Time of Day: Behind the Scenes of Jason’s Major Breakthrough

jason-day1Sean Foley lay on a leather couch in the Whistling Straits clubhouse last Saturday night, telling a story that illustrates just how much Jordan Spieth has gotten into the heads of his peers. Foley, a swing coach to the stars, was on the practice putting green during the wind delay at last month’s British Open when Spieth stroked a midrange putt. The ball stopped a couple of inches from the cup, but then a hard gust blew it in. Throwing up his arms in mock disgust, Sergio García shouted, “Even when you miss it, you make it!”

This is what poor Jason Day had to overcome last week at the 97th PGA Championship in Kohler, Wis. Day, 27, had been become golf’s star-crossed kid, an awesome talent with a disconcerting inability to get it done at major championships. That he had contended until the bitter end at Augusta National (twice), the Old Course, Merion and Chambers Bay was testament to his sublime combination of power and touch, but something was holding Day back; just last month at the British Open he had an 18-foot downhill putt on the 72nd hole to join the playoff but somehow left it short.  He walked off in a haze of what he called “disbelief” and “shock.”

But Day has a flinty resilience that comes from a tough upbringing in Australia. After his father died when he was 12, his mother sent him to a golf academy far from the streets where he was regularly getting drunk and causing trouble. So the week after the heartbreak at St. Andrews, Day picked himself up and rallied to win the Canadian Open, and at Whistling Straits he played some of the best golf of his life across the first three days. Late on Saturday it looked as if Day might have to hold off only lurkers like Matt Jones, Branden Grace and Anirban Lahiri to get his breakthrough. Then Spieth mounted the kind of charge that has already become a trademark.

After a birdie at the 1st, his round had stalled with nine consecutive pars, so on the par-5 11th, Spieth lashed a monster drive. Explaining his technique, he said, “I was pissed so I swung really hard”; after a birdie there, “the holes started looking bigger.” Just like that Spieth turned ravenous, pouring in five more birdies for a back-nine 30 that propelled him from irrelevancy to within two shots of the lead and into the final group, alongside Day. Spieth, who turned 22 in July, lacks Tiger Woods’s seething intensity and raw strength, but his relentless drive and hyper efficiency have made him nearly as feared already. To have to fend off Spieth seemed like just another bad beat for Day, but this test of his fortitude turned out to be exactly what he needed. “I’m going to give him a fight,” Day said following the third round, with some steel in his voice.

On Sunday, Day was so intimidated he birdied four of the first seven holes. That left Spieth four back, and though he fought hard, Day simply refused to let him apply any pressure. The signature moment of this overpowering victory came on the 11th hole. Spieth had birdied the 10th to trim the deficit to three, and it felt like the moment when Day would allow the fates to conspire against him, as they always have. Instead, he mashed a 382-yard drive into the skinniest part of the fairway. When he got to his ball in the right rough, Spieth was thunderstruck to discover he was 80 yards back. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” he yelled down the fairway at the 6-foot, 195-pound Day, who responded by flexing one of his brawny biceps. Day needed only a wedge for his second shot, securing a birdie that restored his lead to four strokes. He roared home with a 67, pushing his four-round total to 20 under, a scoring record for the major championships. Whistling Straits may have been softened a bit by rain, but disaster still lurked on every swing; Day was simply that good. “We play a lot of golf together, and that’s the best I’ve ever seen him play,” said Spieth, whose 17-under total had previously been bettered only by Woods and Bob May since the PGA Championship went to stroke play in 1958.

Day called the victory “one of the best moments of my life,” but the tears that poured out on the final hole were not joy, exactly.

Day’s father, Alvin, was a native of Australia, while his mother, Dening, hails from the Philippines. She describes herself as a “mail bride”—she had a long correspondence with Alvin but did not meet him until he flew to her homeland for their wedding. Jason was born in Beaudesert, on Australia’s Gold Coast. His parents worked at a nearby port, Dening as a clerk and her husband manning the scales.  “There was a big difference between the haves and the have-nots,” she says. “We were on the bottom of the have-nots.”

Jason started playing golf at age six. His father pushed him hard to excel, which created only part of the strain in their relationship; Jason says Alvin was an alcoholic. After he died of stomach cancer, the family fractured. Kim, one of Jason’s two older sisters, ran away from home and lived on the streets for more than a year before returning, while for Jason alcohol became an escape. “He was a lost soul,” Dening says.

Believing that golf was her son’s only road to salvation, Dening sold their house to pull together enough money to send Jason to board at Kooralbyn International School, a seven-hour drive from home. Colin Swatton was the golf coach there, and the two got off to a rocky start. On their first afternoon together Swatton instructed Day to work on his short game. “I told him to f— off,” says Day. “I was still a punk.” He stormed off and played a few holes before having a moment of clarity. “I was out there thinking, Man, my family is sacrificing so much for me to come here. So I went back and apologized.”

“I don’t think we’ve had a cross word since,” says Swatton, 46, who now serves as a caddie, coach and father figure for Day. “From that day forward Jason outworked every other kid at the academy.” Reading a biography about Woods helped Day focus his ambition; just as a young Tiger had done with Jack Nicklaus, Day taped above his bed a time line of his hero’s accomplishments.

