The major season has come and almost gone in a flash, which was the danger in compressing the big tournaments into a new – and improved? – schedule. The final men’s major championship of 2019 is just around the corner, which means that after the British Open is played in less than three weeks, it will be nine months until the next major
The major season has come and almost gone in a flash, which was the danger in compressing the big tournaments into a new – and improved? – schedule. The final men’s major championship of 2019 is just around the corner, which means that after the British Open is played in less than three weeks, it will be nine months until the next major. (Eight months until the Players.)
Nine months. That’s a long time to get ready for the 2020 Masters and longer still for players who haven’t won anything big lately to find something that might salvage a season. No, winning the FedEx Cup – while plenty lucrative – won’t serve to replace a missed opportunity at a major. However, $15 million still spends, doesn’t it?
That’s why this Open at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland is bigger and more important than usual. It’s the last chance for players who are badly in need of winning something big, lest they fall out of the conversation.
Here are five in particular:
Jordan Spieth – In case you haven’t checked lately, Spieth is No. 32 in the Official World Golf Ranking. That fact would have been shocking enough if you hadn’t witnessed over the past year – or more – the gradual unraveling of his golf game. It’s been uncomfortable and even painful to watch. He can’t keep it in a 10-acre field with his driver, which means he’s on a constant scramble, which means he has to depend on his legendary putter, which seems to have left him, or is at least in hiding.
After every bad performance, he goes off and works and works and comes back a semi-believer. But whatever it is that gives him encouragement apparently can’t be brought to two tournament rounds in a row. Every Tour player who has been in the wilderness thinks that he’s this (thumb and forefinger together) close to getting it back. Spieth is one of those. He hasn’t won anywhere since his British Open victory in 2017. He’s in danger of falling off the map.
Justin Thomas – When Thomas won five times in 2017, including his first major at the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow, the cognoscenti gushed that more majors would come soon and often. So far, it’s been neither. He’s stuck on one. If Thomas were a major-leaguer, he’d be a four-tool player. He hits it long and pretty straight off the tee and is third on the PGA Tour in greens in regulation, with nearly 72 percent. He’s third on Tour in strokes gained tee-to-green.
But like every other PGA Tour player who hits it well, if you can’t putt, you can’t play, especially in the majors. Thomas is 168th on Tour in strokes gained putting, and nearly all of his other putting stats are pretty dreadful. He hasn’t won on Tour since last year’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. And he missed the PGA Championship in May with a wrist injury. That could be why he missed the cut at the U.S. Open.
But Thomas is way too good not to be on major-championship leaderboards. They say you can’t hide talent. Apparently, you can.
Jason Day – Whoever told Day that he needed a kick in the backside should be commended, because it was true. At the end of 2016, Day was No. 1 in the world and had a PGA Championship to his credit. He had all the makings of a superstar and seemed destined to be among the top four or five players in the world for a long time. Since the end of 2016, he has won only twice and has fallen to No. 18 in the world.
Day had some disturbing downside. It seemed as if he was constantly injured or sick, and that alarmed many. And his swing had only one speed: all out, which can be a liability, especially in major championships. When he replaced his caddie/teacher Colin Swatton with his friend, Luke Reardon, insiders shook their heads. Now, Day has hired legendary caddie Steve Williams, who was on Tiger Woods’ bag for 13 major victories. No one knows how long this team will last or which one is more likely to pull the plug. If Day doesn’t perform in the Open, the short money is on Williams.
Tommy Fleetwood – When Fleetwood shot a final-round 63 at the 2018 U.S. Open to nearly lasso Brooks Koepka, those supposedly in the know put a great deal of stock in the Englishman. When he teamed with Open champion Francesco Molinari to win four points at the Ryder Cup later in the fall, Fleetwood’s stock went straight up. Since then, Fleetwood has been on a number of short lists prognosticating major winners.
So far, the touts have been wrong. Fleetwood has been as high as ninth on the world ranking but has fallen to 20th. He hasn’t won since early 2018 and besides that runner-up finish at Shinnecock Hills, his major record has been fairly ordinary. If he doesn’t improve that soon, he is bound to wind up in the wasteland of unlimited potential.
Rickie Fowler – It’s now a broken record, practically a worn-out, old broken record. When you start making the dreaded list of best players not to have won a major, Fowler’s name always appears near the top, right up there with Matt Kuchar, who is a story for another time. Fowler has three runner-up finishes in majors and top-fives in all four. When you finish in the top five, that means you had a chance to win – and you didn’t.
Fowler is now 30 years old, which means he’s not a kid any more. He’s a grown-up and needs to start making grown-up decisions about the swings he makes and the shots he hits in major championships. Majors aren’t won with double bogeys, a number with which Fowler is all too familiar.
Mike Purkey has written about golf for more than 30 years for a number of publications, including Golf Magazine and Global Golf Post. He lives in Charlotte, N.C. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @mikepurkeygolf