Springfield, N.J. — Jordan Spieth walked with purpose down the long corridor toward his locker, not stopping to look at the photos and scorecards that cover more than a century of golf history at Baltusrol.
Maybe that was just as well.
History has proven to be his toughest opponent this year, and it was bound to be a losing battle.
Dating to 1934 when the Masters began, Spieth is among 14 players who have won two majors in one year. Only five of those players ever won a single major the following year, and it’s an elite group — Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson and Tiger Woods.
Woods is the only player to win two majors in consecutive seasons.
Spieth is not trying to salvage his season at the PGA Championship. All but four players — the three major champions and Jason Day, the only three-time winner on the PGA Tour this year — would love to have his year of two victories and a close call at the Masters.
It only seems like a struggle for Spieth because of endless comparisons with last year.
That’s what led Spieth to try to reason with the media, and perhaps to remind himself, of the reality he is facing.
“I think it’s been a solid year, and I think had last year not happened I’d be having a lot of positive questions,” Spieth said after the British Open. “Instead, most of the questions I get are comparing to last year and, therefore, negative because it’s not to the same standard. So that’s almost tough to then convince myself that you’re having a good year … when the questions I get make me feel like it’s not.”
Trouble is, last year did happen. Comparisons were inevitable.
Graeme McDowell recalls his magical season in 2010 when he won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and delivered the winning point from the final match at the Ryder Cup. He ended the year by taking down Woods at his own tournament in California. It was tough to back up a year like that.
“It feels like a disappointment, like a certain young American who’s having the same issue,” McDowell said, smiling because it was clear he was speaking about Spieth. “It’s the same way when you shoot 62. It’s very hard to come out on the golf course and back up a 62. That’s the micro version. The macro version is coming off a year like that trying to replicate it. Obviously, there’s a lot of traps.”
Are the expectations too high? Is the scrutiny too much?
“The kid is not having a bad year,” McDowell said. “But he’s in a different stratosphere now. He’s in the Tiger stratosphere, where every shot he hits is going to be questioned, every move he makes is going to be questioned. It’s something he has to get used to.”
And there’s another sobering reality that Spieth will have to consider: History suggests he might never have another season like last year.
Spieth didn’t just win two majors. He came as close as anyone to being the first to capture the calendar Grand Slam. He missed the British Open playoff by one shot and was runner-up to Jason Day in the PGA Championship.
Nicklaus had that chance one time in 1972, finishing one shot behind Trevino at the British Open. Palmer created the modern Grand Slam in 1960 when he won the Masters and U.S. Open. He never got a shot the rest of his career. Woods’ lone opportunity ended in the rain and wind of Muirfield in 2002.
“There are aspirations and goals and beliefs and knowledge that you can achieve with such incredible things that Jordan did,” Adam Scott said. “But then there’s reality balanced in there. History shows it doesn’t repeat. One guy (Woods) repeated it a few times. So what’s successful after that is what Jordan or any player having that kind of year will have to figure out. I don’t know the answer.”
Spieth doesn’t believe that last year was as good as it will get, nor should he. He turns 23 today. His career is just getting started, and the last thing any young player wants to hear is that his best — results, not necessarily performance — is behind him.
“If that’s a valley,” Spieth said of his season to date, “then that’s going to be a lot of fun when we get back up to a peak.”
Then again, he alluded to how special last year was even before the U.S. Open.
One swing on the 12th tee at Augusta National cost Spieth another green jacket, though he was able to step back and see the bigger picture. It was his fifth consecutive major that he had a serious chance to win.
“We’ve been spoiled the last five of them,” he said in June. “We recognize that’s not necessarily normal to have a chance of that many in a row. But why do what’s normal?”
Site: Springfield, New Jersey
Course: Baltusrol Golf Club (Lower Course). Yardage: 7,462. Par: 70
Purse: TBA (Last year: $10 million)
TV: CBS Sports (Saturday-Sunday, 2-7 p.m.). TNT (Thursday-Friday, 1-7 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.)
Defending champ: Jason Day