After a successful amateur career Day turned pro in 2006, at 18, and moved to Orlando. With Swatton on the bag, he played well enough at Q school to earn status on the Nationwide tour for ’07. He won the 11th start of his rookie year, becoming the youngest champion in the history of that tour. Afterward, Day raised eyebrows, and a few hackles, by declaring his intent to unseat Woods at the top of the World Ranking.

Two days after the Nationwide victory he had his first date with Ellie Harvey, who was working as a waitress at a pub that Swatton frequented. They dined at Applebee’s, withSwatton, ever the loyal wingman, tagging along. After dinner Day sent him home so he could squire Ellie to the movies, and six months later she moved in with him. “Things moved really fast,” Ellie says, “but that’s kind of the story of his life. He had to grow up really fast, so at an early age he knew what he wanted.”

In 2009 they were married in a barn near her hometown of Lucas, Ohio (pop. 602). While most Tour pros are clustered in the Sun Belt, the Days live in Columbus to be near Ellie’s large, close-knit family. In ’12 their son was born—Dash, named for the rambunctious kid in The Incredibles. “Through Ellie and her family, Jason has found the stability he never knew growing up,” says Swatton.

It has not been as easy for Day to find his place between the ropes. Even as he began popping up on major-championship leader boards, he still had only one win, at the 2010 Byron Nelson Classic. His brash comments about being No. 1 were often brought up by the media as a kind of taunt about his underachievement. It took a tragedy to push Day to a different level. In November ’13, Typhoon Haiyan slammed into the Philippines. Day was in Australia, relaxing with his mom and two sisters and gearing up for the World Cup, in which he was to play for his home country alongside his good mate Adam Scott. Days went by without any contact with Dening’s family until her brother was able to travel to check on the missing relatives. “They were gone,” says Dening. “Everything was gone.” Her mother and another brother perished in the storm, along with six cousins, among the death toll that exceeded 6,000.

Day was devastated for his mom, but Dening is as tough as Tida Woods—she insisted he compete in the World Cup to honor their lost family, saying, “Go win the tournament. We will cry afterward.” Her son played the most inspired golf of his life, joining with Scott to win the team title and holding off his countryman for individual honors. “It was incredibly emotional,” Day says. “I found something deep inside myself.”

Even after he won the 2014 WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship and this year’s Farmers Insurance Open, Day has continued to absorb hard lessons. At this year’s U.S. Open he was felled by a bout of vertigo caused by an ear infection, but he bravely played on. Day shared the lead after 54 holes and tied for ninth. “I learned a lot about how far I could really push myself mentally and physically,” he says. “It’s just a matter of how much do you want it. And I really want it. I mean, I’m willing to put my body on the line just to get a taste of that greatness.” He even took some positives from the British Open, saying it was the most calm he had ever felt coming down the stretch of a big tournament. “Unfortunately,” Day said on the eve of the PGA, “some people make it look easier than others. Some people get there quicker than others. We’re humans. We’re not machines out there. It’s very easy to make poor choices and have bad swings every now and then. But we were so blessed with Tiger and Rory [McIlroy] and Jordan, just recently, that winning looks so easy.”

Spieth’s finish at the PGA elevated him to No. 1 in the World Ranking, but even before the tournament began he was already acting like the sport’s alpha male. Phil Mickelson has made it a tradition to organize money games on Tuesdays at the majors, and last week he enlisted Rickie Fowler to take on Spieth and his close friend Justin Thomas, a Tour rookie. Spieth woofed publicly that he was going to trot out his U.S. Open trophy, the one thing Mickelson can’t buy with his many millions.

“When I heard that, I absolutely loved it because it’s the kind of crap I would pull,” Mickelson says. Of course, Spieth left the trophy at home, but it was the subject of much trash talk. Spieth’s team was 1 up heading to the 18th hole, where he hit a toe-hook off the tee into a horrendous lie on the edge of a fairway bunker. With one foot in the sand, Spieth summoned a miracle shot to within eight feet of the cup. Fowler poured in a 40-footer for birdie, but Spieth gutted his putt to win the match and ensure a few crisp Benjamins would change hands. “I don’t want to say that birdie was complete bulls—, but it really was,” says Mickelson.

Spieth produced a similar highlight on Sunday—a bunker shot on 16 that prompted Day to say, “It baffles me the stuff that he can prove out there”—but in the end Spieth simply didn’t have the firepower to keep up. Day is now third in the World Ranking and along with Spieth and the 26-year-old McIlroy makes up a telegenic, cross-cultural and immensely appealing neo–Big Three. Reaching No. 1 remains the goal, and Day is willing to pay the price: He has eliminated sugar and alcohol from his diet, and he hits the gym with a vengeance six days a week.

Ellie is due in November with the couple’s second child, and after the baby arrives, the Days will continue to travel the Tour as happy vagabonds in a tricked-out motor coach. Dash is a little ham, and he stole the show during the awards ceremony, but at one point while in his father’s arms he pleaded, “Can we go home now?” He was too young to realize that after a long, hard journey, his dad is finally where he is supposed to be.

courtesy of Alan Shipnuck (golf.com)

 

Jordan Spieth just became No. 1 in the world. And yet he leaves Whistling Straits in second place

Jordan Spieth celebrates after sinking his final putt to win a three-hole playoff in the fourth round of the 2015 Valspar Championship

Jordan Spieth celebrates after sinking his final putt to win a three-hole playoff in the fourth round of the 2015 Valspar Championship

With his performance at the PGA Championship, Jordan Spieth became the official No. 1 ranked player in the world.

Yet, Spieth’s Sunday will be remembered for falling short.

It seems miscalculated, perhaps even cruel; to catalog Spieth’s play this week as a disappointment. Despite the misfortune of teeing off in harsh conditions on Thursday afternoon, Spieth kept himself in the tournament, a sentiment most of his fellow late-wave competitors could not say. (Oh, the mind wonders what Spieth could have done if he started in the morning.)

Even while Jason Day made a mockery of Whistling Straits, Spieth was very much in the Wanamaker running, his hopes ultimately dashed by Day’s tremendous lag-putt at the 71st hole.

Speith finished with a final-round 68, good for second place. This standing bestowed Spieth his summer-long pursuit of the No. 1 ranking, displacing Rory McIlroy from the spot.

So why does it feel like Spieth is leaving in disappointment?

Because, he is.

“Major championships are what we’re remembered for in this sport,” said Spieth after his round. “It’s what I imagine all of our dreams were as kids, to play professional golf and to compete and try an win major championships.”

Golf is the rarest of sports where the lines of success and failure are tenuous, ambiguous and ever-changing. Brooks Koepka’s T-5 finish will be noted as success. Same for Branden Grace’s third-place showing. Spieth beat both, yet, somehow, leaves Wisconsin with a less-positive connotation.

For the year, Spieth captured two major titles. He tied for fourth in the British Open to go along with the PGA Championship’s silver medal. He was four shots shy of a Grand Slam.

That’s quite the season. Hell, that’s quite the career.

But, as Spieth is finding out, when you’re the face of your sport, anything less than a championship is defeat. LeBron James can attest as much.

“You could look at that from a negative view of what could I have done, or you could look at it where maybe one putt and I would only have one major this year,” Spieth said. He’s right. Just as James is a Ray Allen shot away from owning just one ring.

But history doesn’t count the barely-mades.  It’s the near-misses that are remembered.

And make no mistake, he was close.

Look no further than the 11th hole on Sunday. Day’s tee shot appeared to be headed for deep rough, which would likely negate a chance to reach the par-5 in two. Instead, Day’s ball found the fairway, leading to a birdie.

Spieth, on the other hand, saw his second-shot approach fall just short of rolling into the green, catching a railroad tie and ricocheting into heather. On a hole that was statistically the second-easiest of the day, Spieth took par.

“It’s not easy,” Spieth commented in the media tent. “It takes a lot out of you. I’m tired right now. I mean, I left it all out there. I’m tired from the majors this year because of what it does.”

The FedEx Cup remains on the PGA Tour schedule, as does the fall’s Presidents Cup. Spieth will be a main player in both.

“This year isn’t over; I’ve got a lot of big tournaments coming up. But the four biggest are finished now until April.”

When you’re a golfer of Spieth’s caliber, those are the only four that matter. And the assessment is simple: Did you win?

For Spieth on Sunday, that answer was no.

courtesy of Joel Beall (golfdigest.com)

Club Pro Diary: Brian Gaffney Upbeat Entering Final Round

brian gaffneyBrian Gaffney is the head professional at Quaker Ridge Golf Club in Scarsdale, New York. He is the first club pro to make the cut at a PGA Championship since 2011 and was the only one to do so in this year’s event after shooting 71-73. Gaffney followed with a 78 Saturday. This is a look at his week so far in his own words.

SATURDAY: ROUND 3

I was exhausted Friday night, but I didn’t sleep particularly well. Luckily there’s enough adrenaline and electricity here to combat a few restless nights. I teed off at 10:54 a.m. Saturday morning, and I saw Kevin Streelman before my round on the range. He gave me a nod and said, “Nice going.” Now that felt really good.

I played with Chesson Hadley, who is such a nice guy. He conducts himself like a much older player, maturity-wise. On the first hole, we were about the same distance after our tee shots. I said, “Are you away here?” He let me decide, so I hit first. He said, “Show me something good.” Wow. That was just a nice thing to say and set the tone for the rest of the day.

What am I playing for tomorrow? Club pros play in a series called the PGA Cup, which is essentially our Ryder Cup. To get in, you need to qualify as one of the top 10 club pros in the country, and prior to this week I was 17th. Because I made the cut here, I’ll move up in the standings, but I have to finish 54th or better to make the team. The plan, the only plan, was to play the best I can and finish there.

Today I hit really good shots early in the round, but on the sixth hole we were put on the clock. I hit a blind wedge into the green that I thought was perfectly struck. Then Chesson hit and he went way left and the crowd went crazy. Turns out, I had picked the wrong tower as my aiming point. Oof. I hustled up the tee box on the next hole and got a little winded. I took one deep breath and wanted to take another, but I went ahead and hit. I basically lost the ball way right and made bogey. All week long I’ve had that bounce-back birdie. Today, I didn’t have it. I also couldn’t catch any breaks. The train was going so fast, and I couldn’t slow it down. I was away every time. Chesson was just waiting for me. I didn’t mind that he was waiting, but I simply could not slow down the movements. It led to one bad shot after another, and each one had its own crazy consequence. I finished with a 78.

