Spieth in good place at PGA as he takes long view of career

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Jordan Spieth chips to the green on the 16th hole during a practice round at the PGA Championship golf tournament on the Ocean Course Tuesday, May 18, 2021, in Kiawah Island, S.C. (AP Photo/Matt York)

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. (AP) — Jordan Spieth has a much clearer outlook now than he did the last time the PGA Championship was at Kiawah Island.

For starters, he wasn’t even at Kiawah in 2012.

Spieth was in Denver that week preparing for the U.S. Amateur while trying to decide whether to turn pro or return to Texas for his sophomore year of college. With an unclear future weighing on him, he had to face NCAA champion Thomas Pieters in the opening round at Cherry Hills and lost on the 18th hole.

Spieth headed back to school.

“I wasn’t in a good place back then,” he said with a laugh Tuesday as he headed out for his first look at the windswept Ocean Course at Kiawah Island.

Now it’s different, for a variety of reasons.

Spieth has emerged from three dark years of not winning, rarely even contending and a slide so far down the world ranking that he nearly fell out of the top 100. He often says he’ll always bet on himself — a reference to self-belief, not gambling — and there was a time the odds were getting pretty long.

He comes into the PGA Championship trying to become only the sixth player to complete the career Grand Slam, and this chance is as good as any since he captured the third leg in the 2017 British Open.

Spieth has finished in the top 10 in seven of his last nine tournaments, including the last four, one of those a victory in the Texas Open for his first trophy since Royal Birkdale. He’s not all the way back — what golfer ever feels that way? — but is among the leading favorites going into the second major of the year.

And he believes the rough times have made him better.

“I’ve proven to be very human. It’s kind of fun,” Spieth said. “When I’ve been on in the past, I’ve won tournaments by eight out here, and that’s obviously the goal. But the ability to shun off a bad shot and come back the next hole and make a long putt or something like that — just the grind — is enjoyable when you’re on the positive momentum side of it.”

Spieth isn’t sure when he turned the corner. He points to a two-week stretch at Phoenix and Pebble Beach where he had chances to win on Sunday as evidence he was on the right track.

Will Zalatoris offered another example.

He grew up playing amateur golf with Spieth in Dallas — they will be playing together the opening two rounds at Kiawah — and they still play at home. One match a few months ago at Dallas National stands out.

Spieth missed the green left of a cart path on a par 3. His partner also missed the green. Zalatoris was certain they had the hole won.

“Jordan hits this chip shot that skips through the rough, goes up, checks on the hill and then basically goes Mach 3 and just slams into the back of the hole and goes in,” Zalatoris said. “Then he follows it up with a 30- or 40-footer on the next hole. This is just Jordan.

“I’d seen it for the few months leading up to that, but that was when I knew, ‘OK, he’s back.’”

Nine years seems like a lifetime ago for the 27-year-old Spieth. He lasted only one more semester at Texas and turned pro with no status. It took him only nine months to earn temporary membership on sponsor exemptions, win on the PGA Tour, finish No. 7 in the FedEx Cup and play in the Presidents Cup.

And it only got better. The Masters and the U.S. Open in 2015, capped off by a FedEx Cup title. No. 1 in the world. The third leg of the Grand Slam at Royal Birkdale.

Spieth prefers the long term — forward and backward.

He doesn’t read about himself, though he has a sense of what people are saying and writing based on the questions he gets asked. He mentioned something Tiger Woods said years ago — the media and the public tend to exaggerate the bad times and the good times alike.

“I’ve had some pretty high ups and some pretty low lows for my age, but it’s just part of the learning curve,” he said. “You’ve just got to laugh it off and stick to your game plan and believe in yourself, bet on yourself. I’ve always done that, and I feel like that’s paid off pretty well to this point.

“And if my next eight years are like my last eight years, I’d certainly sign up for that.”

Especially if those eight years include a Wanamaker Trophy to round out his collection. None of the other five players with the career Grand Slam — Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen — got the final piece at the PGA Championship.

It won’t be easy this week, if Tuesday was any indication, with another dose of wind strong enough to make the Ocean Course feel longer than its 7,838 yards.

The course won’t play to that length. The PGA of America will move around tees depending on the wind. Before he set out for his first practice round, Spieth heard plenty of tales from players wearing out 3-iron and 4-iron into some of the par 4s.

“If the wind blows this way for the rest of the week, it’s going to be a battle to just get in the clubhouse,” Adam Scott said.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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