FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — Winning the PGA Championship would be life-changing for most of the players at Bethpage Black this week.
But only one guy has the chance to grab golf immortality.
Jordan Spieth would become only the sixth player ever to complete the career grand slam if he can hoist the Wanamaker Trophy on Sunday night. At only 25 years old, his place in golf history would be secure, alongside Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen.
But Spieth, who failed in his first two bids to win the final leg of the career slam, isn’t putting any pressure on himself to join that club this week.
“That would be a dream come true for me,” Spieth said. “But I also recognize that if I continue to stay healthy and play well, I’ll have, I don’t know, 30 chances at it. One of them is bound to go my way, right?”
More chances is a good thing, because few believe this one will go Spieth’s way.
Nearly two years have passed since his last win at the 2017 British Open. Since then, Spieth has fallen from No. 2 in the world to 39th and he hasn’t had a top-20 finish since September.
It’s an alarming drop-off for Spieth, who had won 10 events from 2015-17 before falling into a self-admitted slump.
Spieth said it hasn’t been easy dealing with his poor play.
These days, most interviews are filled with questions about what’s wrong with his game and why it isn’t at the level that helped him win two majors in 2015 and finish in the top 5 in the other two.
“I don’t want to use the word ‘negativity,’” Spieth said. “But the questioning and the wording that’s used to describe me by media or whatever over the past year has only come up because of the amount of success that I’ve had.”
Spieth admitted that he’s grown frustrated, at times, with the way he’s played. But he also believes he’s becoming more driven to fix it.
“Knowing my capabilities and then what I’ve been doing … sometimes, momentarily, that can frustration,” Spieth said. “But it certainly leads to a drive, a will to want to correct and get back to where I’m contending.”
He says he’s fixed the technical swing issue that undermined his game. He says his slump is over and that he’s close to a breakthrough. And there’s some evidence to support that.
He’s made eight of the last nine cuts and ranks 18th on the PGA Tour in birdie average. He played three solid rounds at the Masters, and worked himself into contention at last week’s Byron Nelson Classic.
But there are also some red flags. Spieth has been prone to big mistakes, with at least two double-bogeys or worse in each of his last 10 tournaments. And he’s had a tough time scoring when it matters: In 16 weekend rounds this year, Spieth has broken 70 only three times.
Spieth says he’s pinpointed the problem: the driver.
“Even on some of the good rounds I get away with a bad couple of drives,” Spieth said. “But then over the course of four rounds, you just can’t continue to get away with them. Kind of the foul ball-type thing.”
The stats support Spieth’s hypothesis. He’s ranked 202nd in strokes gained off the tee.
It’s a problem that needs to be fixed, and Spieth says he’s working on it.
“It’s getting there,” Spieth said. “And I feel like I’m working on one swing feel now instead of changing it up each round, which allows me to be more consistent, to recognize where the club face is and be able to time it a little bit better.”
But Spieth admitted that he’s been sticking with one feel for the “last week or so.” And as recently as Sunday’s final round at the Byron Nelson, when Spieth made four birdies and four bogeys, he was unsuccessfully experimenting with his driver, which he called a “dumb decision.”
If Spieth is to have any success at Bethpage Black, he’s knows he’s going to have to stop hitting the foul balls.
“You need your bad rounds to be held at about par to win this tournament,” Spieth said. “If I can continue to make the amount of birdies I’ve been making and then just limit the mistakes a little bit, then I should be right in it.”