I had 176 emails and 147 text messages when I got to my phone. And I don’t get many messages. It’s an awesome feeling. The only problem is that I wanted to respond to every person that contacted me. But it’s just too many! I called the president of our club and asked him to send a message to the members letting them know I appreciate all of the support and I will try to get back to everyone the best I can, but I just can’t do it all right now.

What a great problem to have.

Day in the lead at PGA as Spieth makes a charge

jason dayThree times this year, Jason Day has gone into the final round of a major with his name atop the leaderboard.

Twice this year, Jordan Spieth has posed with the trophy.

The two hottest golfers face off in the final group of the final major of the year at the PGA Championship, both wanting nothing more than to have their named etched on the Wanamaker Trophy. Both go into the final round relying on a different set of memories.

Day made six consecutive 3s in the middle of his round, lost momentum with a double bogey from a bunker and then steadied himself with a 25-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole that sent him to a 6-under 66 and a two-shot lead over Spieth.

“I’m not looking it as a negative,” Day said about his close calls. “You can’t, because you’ve got two shots and I’ve played phenomenal golf leading up to this. But now I’ve got to focus on round four. Everything I need to do is just make sure that I focus and prepare myself for tomorrow.”

Spieth was losing patience with nine straight pars until he blistered the back nine, closed with three straight birdies and shot 65.

He was five shots behind and had two holes to play, hopeful to stay within three or four shots. He wound up only two shots behind and poised to join Tiger Woods (2000) and Ben Hogan (1953) as the only players to win three majors in one season.

Just like his bid for the Grand Slam that ended at St. Andrews, Spieth is more concerned with one trophy than a collection.

“Just to try to get my name on the Wanamaker Trophy, that’s about it. That’s the only history I’ll be thinking of when we step on the first tee is you can hoist that trophy tomorrow and make it happen,” Spieth said. “I’ll go into tomorrow strictly for the history piece of trying to get my name on a different major.”

Day was at 15-under 201.

The abundant sunshine and endless action Saturday might have been a preview for what could be a sensational end to the majors. And while the focus is on Day and Spieth, this was hardly a two-man race.

Branden Grace holed out from the front bunker on the tough 18th hole for birdie and a 64, the low score of the third round that put him three shots out of the lead. The South African was tied for the lead with three holes to play in the U.S. Open until hitting his drive out-of-bounds onto the railroad track at Chambers Bay.

Justin Rose, despite a double bogey on the fourth hole for the second straight day, had a 68 and was three shots behind. And not to be overlooked was Martin Kaymer, the winner at Whistling Straits five years ago. He had a 65 and was four shots behind.

But in this undeniable generation shift in golf, Day and Spieth in the final pairing is compelling.

“You can never count out Jordan right now with hos he’s playing, especially this year,” Day said. “He’s just full of confidence right now. So with my confidence level and his stellar play right now, I feel like it’s going to be an exciting finish tomorrow.”

Spieth, even with a Masters and U.S. Open title in hand, still has a chip on his shoulder the way he lost his bid at St. Andrews. He was tied for the lead with two holes to play and finished one shot out of a playoff at the British Open.

“When I think of this being the last major of the year, it’s a little bit of a sad feeling because I really, thoroughly enjoy playing in majors,” Spieth said. “You want to make the most of it, even though … we’ve won two this year.

“So you look at it as a single major, as a chance to win this major, and there’s enough fight in us to finish this one off tomorrow, I believe.”

The turnaround late Saturday afternoon was stunning.

Looking determined as ever, in control of his swing and putting beautifully, Day was 6 under over a six-hole stretch in the middle of his round. That included an eagle on the 11th hole, where he hit his drive with such force that he hit pitching wedge to 15 feet.

One swing changed everything.

He tugged a 5-iron into a bunker left of the 15th green and was surprised by the amount of sand. The first shot didn’t make it up the slope and rolled back into the sand, and Day wound up with a double bogey right about the time Spieth shifted into another gear.

Spieth made a two-putt birdie on the par-5 16th and then hit 4-iron to 12 feet for a birdie on the 17th. His goal after a slow start was to stay close enough to have a chance on Sunday.

The volunteers were slow to post Day’s double bogey on the large leaderboard on the 18th green, which Spieth couldn’t help but notice as he lined up his 7-foot putt.

“I saw Jason was at 16 under and I said, `You’ve got to be kidding me. When is he going to slow down?'” Spieth said. “I saw that he was 16 under with four holes to go, thinking he could get to 17 (under pretty easily). I need to make this to have a chance within four of the lead. And then I think he’s dropped a couple of shots since then. But I did all I could do to finish off the round.”

It put him in position to sweep the three American majors. But he still was two shots behind Day, determined not to let his great year end without winning his first.

“If he goes out and wins tomorrow from him putting well, then he deserves it,” Day said. “But I’m going to give him a fight.”

courtesy of AP

PGA Championship: Chasing 62, the History Behind the Coveted Number

SHEBOYGAN, WI - AUGUST 14:  Hiroshi Iwata of Japan speaks with the media after shooting a nine-under par 63 during the second round of the 2015 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits on August 14, 2015 in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

SHEBOYGAN, WI – AUGUST 14: Hiroshi Iwata of Japan speaks with the media after shooting a nine-under par 63 during the second round of the 2015 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits on August 14, 2015 in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

Major championship history was made Friday at Whistling Straits… and Jordan Spieth hasn’t even won the 97th PGA Championship yet.

