Spieth chasing slam history at Quail Hollow
August 06, 2017
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
Inside the PGA TOUR
Open win puts Spieth in elite company
Jordan Spieth has three wins since February, including the third major of his career. But he still has plenty to accomplish this season.
Jim Nantz, the longtime golf broadcaster for CBS Sports, was not scheduled to work The Open Championship in 2000. That event belonged to ABC, and his counterpart, the venerable Jim McKay, was the primary host.
Nantz made the journey to St. Andrews anyway – in part to be on-site for the Emmy Award-winning McKay’s last golf tournament before retirement. But Nantz had another reason to be there.
He wanted to see history.
A month earlier, Tiger Woods had won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach by a record 15 strokes, the most dominating performance ever in major golf. That gave Woods the third leg of the career grand slam. At St. Andrews, he would attempt to become, at age 24, the youngest golfer to complete the career slam.
“Everybody knew the odds were he was going to win it at St. Andrews,” Nantz recalled. “I wanted to be there as a fan.”
Tiger, of course, delivered, joining Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen in golf’s most hallowed club.
It’s now 17 years later. Nantz will be on-site this week at the PGA Championship. Unlike at St. Andrews, he’ll be in the booth at the 18th green at Quail Hollow, anchoring CBS’ coverage next to lead analyst Nick Faldo.
History is calling again.
Jordan Spieth enters the season’s final major with a rare opportunity to wipe out one of Tiger’s records. Having just turned 24 in late July, Spieth is about six months younger than Woods was at St. Andrews. Should Spieth win at Quail Hollow, he would eclipse Tiger as the youngest player to complete the career slam.
Theoretically, Spieth will have many opportunities – two decades? three decades? – to finish the career slam. But he’ll have only one shot to do it faster than Woods did.
“He can accomplish something that has to rank up there with the greatest records in the history of this 500-year-old sport,” Nantz said. “It’s a huge story. … Golf could be on the precipice of one of the greatest achievements.”
Thanks to his win at The Open Championship at Royal Birkdale – along with his Masters and U.S. Open wins in his magical 2015 season -- Spieth has put himself in this position. He knows the spotlight will be heavily focused on him at Quail Hollow. He calls it “noise.”
Whether he’s feeling any additional pressure, however, remains to be seen. His preparation will not deviate just because it’s his first slam opportunity. His goal of winning majors – “The four events that we try to peak and think most about at the beginning of every year,” he said – has not changed.
If this was, say, the 2037 PGA Championship and Spieth was still looking to complete the slam, it might be a different story. But not this week. He’s in form, having won in back-to-back starts before finishing T-13 in last week's World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational. His confidence is high. He’s still in the relative infancy of his career, one that already has reached World Golf Hall of Fame-worthy consideration.
Why dwell on anything else?
“If I'm healthy and playing well, I play in 30 of them,” Spieth said about the PGA. “I believe I'll have plenty of chances to win them, but it doesn't have to be this year. If it's this year and it happens, that's great, that's another life-long goal that we've then achieved.
“But I believe that I'll do it someday, so if it happens … then fantastic. And if it doesn't, then it's not going to be a big-time bummer whatsoever because I know I have plenty of opportunities.
“Getting three legs of it is much harder than getting the last leg, I think. Although I've never tried to get the last leg, so it's easy for me to say. We've had three in two years and so, I mean, if we just continue with the same process, get the right breaks and driving ranges are in play” – feel free to crack a smile here – “then I've got a good shot at No. 4.”
Faldo won six majors but just two legs of the Slam (three Masters, three Open Championships). He’s impressed by Spieth’s ability to narrow his focus and not get overwhelmed by the broader scope. Nowhere was that more evident than at the 13th hole in the final round at Royal Birkdale. Instead of dwelling on his errant tee shot and his struggles to that point, Spieth processed his options, salvaged a bogey, and produced a finish for the ages.
“Jordan handles things differently,” Faldo said. “He’s able to put his mind to the next task. … He didn’t show much elation from winning The Open. It was almost like, yeah, right, ticked that one off. I’m on to the next one. This is all part of a bigger goal.”Jordan Spieth has three of the four legs of the career grand slam. Now he just needs the Wanamaker Trophy. (Getty Images)
Spieth is the only player in this week’s field with a chance at the career slam, but he’s not the only active player at the three-quarter mark. Rory McIlroy needs a Masters win and Phil Mickelson needs a U.S. Open win. Consider them on opposite ends of the spectrum.
The 28-year-old McIlroy is like Spieth – a younger player who’ll have many chances to complete the Slam. Since winning The Open in 2014 for the third leg, he’s now had three shots at Augusta National, each time finishing inside the top 10.
