Never tell Jordan Spieth he’s back.
“I hate that ‘he’s back,'” he said last month. “I haven’t gone anywhere.”
Although he was still strolling around the grounds at PGA Tour events in the last few seasons, Spieth, a former number 1 in the world in men’s golf, had fallen to 92nd place only six months ago. The winner of three major championships before he was 24 hadn’t won a tournament of any kind in four years. He also looked and sounded lost, a familiar state in his job and a state that can become permanent.
On Sunday in the final round of the British Open, Spieth was the greatest threat to overtake the eventual champion Collin Morikawa. Spieth would miss two strokes behind precocious Morikawa, who has now won twice in just eight major championship appearances.
Neither muscular nor daring, Morikawa, 24, wins with a mixture of calm and vigor, similar to Spieth when he won two majors in his first 10 starts from 2015 to 2017.
But whether he likes it or not, Spieth’s appearance at this year’s British Open seems to prove he’s back – or at least he’s reached the most important stage of a comeback, which is self-confidence. The proof, in Spieth’s words, was next to the 18th green at Royal St. George’s on the south coast of England.
“I played 100 percent well enough to win the championship,” he said. “And that’s how I felt in a major for a long time. My momentum held up well under the great championship pressure on one weekend. And that’s an enormous confidence boost. “
Spieth had plenty of chances to crumble, as he did in the 2019 and 2020 majors when he was in 65th or 71st place or didn’t make the cut. From Sunday Spieth had two clumsy bogeys on his first six holes with one stroke behind Morikawa and two behind third-round leader Louis Oosthuizen.
The shaky start came about 18 hours after he slaughtered his last two holes in the third round on Saturday. Well positioned in the middle of the fairway 60 meters from the 17th hole, Spieth made a bogey anyway. Then he missed a two-foot par-putt on the 18th hole for another bogey.
“That was about as excited as I finished a round to the house,” said Spieth about returning to his rented apartment on Saturday evening. In the doorway, Spieth asked: “Can I break something?”
Instead, he used his putter to practice while his putter was around. Still, his start on Sunday was more annoying than rejuvenating. But his current mindset is further evidence that Spieth – here’s the word again – could actually be back.
“At that point I said, ‘Okay, now we’ll go through everything and we’ll see what happens,'” Spieth explained. Newly aggressive, he made an eagle, four birdies and 11 pars and ended with a 4 under par 66. Spieth looked like he was in control and was very aware of what he had to do to get into the fight.
“I’ve done everything I can,” he said. “I pocketed the putts I needed to punch and hit some punches that are still uncomfortable to me – still have some scar tissue and still get things going.
“But I’m proud to be able to beat six in the last 12 holes of this golf tournament and to put some pressure on Collin.”
He was smiling and looking relaxed, which he wasn’t at major championships last year.
During this time Spieth was constantly working on his swing. He was besieged by unsolicited mechanical advice and inward advice on how to change his mental approach. It felt like everyone in the golf world had an opinion on what Spieth needed to do to regain the golden touch that gave him the magical three big titles he won from 2015 to 2017.
To his credit, Spieth did not listen much, never lost his temper and did not become gruff towards those whose job it is to ask questions about what went wrong.
Spieth, who turns 28 next week, realizing the discouraging circumstances, marched on and, earlier in the year, was confident that he was well on the way to rediscovering his old form. Skeptics remained. But this spring he made the top five in three of four PGA Tour events. In April he won the Valero Texas Open, his first Tour victory since 2017. This was followed by a draw in third at the Masters and second at the Charles Schwab Classic. His world rankings climbed to number 23. Then came Sunday, which will increase the reputation significantly.
Spieth’s final round at the British Open 2021 was anything but perfect. It was Morikawa’s day when golf crowned a new two-time major champion. But if Spieth wasn’t back on Sunday, as he claims, then he was only a few lines away from the whole thing.