Hiroshi Iwata of Japan piled up eight birdies, an eagle and one bogey to become the 25th player to shoot 63, still the lowest score ever recorded in a major championship.

Johnny Miller did it first, winning the 1973 U.S. Open at Oakmont with his 63. Forty-two years later, it remains a record that has been matched but never broken. And of the 26 63s posted since then (Greg Norman and Vijay Singh have done it twice), only Miller did it in the final round and went on to win.

Only five other players who shot 63s went on to win that event—Jack Nicklaus at the 1980 U.S. Open at Baltusrol; Raymond Floyd, 1982 PGA, Southern Hills; Greg Norman, 1986 British Open, Turnberry; Tiger Woods, 2007 PGA, Southern Hills; and Jason Dufner, 2013 PGA, Oak Hill.

After Miller’s record breakthrough round at Oakmont, by 1986 a 63 had been posted in each of the other majors. Bruce Crampton was first to do it in the PGA Championship, in 1975; Mark Hayes was first in 1977 at Turnberry, and he bogeyed the 18th for his 63; and Nick Price did it at the Masters in 1986, breaking Lloyd Mangrum’s course record of 64 that had lasted 46 years,

Iwata, 34, is ranked second on the Japan Golf Tour’s money list. He has already had one victory this year, his second on the Tour, and he posted a 62 in the Thailand Open earlier this year.

Asked to compare Friday’s 63 to that Thailand 62, he joked, “Just one shot difference. Nothing else.”

Iwata eagled the par-5 11th hole, then birdied five of the next six holes and shot 29 on the back nine. “After No. 13, I was thinking I’m going to shoot 27,” Iwata said.

The club of 63-shooters in majors is incredibly exclusive but does include some surprising names such as Jodie Mudd, Thomas Bjorn, Brad Faxon, Michael Bradley and Paul Broadhurst. We’ll add Iwata to that list. The club also includes many of golf’s greatest, including Woods, Nicklaus, Norman, Singh, Gary Player and Rory McIlroy.

When Price shot his 63 at the Masters, he predicted his marker wouldn’t last long because so many big hitters were coming into the game. Nearly three decades later, he laughed about his off-the-mark comments.

“Well, Augusta National adjusted their course for the modern equipment and most of the other majors have done the same,” he said. “There does seem to be some kind of mental barrier at 63. It’s amazing that all four majors have 63 as the low score. That defies logic.”

Miller said his round was a relatively easy 63 and could have been lower as he missed some makeable putts. “It’s just hard to get to 62 under the pressure of a major,” Miller said. “Guys get close, then they sort of drop anchor.”

But it was 63. And it still stands. Bradley, who posted his 8-under 63 in the opening 1995 PGA round at Riviera, said, “It’s not like trying to shoot 59 in a regular Tour event. They’re majors and you’re gunning for history. Mentally, that makes a big difference.”

Miller believes the mental barrier is the hardest part.

“Every guy on Tour knows about 63s,” Miller said. “There is a historical barrier there. The more you think about it, the harder it is to do. I think the Holy Grail is really the U.S. Open because that’s always the hardest test.”

read more http://www.golf.com/tour-and-news/pga-championship-chasing-62-history-behind-coveted-number

Spieth playing with a chip on his shoulder

Jordan Spieth celebrates after sinking his final putt to win a three-hole playoff in the fourth round of the 2015 Valspar Championship

Jordan Spieth celebrates after sinking his final putt to win a three-hole playoff in the fourth round of the 2015 Valspar Championship

Jordan Spieth has a green jacket in his closet, a silver U.S. Open trophy on his mantle and a chip on his shoulder.

The world No. 2 is far from content despite having a year most would consider a good career — winning the first two majors at the Masters and U.S. Open and adding two other PGA Tour titles to his resumé and $9.3 million to his bank account. Instead, the British Open has left a bad taste in his mouth that will linger when he tees it up Thursday at Whistling Straits in the first round of the PGA Championship.

On the Old Course in St. Andrews, Spieth’s unprecedented bid to win the modern day Grand Slam came up one shot short of a playoff. He was tied for the lead with two holes to play in the oldest championship in golf but couldn’t close the door on history or clutch the Claret Jug.

Instead of joining Ben Hogan as the only player to win the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open in the same year, the Texan left Scotland with his chili running hot. And it’s still simmering.

“Unlike the first two majors I had a chance to win and I didn’t pull it off. And that was the hardest part to get over for me,” Spieth, 22, said Wednesday at Whistling Straits after wrapping up his final preparations for the PGA.

“My frustration was we were tied for the lead with two holes to go, with one of them being a birdie hole and we didn’t close it out. We didn’t even get into a playoff. That was the hardest part for me and I certainly have a chip on my shoulder off of that that I’m wanting to get off.”

There’s unfinished business to settle. And there is plenty of history Spieth can make this week on the course along Lake Michigan. With a victory — and he’s clearly the favorite — he’d join Hogan and Tiger Woods as the only players to win three majors in a season in the modern era. He would also become the only player to win the American Slam — capturing all three majors played in the United States.

Further, and of no less importance, he has a chance to overtake Rory McIlroy as the world No. 1.

There are other motivating factors. While he’s only played in two, Spieth has not made the cut in the PGA Championship, and that irks him. And while he’s only been a member of the PGA Tour for three years, he hasn’t met his goal of making the cut in all four majors in the same season.

“I still haven’t accomplished that goal set at the beginning of the year that I said I wanted to make the cut in all the majors,” Spieth said. “And you wanted to contend and have a chance to win at least one of them. Certainly they have gone according to plan up to this point, but that first part of that goal has yet to be accomplished. So I got some work to do these first two days, and from there we’ll adjust and work our butts off to try and get a third major this year, which would be a pretty cool place in history to be a part of.”

Spieth certainly worked his butt off Wednesday playing nine holes. As he approached every green, he spent plenty of time finding — and then hitting from — the worst places around the putting surfaces. He even jumped down to the beach of an inland lake bordering the fifth green and hit shots off the sand toward the hole.

In anticipation of the wind picking up in the first round, Spieth wanted to ready himself for anything.

“There are a lot of tricky spots in the rough, because you have changing rough around the greens, from some of it being blue grass to some of it being a fescue-type grass. It plays extremely different, depending upon where it lies, so I wanted to get a variety of shots,” Spieth said.

“You have to be prepared for the worst. … So that’s what we tried to see today, rolling balls off of greens and around greens.”

As far as rolling balls on the greens, the game’s best putter said the surfaces are pure — which doesn’t bode well for the other 155 players in the field. He also likes the layout and knows all about the hundreds of bunkers, each a difficult challenge.

And he’s coming off a final-round 66 in the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational that vaulted him into a tie for 10th and gave him momentum heading to the Badger State.

He will be a force to handle just as he has been all year. And his year isn’t over. He will play with Zach Johnson, who won the British Open, and McIlroy in the first two rounds. McIlroy is returning to play after missing two months due to an injured ankle. But he didn’t stop watching Spieth.

“Whenever you see someone put together a season like this, of course you become motivated,” McIlroy said. “But as well you’re inspired. I think the performances that he put in at the Masters and the U.S. Open and even at St. Andrews when he was so close, they were inspirational performances. That’s something really, for him, to be proud of, especially how he handled everything at St. Andrews going into all the Grand Slam talk. I think even though I’m not that much older, I probably wouldn’t have handled it quite as well as he did.”

Spieth is set to go once more. He is confident and in form, running a bit hot and chasing the Wanamaker Trophy and the No. 1 ranking in the world.

“I did not have a time frame set (to become No. 1),” Spieth said. “When that was a goal that was just a career goal, that at one point in my career I would like to be No. 1.

”Given everything that’s happened, I believe now that I would like it obviously to be sooner rather than later, and then to be able to hold on to it. That’s a whole other animal as I’m sure Rory knows, Adam Scott knows, Luke Donald knows, there’s Tiger … there’s a number of them that understand what it’s like. I don’t know what that feels like yet. That will be a new goal.”

courtesy of  Steve DiMeglio, USA TODAY Sports

Phil Mickelson, Spieth Play Money Game to Spice Up PGA Practice

Jordan Spieth let out a very large ”Whooooooo” after watching the 20-foot putt hit the bottom of the cup.

Sunday on the 18th green at the PGA Championship? Not quite.

But still very satisfying. And it wasn’t even Spieth’s putt.

Rather, it was rookie Justin Thomas making the long twister on No. 16 at Whistling Straits to give himself and Spieth a 2-up lead over Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler in their Tuesday best-ball match. Mickelson has been setting up these practice-round games – just for fun and a bit of cash – for years.

”It feels good for everyone,” Spieth said. ”That’s why Phil gets them together.”

Two-down with two holes to go, Mickelson and Fowler pressed Spieth and Thomas on the 17th tee box, setting up a new bet that covered only the last two holes. Mickelson responded by hitting his tee shot pin high, to 8 feet, on the 223-yard par 3, then making the putt for birdie to win the hole.

That set up some drama on 18, when Fowler drained a 20-foot birdie putt, forcing Spieth to knock one in from about 5 feet to halve the whole, keep the lead in the overall game and end up even in the betting.

Which, of course, is what really counts on days like this.

”You don’t want to lose and have to hand those guys whatever you play for,” said Spieth, who goes for his third major of the season when the `real’ golf starts Thursday. ”There’s a little bit of nerves strictly because of bragging rights. And also because it means something.”

Nobody reveals the stakes. Suffice to say it’s not a $2 Nassau. The combined career earnings of the four players is more than $135 million.

Thomas, a 22-year-old tour rookie making his second appearance in a major, has won only $2 million of that. His entry into this game is another longstanding tradition of Mickelson’s. In addition to getting sharp for the grinding week ahead, Mickelson sets up these games to give the young players the taste of pressure – and, specifically, pressure in a team game, the likes of which they play every year on the U.S. side in the Presidents or Ryder Cups.

”If I go out and play on a Tuesday, I don’t get much out of it,” Thomas said. ”You lose focus. You kind of hit shots that don’t mean anything. Every shot means something on a day like today. The nerves can get going.”

Anticipating the showdown with Mickelson, Spieth suggested last week that he might bring the U.S. Open trophy he won at Chambers Bay and place it on every green. It’s the only major trophy Lefty has yet to win. ”It’s the first time I have something on him,” Spieth said.

But it never came to that.

Less is more, Spieth said, when going against Mickelson, a Grade A trash talker who once made copies of the $100 bills he won off Tiger Woods, drew smiley faces on them and placed them in Woods’ locker, along with a note telling Tiger the Benjamins were very happy in their new home.

