Can Spieth's golf game match the splendor of Pebble Beach?

Can Spieth's golf game match the splendor of Pebble Beach?

Recent good play suggests he might contend at a course where he won in 2017

Lee Spencer Columnist
image (AP Photo/Matt York)
Jordan Spieth blasts from a bunker on the fourth hole at Pebble Beach Golf Links during a Tuesday practice round for the U.S. Open.

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif.—The splendor of Pebble Beach Golf Links was not lost on Jordan Spieth, even when he was a teenager. 

Now 25, the Texan made his debut at the Monterrey Peninsula course in 2013 and tied for 22nd

Four years later, Spieth won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am with a score of 19 under par.

“It was more beautiful in person than I could have imagined,” Spieth said on Tuesday before a practice round for the 119th U.S. Open. “And then to be inside the ropes playing a tournament, not only not having to pay to play, but getting paid to play, Pebble Beach is really special. And always has been. Winning a golf tournament here was so cool, to be able to walk up the 18th hole at Pebble Beach.

“I mean, that's like walking up the 18th at Augusta. It's iconic. Like for a kid growing up dreaming to play golf professionally, to be able to walk up those two 18 holes—St. Andrews would be another one—and be able to know that you're going to win the golf tournament there, it's a feeling that I'll always remember.”

It’s also a feeling Spieth would like to rekindle following a two-year drought on the PGA tour. With his first win at Pebble Beach in 2017, Spieth became the first player since Tiger Woods to score nine victories before the age of 24 in the post-World War II era. 

Five months later, he won the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale. But Spieth has failed to collect any hardware since then. He would love to have his name engraved a second time on the U.S.Open Championship trophy on Sunday. 

“My game feels like it's progressing in the right direction,” Spieth said. “Try to maintain what I've been doing on and around the green and just improve a little bit tee-to-green. The greens-in-regulation will be a very important stat this week, and I'm highlighting that one and do my best to be prepared to hit as many greens as possible.”

Spieth noted the difference between how Pebble Beach plays in June compared with the winter months when the greens are not nearly as forgiving. But after playing on Monday, he found the course to be in immaculate shape.

“With the weather we have, the USGA should be able to control the golf course the way they want to. And again, you know, February sometimes, it's good to hit it in the rough. You don't spin it as much into the greens. I don't think that's the case this time of year.”

Despite a winless 2018, Spieth has picked up the pace significantly in his last three tournaments. He tied for third in the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black—his best result in 2019. He finished eighth the following week in the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth and seventh at the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club.

“I think each week was progression, and then I got a couple of bad draws where I felt like I maybe would have potentially been in the top-10, but the game still wasn't like good enough to win,” said Spieth, who skipped last week’s RBC Canadian Open to prepare for the 119th U.S. Open. “And then it just started to get, OK, maybe it is close to good enough to win. It's just been just constant progression, almost equal amounts week to week.

“It's not mental, in other words. You've got to work on the physical things and get a little more consistent with them and continue. Good news is over the course of the years I've been first in tee-to-green strokes gained. I've been first in putting strokes gained. I can look back on the swings, how I was consistently swinging the club at those different time frames, how my putting stroke was at that time, and I can start to match it back up. And that's what I've been working on trying to do.”

The work has paid off.

“The putting stroke has been really, really fluid and nice over the last, I don't know, six months or even more. And the swing has been starting to progress that way over the last month and a half or so.

“But there's one thing of knowing how to do it. There's another of practicing it and then trusting it on the golf course in tournament play. And those last four weeks were big for me to have—be able to trust it in tournament play, have those reps under pressure, see where I'm actually at and see what I need to improve on.”

(Jordan Spieth signing autographs: Photo by Michael Reaves/Copyright USGA)

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