Jordan Spieth says he doesn’t feel added pressure chasing career Grand Slam

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SportsPulse’s Trysta Krick checks in with Steve DiMeglio at Quail Hollow Club for an update on the PGA Championship and his thoughts on why the tournament is being moved on the golf calendar.
USA TODAY Sports

CHARLOTTE — The rough at Quail Hollow has Jordan Spieth’s attention at the 99th PGA Championship. The need to hit fairways is a concern. Doing battle with the likes of Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama, Dustin Johnson and others is definitely on his mind.

But the weight of expectation? The pressure inherent in trying to become at 24 the youngest player to complete the career Grand Slam?

Not even on his radar.

Instead of fretting about joining Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the only players to win all four majors, the world No. 2 is the picture of relaxation amidst all the noise around him. Since he delivered back-nine heroics to win the Claret Jug at Royal Birkdale last month, the three-time major winner has been regularly questioned about being on history’s doorstep. And the answer has always been the same.

“I just don’t feel any (pressure),” Spieth said Wednesday ahead of Thursday’s start of the last major of the season. “I believe I’m going to have plenty of chances, and I’m young enough to believe in my abilities that it will happen at some point. Do I have to be the youngest? No, I don’t feel that kind of pressure. Would it be really cool? Absolutely. …

“There will be pressure. This is a major championship. This is one of the four pivotal weeks of the year that we focus on. I’m simply stating, there won’t be added expectations or pressure.”

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It’s much the same feeling he had at St. Andrews heading into the 2015 British Open. Having won the first two majors of the season, the Masters and U.S. Open, Spieth was on a historical march in pursuit of the single-season Grand Slam. But instead of feeling pressure, he felt free that week, without a care in the world, he added, because he had reached so many of his goals for that year.

He wound up one shot short of a playoff.

As he was back then, Spieth said he’s free-rolling at the moment, his year already a great one with three wins. While goals remain that he wants to achieve before the season is finished, he’s stress-free and feels no need to tack on the burden of trying to make his year a complete success.

In other words, he doesn’t complicate things or force matters. It’s an envied trait that Spieth takes to the golf course, a mental strength that allows him to see the calm among the chaos, to keep his mind as uncluttered as possible, to stay in the now.

Instead of dwelling on a mistake or pouting when his game is off, he improvises, overcomes and adapts to the situation at hand. For instance, he didn’t have his best stuff on the back nine in the final round at the Travelers earlier this year, yet didn’t panic and pulled out victory with a stunning hole-out from a bunker on the first playoff hole.

In his next start at the Open, his game deserted him on the first 12 holes of the final round, his three-shot lead vanished and a stunning collapse was imminent. Then he hit his worst drive of the day on the 13th but had the wherewithal to remain calm and take 20 minutes to figure out a penalty drop. He made a miracle bogey, said his caddie, Michael Greller, and then went birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie to win.

“He has got that knack,” said McIlroy, who is a Masters short of the career Grand Slam. “I call it resilience. I don’t know if there’s a better word to describe what it is that he has. But he has got this resilience where he gets himself in positions in tournaments where you don’t think he can come back from, and he does. It’s awfully impressive.

“It’s a mental thing. Mentally tough, strong, whatever you want to call it. That’s his biggest asset. Being able to forget about a bad shot and move on to the next one, that’s his greatest weapon.”

Spieth said it’s simply trying to get from Point A to Point B to Point C, and if something goes awry, you make up for it with your next shot. If things don’t work out, he’ll have more chances down the road.

It helps, he said, that he’s already experienced the worst loss of his career — the 2016 Masters when he squandered a five-shot lead with nine holes to play, the most crushing hole being the 12th, where he dumped two balls into Rae’s Creek. The breakdown didn’t haunt him.

“When we get into these high-pressure situations, when I get off-course a little bit, there’s no negativity that comes into play in my mind,” Spieth said. “I’ve already had enough not go well that I’ve almost accepted, OK, if this doesn’t work out, then it doesn’t work out. That kind of freedom allows me to take the fear away of any potential bad situation.”

Chances are he’ll face a bad situation this week. Everyone will. Quail Hollow is playing extremely long, it’s soft, the rough is brutal and bad weather is on its way. That is what Spieth is focusing on. He’s also concentrating on shoring up his putting stroke — he did not putt well most of the week at either the Travelers or the British Open yet still won.

He’s not thinking about history.

“It’s not a burning desire to have to be the youngest to do something, and that would be the only reason there would be added expectations,” Spieth said. “If I don’t win one in the next 10 years, then maybe there’s added pressure then.

“Hopefully we don’t have to have this conversation in 10 years.”

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