Keeping Score

Fix for Spieth? Keep it simple, rivals say

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – So far, Jordan Spieth’s 2018-19 season has been one to forget.

Three missed cuts, including last week at the Players Championship, and five weekends during which the three-time major winner has finished no better than T-35 have produced more questions than answers.

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After missing the cut at the Players, his 3rd free weekend in 8 starts this season, Jordan Spieth searches for answers.

Spieth is struggling to find the game that propelled him in 2015 to five victories, including the Masters and U.S. Open. Those days of winning golf’s big events must seem so long ago as Spieth spent the weekend home in Texas watching the Players (scores).

“I'm getting tired of it now, yeah,” Spieth said of his game. “But for the most part, most of the questions going into last year, and even the beginning of this year, were around putting. I've been very patient with the way I've wanted to work on it, and I knew that at some point soon it was going to start to come around, and I've had some really solid rounds.”

In January at the Sony Open, his first tournament back from a long holiday that included his wedding, Spieth exuded a positive attitude. He spoke of no timetable but embraced the process of becoming competitive again. Things have changed as Spieth, 25, expressed impatience with re-establishing a game that has led to 11 PGA Tour victories, but none in nearly two years, since the 2017 British Open.

“It's surprising to me at how many mistakes I'm making during the rounds,” Spieth said.

Inconsistency has plagued Spieth. At the Sony Open, he followed a first-round 73 with a 66 but still missed the cut. Two weeks later, he opened with 65 at the Farmers Insurance Open but added three consecutive 72s and faded to T-35, his best finish of the season. Two weeks later, at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, Spieth went 66-68 but shot 74-75 on the weekend, sliding to T-45. The next week, after a first-round 64 at the Genesis Open preceded back-to-back 70s, he plummeted down the leaderboard with a closing 81. In his most recent start before Players, he yo-yoed with 75-69-75-69 for a T-54 at the WGC Mexico.

It was more of the same last week at TPC Sawgrass’ Stadium Course: an opening 76 followed by a 69 and a weekend off.

Any professional golfer loses his game at times, but how he responds to it determines his ultimate success or failure.

Brooks Koepka, who at 28 has a few years on Spieth, also owns three major titles. Unlike Spieth, who used exemptions to earn his eventual place on the PGA Tour, Koepka started on the Challenge Tour, Europe’s equivalent to the U.S. developmental Web.com Tour. Koepka rose quickly overseas, earning a spot on the European Tour, where he was the 2014 rookie of the year, and PGA Tour status for 2014-15.

After a 2-under 286 and T-56 result at the Players, Koepka offered some simple advice for Spieth.

“Just go back to the same thing that you always worked on. I keep it really simple, so it's quite easy for me,” Koepka said. “I don't know how complicated he [Spieth] gets with it, but I mean, whatever he was doing in 2015, just go back to that. Don't try to change anything, because obviously it was working.”

He added: “Never doubt anything. I don't mind if I make the wrong decision, as long as I'm fully committed to whatever that is. If you believe it's the right decision at the time, then there's nothing wrong with that.”

Early this month, Gary Woodland found himself struggling to find his game at the Honda Classic. Though he tied for 36th, he found himself searching for answers. A week of practice with coach Pete Cowen at TPC Sawgrass revealed that his mental game was stressed.

“When I'm thinking, I'm in a lot of trouble,” he said. “I've been thinking on the greens, thinking ball-striking. I just wasn't very good.

“This week wasn't great,” he said after a T-30 finish at 6-under 282, “but I understood what I was doing, and so that makes me excited about going forward. I understand what I'm doing where I can fix it on my own.”

Bud Cauley has yet to win on the PGA Tour. Other than an exceptional 2011-12 rookie season in which he placed 38th in the FedEx Cup points standings, he has spent much of his career simply trying to keep his card.

Some of his poor play was because of an injured left shoulder, but Cauley turned inward for his answers.

“You can't go into something halfway and sort of expect it to work,” said Cauley, 29, who grew up in nearby Jacksonville and made his first cut in four tries at the Players, finishing T-47. “If you make a change or do something different, you kind of have to take the bumps that go with that and ride it out and hope that in the long run, it is the right thing.”

Like Cauley, Koepka and Woodland, Spieth understands the ups and downs of the game. He might be down, but he is not at rock bottom.

Spieth also understands that in his short professional career, it’s not the first time this has happened and it likely will not be the last. He is focused on returning better than ever.

“In any career, you're going to have ups and downs, and it may last,” Spieth said. “I had a year or two where I couldn't get the ball in the hole from outside of 3 feet, and I turned that, in a couple years, to making everything. So, it's just how it works. It's just a matter of learning from it, finding out why, so that you don't get as off next time in those situations and then when it's going good, what did you do to get there.”

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


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