News & Opinion

Spieth seeks big time again, if not ‘Big 3’

HONOLULU – The “Big Three” is golf’s hierarchical zenith, a shared throne for the best.

It usually denotes some type of rivalry among three players, with the trio having stepped far ahead of all others.

It started with Harry Vardon, J.H. Taylor and James Braid, known at the turn of the 20th century as the “Great Triumvirate.”

Ben Hogan, Sam Snead and Byron Nelson became the next big three after World War II, and they soon were followed in the 1960s by Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus, when legendary agent Mark McCormack dubbed the group “golf’s Big Three.”

All nine players are in the World Golf Hall of Fame. Though being part of a generational Big Three was great for promotion, it meant little when the tee was put into the ground.

At 8 a.m. local time today, Jordan Spieth will tee off at the Sony Open in Hawaii, grouped with fellow Americans Bryson DeChambeau and Gary Woodland (tee times).

Though DeChambeau and Woodland played last week at Kapalua in the Sentry Tournament of Champions, Spieth was not eligible. He didn’t win on the PGA Tour in the 2017-2018 season, his first winless year since 2013-14.

Yet, only a couple of years ago, Spieth was part of the most recent Big Three discussion that included Jason Day and Rory McIlroy.

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Jordan Spieth found himself in some awkward spots last year, including a tumble out of the top 10 in the world ranking.

© GOLFFILE/DAVID LLOYD
Jordan Spieth found himself in some awkward spots last year, including a tumble out of the top 10 in the world ranking.

It all started when Day won the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in 2015, after McIlroy had won the 2014 British Open and PGA titles and Spieth claimed the 2015 U.S. Open. Golf’s next Big Three seemingly had been born.

Spieth added another major title, at the 2017 British Open, but he has gone 0 for 31 since claiming the Claret Jug at Royal Birkdale.

Neither Day nor McIlroy has had any major-championship success, either. Day won seven times on the PGA Tour since winning the 2015 PGA, but he has gone 0 for 12 in the majors. McIlroy has experienced a similar fate since his back-to-back majors in 2014: four worldwide victories, only one of which was on the PGA Tour, but no more majors.

The ink on the latest “Big Three” headlines had barely dried before the three had been deemed not nearly so big.

“I remember in 2015 to '16, the words ‘The Big Three’ being mentioned so many times, almost every interview,” Spieth said Wednesday here at Waialae Country Club on the eve of the Sony Open. “Not one of us three has been talked about in the last couple years. Everyone is so quick on what's happening. I mean, it's today's news.”

Making Spieth yesterday’s news.

But how unfair are we to think that Jordan Spieth will not jump back into the winner’s circle nor win more major championships.

It’s a peculiar turn of events, considering that early in his career, Spieth was on a faster winning pace in major championship than Tiger Woods was at a similar stage in his career.

And then there’s the fact that Spieth is only 25 and won’t turn 26 until July 27.

Americans Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson and others have surged past Spieth, who has fallen to No. 17 in the Official World Golf Ranking.

During the Big Three hype of 2016, Jack Nicklaus weighed in about the trio’s popularity.

“Don't be too surprised if somebody else doesn't jump into there, too,” Nicklaus said during his Memorial Tournament in May 2016. “I think we have more good players today than we've ever had in the game of golf. And I think that's saying a lot, because we had a lot of good players when I played.”

On Sunday, Xander Schauffele, who also is 25, stepped up to win his fourth PGA Tour title – all in the past 18 months.

When Spieth was holding the Claret Jug at Royal Birkdale in 2017, Schauffele had one victory, two weeks earlier at the Greenbrier and was receiving little, if any, recognition.

“People said the Greenbrier is often a first-time winner's course, so people are trying to take credit away from me, which is nice,” Schauffele said with a wry smile after his recent victory against an elite winner’s-only field at Kapalua.

The Big Three of 2016 has faded, and Spieth is trying to claw his way back up.

Don’t expect Spieth to win again this week – he hasn’t posted a top 10 in six months – but he doesn’t feel hurried. He wants to go about it the right way.

Last year, Spieth felt the pressure to win, and he pressed, quickly spiraling. His renowned putting touch vanished, and he finished 123rd in strokes gained putting. Though he might be a little less certain of himself than in previous years, he senses that he is on the right track.

“I feel pretty patient with what's coming because I know I'm working on the right things,” Spieth said. “Took me a while to figure out what that was. Now I know I'm working on the right things in the game to get back on track and get to where I'm as a consistent as I've been before.”

To those who might have lost confidence in Spieth as a member of the “Big Three,” he remains focused.

“The thing for us is not to get caught up in today's news,” Spieth said of any reports about him. “It's easy to sometimes when you're not used to it. I haven't seen, read, or heard anything on it. I learned that lesson already because I know what's wrong with Jordan Spieth, and I know what's right with Jordan Spieth.”

Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: alex@morningread.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli