Jordan Spieth lines up a practice round putt prior to the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills. ()
Photo: Warren Little/Getty Images
Photo: Warren Little/Getty Images

At U.S. Open: When putts start falling, we’ll take Spieth seriously again

It is as if, suddenly, Gordon Ramsay couldn’t boil water or Leonardo DiCaprio couldn’t get a date. There are laws of nature being trifled with here, I tell you.

Yet, it’s right there in one of the PGA Tour’s mysterious yet handy statistical tools – entering this week’s U.S. Open, Spieth ranks 190th in strokes gained putting. Down from 186th the week before.

The sun rises. The tides ebb and flow. And Spieth makes putts like the cup is bigger around than a pro wrestler’s head. These are supposed to be the simple truths of life.

If it’s any comfort, Spieth keeps insisting he’s getting the feel back, and is ready to take off as he did last season (two victories – including the British Open – and two seconds following the 2017 U.S. Open).

The missed cut two weeks ago at the Memorial wasn’t his putter’s fault, he said. “I putted well and am trending in the right direction,” Spieth said Tuesday. “The game feels like it’s in really good shape right now, as good as it has this year. I’ve got a good chance at a strong second half of the year. Anything similar to the second half of last year would make 2018 an amazing year.”

Spieth’s putting problems began showing themselves last year and have been magnified over the course of an ’18 season that, save for a last-round 64 that made him a factor at the Masters, has been un-Spiethly and unspectacular. In five events since the Masters, for instance, Spieth has two missed cuts and has no top-20 finishes.

He addressed that issue quite forcefully in February, telling the media: “I still believe that with most (Tour pros), you ask them who do they want putting on your team in a Ryder Cup, I believe they would say my name. So, I have not doubt in my abilities.

“Just going through a minor slump that is set-up related.”

The minor slump has deepened, which is baffling for a couple of reasons. First, he’s only 24, hardly susceptible to the jangling nerves that afflict the golfer at twilight. And, if there is a signature instrument to Spieth’s genius, it is the putter. In his hands, it has been a surgical tool. He made the act of rolling a small ball into a slightly larger hole seem wholly natural and almost easy.     

With the short stick, Spieth was the truth, like Kevin Durant pulling up from 20 feet. With this Bizzaro World Spieth, the viewer gets the yips watching him.  

During his transcendent run to two major titles and a FedEx Cup championship in 2015, Spieth ranked first in fewest putts per round, and no one made more putts from outside 20 feet than he did. Those rankings are 127th and 192nd today. 

One noted expert on the short game, however, said such a dip is just as expected as it is temporary.  

“I would say that Jordan is a great putter that will have occasional moments of poor putting, and those will go away quickly, and he'll be back to a great putter,” Phil Mickelson said.

“Many guys out on Tour are poor putters and have a few moments of great putting. He's just one of those guys that it will click overnight. These moments of putting not to his level of expectation will go away quickly. He's just too good of a putter not to get it back.”

Bad putting can release the chipmunks in one’s brain. And, as with any bris or chainsaw juggling act, you just don’t want to bring anxiety or unsteadiness to the putting green.

Spieth said he remains confident, just as he remains patient.

“Results aren’t going to come by wanting them to come. They’re going to come by being obsessed with the process,” he said.

“I feel like my game is in the best shape it’s been in a long time, including last year. My results don’t necessarily speak towards that, but I feel that way, so I’ll stick with the process, and they’ll surely come at some point.”

Just make a putt. And we all can become a little more acquainted with what passes for normal again.

About the Author

Steve Hummer
Steve Hummer
Steve Hummer writes sports features for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He covers a wide range of sports and topics.