. I saw the ball go in, and at the time I hit the shot, I’m looking up, almost trying to read it as it goes by the hole. I knew it was a good shot. I was trying to read that whatever, three-footer I was going to have coming back. And then it drops and you just react.
“For me, I’ve had a few instances where I’ve been able to celebrate or react on a 72nd, 73rd hole, 74th hole, whatever it may be, and it just shows how much it means to us.”
Now, Spieth comes back to defend his Travelers title, but is doing so in puzzlingly poor form. Since a solo-third place finish at The Masters in April, Spieth has made six starts, missing three cuts and not posting as much as a top-20 finish.
The main culprit? His putter.
Lauded in his career as an exceptional putter, he has been a mess with his flat stick this year, and he currently ranks an unacceptable 188th on Tour in strokes gained: putting. For comparison, Spieth finished in second in the same statistic in 2016. He still ranks highly in nearly every other measurable part of his game, but on the greens, he appears stuck in his own head.
Oddly, though, Spieth actually putted well at Shinnecock Hills, gaining 3.4 strokes on the field on the greens over those two days. This time, his issues were tee-to-green, which is a rare thing for him to struggle with. He currently ranks 4th on Tour in strokes gained: tee-to-green, and has finished highly in each of his years on Tour.
He’s encouraged that his putting stroke is finally coming around, but it’s left him even more unsure about his game.
“I’ve kind of got to where my putting is making a lot of progress right now. It’s getting back to where I’m seeing my lines, and it’s getting back to where it could be top level,” said Spieth.
“And in that process, I’ve spent a lot of time on the putting and less on the swing, and that’s gotten off, so I’m just not sure. I’m not sure where the state of my game is right now.”
Spieth has earned an excellent reputation in major championships. Just 24 years old, he has already won three, and if he is able to capture the PGA Championship in August, he will become just the sixth player to win the Career Grand Slam, with only Tiger Woods doing it younger.
Despite that reputation, though, Spieth was awful at last week’s U.S. Open, missing the cut after a 78-71 start. Perhaps most frustratingly, on Friday, Spieth birdied 13, 14, 15, and 16 to get in front of the cut-line, but then bogeyed both 17 and 18 to fall one-stroke short of the weekend.
Making his first missed-cut in a major even more maddening, was watching players, who had barely made the weekend, soar up the leaderboard on Saturday by virtue of an early tee time, and a decent score.
“I had a pretty relaxing Saturday compared to most others. At the same time I knew if I squeaked by the cut line when I saw the scores, I was even more frustrated at my finish, because going out early Saturday and you shoot something under par, say 3-, 4-under, and I would have been in the last couple groups and had a chance to win the U.S. Open. That was a bummer for sure,” noted Spieth.
“But I’ve come here, I’ve kind of regrouped over the weekend, and this is my sixth out of seven weeks, and I had an extra couple days to rest and be ready for this one. I great a break after, but it was the same deal last year. I was able to leave it all out on the course.”
Spieth’s Travelers win was a big one, as he became just the second player in PGA Tour history (Tiger Woods again) to capture 10 titles before his 24th birthday. Spieth added another victory in his very next start, at the Open Championship, but has not won since. He has few, if any doubters, in his ability to regain his status among the elite.
According to Spieth, the key this week will take place on Thursday in the opening round.
“I think here this week, the key for me is just to get out in the first round and not try to do too much. I mean, 90-plus percent of the tournament the last two years I’ve thrown out my chances to win a golf tournament on Thursday,” said Spieth.
“I’ve had to do too much from here on. And the only tournaments I shot, I averaged good scores in the first round and I’ve had a chance to win Sunday, and that’s by not trying to do so. Just hit greens and let the flow of the golf course come to you.”
Could this be his week? It will all come down to what is going on between his ears. For almost his entire career, that has been a strength, but as of late, he just has not been all there.