”He doesn’t like it if you’re quiet,” Spieth said about Mickelson. ”If you give it back to him, that’s when he knows it’s bothering you.”

And so, after Thomas made the 20 footer on 16 to go 2 up with two to go, he passed Fowler and gave him a nice slap on the butt. That, along with Spieth’s shout, were the winning team’s most outward displays of emotion.

With money still on the line on the 18th green, Fowler made his long putt, then high-fived and shared a Ryder Cup-esque hug with Mickelson. Then, they stood almost directly behind Spieth as he lined up a fairly simple 5-footer to ensure he and Thomas would break even.

Spieth made it. Never a doubt.

”Me making (my) putt was to save some money,” Fowler said. ”And it was nice to walk away with that.”

After his final make, Spieth simply offered a meek bow toward Mickelson, who brought him into these games a few years back.

The four posed on the green for some pictures. A friendly close to a bloodless, but still-entertaining day.

”It was a great match,” Spieth said. ”We had a good time with it. And we kept Phil quiet most of the day.”

courtesy of AP News (golf.com)

McIlroy plays practice round at Whistling Straits without apparent discomfort

rory3Rory McIlroy, the defending champion in next week’s PGA Championship, played a practice round at Whistling Straits on Saturday, and did so without any apparent discomfort from the ankle injury he suffered two weeks before the British Open, according to one report.

Gary D’Amato, golf writer for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, was a witness, and wrote, “He did not seem to be favoring the left ankle he injured in early July while kicking around a soccer ball with friends. McIlroy hit driver on the longer holes, jogged up and down a couple small hills and seemed to have a bounce in his step.

McIlroy was unable to play in the British Open and hasn’t played competitively since tying for ninth in the U.S. Open in June.

courtesy of John Strege (golfdigest.com)

 

Out of Sight Out of Mind? McIlroy Eyes PGA Return To Take Back Spotlight

It appears increasingly likely that Rory McIlroy isn’t going to give up his No. 1 ranking to Jordan Spieth without a fight, with all signs pointing to a McIlroy return at next week’s PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.

McIlroy has been sidelined since rupturing ligaments in his left ankle while playing soccer with friends July 4. That meant he couldn’t defend his title at the British Open at St. Andrews, on a course he loves. He again missed out on a title defense at this week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone South in Akron, Ohio.

But now it appears the long-hitting wonder from Northern Ireland is ready to come back at Whistling, another course he seems to enjoy. (He tied for third at the 2010 PGA.) On Wednesday, McIlroy posted video of himself working out, his Nike-clad feet (including an unwrapped left ankle) balanced on foam pads as he throws a medicine ball from right to left. On Thursday he posted video of himself hitting a driver at full speed, his left ankle adorned with blue athletic tape. And on Friday he is expected to make it official: He will be back in action amid the dunes at Pete Dye’s Wisconsin masterwork, where he and Spieth could find themselves tussling for No. 1.

Hard as it is to believe, today marks just more than a month since McIlroy hurt himself. It seems like much longer, which perhaps owes to the compelling Spieth narrative that played out in McIlroy’s absence.

Having won the Masters and U.S. Open (plus two regular PGA Tour events at Innisbrook and TPC Deere Run), Spieth came into last month’s British Open at St. Andrews hoping to become the first since Ben Hogan in 1953 to win the season’s first three majors. Spieth also was hoping to keep alive his dream of an unprecedented calendar-year grand slam. He almost did it too, faltering only with a bogey at the tough 17th hole and a par at 18.

 

Zach Johnson won with a clinic in clutch golf, including birdies on the first two holes of the four-hole aggregate playoff to distance himself from Louis Oosthuizen and Marc Leishman and cruise to victory.

All of that was enough to make us forget, at least for a little while, about McIlroy, even though he, too, has won two regular Tour events (although one of them, the Cadillac Match Play, was a WGC event). When last we saw him he was making an inspired run at the U.S. Open, but he ran out of magic on the back nine, his final-round 66 and T9 finish a letdown. That left the stage to Spieth, who won thanks partly to Dustin Johnson’s costly three-putt.

The drama at the Old Course at St. Andrews, four weeks later, was such that it was easy to forget then that McIlroy was still the game’s nominal No. 1. It was easy to forget that just three months earlier McIlroy himself had been going for his third consecutive major championship victory at the victory at the Masters, where he shot weekend rounds of 68-66 to finish fourth. It was easy to forget that in winning the Wells Fargo Championship in May, McIlroy fired a third-round 61 at Quail Hollow, the 2017 PGA Championship venue.

Out of sight, out of mind. But the four-time major winner is out of sight no longer. McIlroy’s seasons typically start slowly and build up to big finishes as the summer wears on and bleeds into the fall. (He already has two PGA Championship victories on his resume, including 2014 at Valhalla and 2012 at Kiawah.) But it remains to be seen how he will be affected by this latest setback. So he can hit a drive a full speed. That’s good. But is his left ankle as strong as it needs to be for the hilly walk at Whistling Straits?

At the very least McIlroy should give the surging Spieth something to think about while presenting fans with the tantalizing possibility of one of the greatest but rarest gifts in golf: a true rivalry at the top.

That’s an excellent start.