In 2016, McIlroy was in the final twosome with Spieth going into the weekend at the Masters but shot a third-round 77 to take himself out of consideration. He acknowledged the next day of feeling the pressure of chasing the slam. The memories of his lost opportunities – particularly in 2011 when he led by four shots entering Sunday but collapsed on the back nine to shoot an 80 – remain a hurdle he must overcome.
“I've been in position before and I haven't got the job done when I needed to and I don't think that's anything to do with my game, I think that's more me mentally and I'm trying to deal with the pressure of it and the thrill of the achievement if it were to happen,” McIlroy said that day. “I think that's the thing that's really holding me back. So, the more times I can get in position to win this tournament, the more times I'll learn and I'll know what not to do.
“This is the one that I haven't won and this is the one I want to win more than anything else. I won a Claret Jug; I want to win more. I won a Wanamaker, I won the U.S. Open -- but this is the one that I haven't. Once I overcome that mental hurdle that I'm struggling with at the minute, then I know how to play this course, I've played this course very well before, and I can string good rounds together here. But it's just a matter of doing it.”
There are no guarantees, of course. Arnold Palmer – who developed the modern concept of the grand slam -- was 31 when he won The Open in 1961. All that was left was the PGA Championship. He made 33 PGA starts from 1961-1994, and finished runner-up three times. Failing to complete the slam remained a source of irritation for the great man.
Tom Watson never won the PGA, either. His U.S. Open win at Pebble Beach in 1982 gave him the third leg at age 32. He played 24 PGAs after that but never finished higher than fifth. He probably didn’t think about it at the time, but losing a three-man playoff at the 1978 PGA proved costly to his slam hopes.
It would be nice if both of us did it in 2018, but we'll see how it goes
While Spieth and McIlroy will have plenty of opportunities, history suggests they need to complete the task relatively quickly. Woods did it in his first opportunity. Nicklaus (Open Championship) did it on his third try. So did Player (U.S. Open).
Hogan won the slam in his only Open appearance in 1953, and Sarazen won the Masters in 1935, just the second year the tournament was held. Neither of those men really faced slam-type pressure, as the term hadn’t yet come into vogue.
Whether it’s perception or analytic reality, the longer it takes to win the fourth leg, the greater the pressure builds. Given the current depth on TOUR – Spieth ended a streak of seven first-time major winners – the task won’t be easier.
“There's so many good young players and a lot of guys that are going to win majors, too. By the time they're 30, they're going to have a couple, the guys that don't have one right now,” said 27-year-old Brooks Koepka, who could be one of those players after winning the U.S. Open at Erin Hills. “So it's real competitive. I mean, I'm not surprised that they've got one left. They're really talented, but I'm sure everybody else is trying to stop them from getting it, which makes it so much fun.
“But I'm sure, I'm positive that both of them will get it.”
McIlroy seems positive, too. No one will be surprised if he wins his third PGA this week – he’s twice won at Quail Hollow during the PGA TOUR’s Wells Fargo Championship – and he doesn’t feel any pressure to complete the task before Spieth does.
“My chance doesn't come until April next year,” McIlroy said. “So I can play well next week but if Jordan plays better, then Jordan plays better and I take my hat off to him and he's done something that the game's only seen a couple of times if he's able to do it.
“It would be great for the sport. He is great for the sport and I sent him a text after he won The Open telling him that. But no, there's no greater sense of urgency. … It would be nice if both of us did it in 2018, but we'll see how it goes.”
Mickelson’s window of opportunity, of course, is much smaller. His 2013 Open win, at age 43, gave him the third leg, but in truth, it probably should have completed the slam. Mickelson has finished runner-up at the U.S. Open a record six times, including a month earlier in 2013. In his three U.S. Open starts since winning at Muirfield, he’s failed to finish inside the top 25, and he didn’t play this year due to family commitments.
His career slam arc seems most reminiscent of Raymond Floyd’s. In 1986, Floyd won the U.S. Open at age 43, leaving him just The Open Championship. In his nine Open starts between 1986-95, Floyd never finished inside the top 10.
The last time Mickelson played the U.S. Open was in 2016 at Oakmont. He was very upfront then about his career slam goals.
“I think about it all the time,” he said. “This is the tournament I want to win the most to complete the four majors. There's no question. I have to put that out of my head and try to execute and be patient and not think about results. You start thinking about results, you'll never play your best golf.
“So I have to put that in the back of my head, but there's no question that starting this year and every year here forward until I ultimately win this tournament, it will be my biggest thought, my biggest focus.”
Later that week, he missed the cut. The clock is still ticking.
For now, Spieth and McIlroy have time on their side – although if Spieth wants to replace Tiger in the record books, he must win at Quail Hollow. Jim Nantz saw history 17 years ago. Perhaps this week he’ll describe it.
Already in the club
The five players who have achieved the career grand slam in professional golf. Click on an individual player's name for a complete grand slam bio.