PGA Championship: The Grand Slam Bid is Done, but Spieth Is Not

jordan5Jordan Spieth was on the 14th green and battling in conditions so severe the wind approached 40 mph.  ”They pulled us off the course,” he said.  Spieth wasn’t talking about St. Andrews.  This was Sunday at Whistling Straits, where he took a two-day scouting trip of the course that will host the final major of the year.

Spieth was one shot away from making the PGA Championship the most significant golf event since Tiger Woods completed his sweep of the majors in 2001 at the Masters. The 22-year-old Texan was trying to become the first player to win them all in one season, and he came closer than any of the other three greats – Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Woods – to getting the third leg of the Grand Slam at the British Open.

His three-putt on the 14th green at St. Andrews, when the second round resumed in wind so strong Spieth was heard to say, ”We never should have started,” is not what cost him a chance at the claret jug. He had four other three-putts that round. He took four putts on the eighth green in the final round. He also made a bunch of birdies all week, and at the end of 72 holes, he needed one more. Simple as that.

If there was a hangover, it didn’t last long.

Spieth was playing golf in Dallas with friends when his roommate mentioned the ”weirdest feeling” about watching the Open. He told him that it seemed as though Spieth had an off week at St. Andrews, perhaps because he already had won the Masters and U.S. Open. Maybe it was ingrained in everyone, Spieth included, that anything but a victory at the British Open was not going to be acceptable.

”We played good golf given everything,” Spieth said. ”It’s still good to play a major and lose by one shot. But that was one shot from being the greatest week of my life, instead of being on the back burner. That’s what put it in perspective for me.”

It was a memorable run, and now it’s time to move on.

Spieth already has shown at such a young age he is equipped to do just that.

His goal at St. Andrews was to ignore what was at stake and treat it like another major. Put the ball in play. Make putts. Get in contention. He said when it was over the historical significance never crossed his mind even when he was tied for the lead with two holes to play.

His approach to Whistling Straits isn’t much different.

”I really don’t think it changes at all,” Spieth said. ”Like I said, the historical part never factored into my preparation or knowledge of the course or whatever. All in all, I have the exact same feeling. I may feel better. I knew what was at stake, and there was an added element to that off the course. Those were the questions everyone was asking. That’s what the crowd was saying as you go hole to hole in the practice round. `The Grand Slam is alive.’

”I wish they were still saying that,” he said. ”But since they aren’t, that might ease the burden as far as practice.”

He laughed when asked about the American Slam – winning the three U.S. majors in the same season.

”When did that start?” he said, already knowing the answer.

No one ever talked about an American Slam until it was served up as a consolation prize to Woods when his shot at the Grand Slam ended in the wind and rain at Muirfield in 2002. Woods made a strong run at the PGA Championship that year by making birdie on his last four holes, only to finish one shot behind Rich Beem.

Now the opportunity falls to Spieth. It’s still a chance to achieve something no one has ever done, though it feels hollow compared with what he was chasing a month ago at the home of golf.

The Grand Slam is over. His season is not.

Spieth knows what it’s like to adjust goals during the course of the season, just as he did as a rookie in 2013 when he started the year without a PGA Tour and finished it as the youngest American (20) to play in the Presidents Cup.

Looking back, he set modest expectations for 2015.

”My goals for this year were to make the Presidents Cup team, contend in at least one major and make the cut in all the majors,” he said. ”In 2013, they were tangible, specific goals I could shoot for. Right now, what’s bigger than what we’ve done? We had a chance to do something no one has done – win all four majors in a year.”

Part of the challenge is to finish strong. That’s what Spieth failed to do last season, when he finished out of the top 20 in six of his final seven events on the PGA Tour. In his eyes, a new season starts this week at Bridgestone Invitational in Ohio, followed by the PGA Championship and then four FedEx Cup playoff events.

”I would like to win one of these last six events,” he said. ”I’d like to be in contention and close one of them out, stay focused on trying to win one of these six and forget about how this year has gone. This is so new for us. It’s hard as a team for us to sit back and not want to soak in what’s happened.”

A lot has happened. And even in the final two months, there’s a lot left.

courtesy of AP News

Either Rory McIlroy is toying with our emotions or there’s reason to think he could play in the PGA Championship

roryThe prospect of Rory McIlroy defending his PGA Championship title has appeared unlikely as the World No. 1 has remained sidelined after rupturing the anterior ligament in his left ankle playing soccer with friends in July. Yet for the first time since he suffered the injury — which kept him from competing in the British Open at St. Andrews — there’s reason to think we could see McIlroy back to play in the year’s last major — emphasis on could.

A report by Reuters, citing an unnamed but “reliable” source, says McIlroy has scheduled a practice round at Whistling Straits for Saturday. McIlroy, who is often active on social media, has not said anything to confirm the report.

McIlroy announced July 29 that he was skipping this week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, a tournament he won a year ago by two strokes over Sergio Garcia, to continue his rehabilitation process. Many speculated that the decision was a prelude for McIlroy making a similar announcement about Whistling Straits in the days ahead. However, bypassing the WGC event might have been necessary if McIlroy were to make a reasonable attempt at playing in the PGA, figuring that playing golf tournaments in consecutive weeks on an ankle that some doctors suggest would take three months to properly heal, would be too much too soon.

Courtesy of Ryan Herrington (golfworld.com)