It seems like only yesterday that a 19-year-old rookie named Jordan Spieth holed out a bunker shot that allowed him to win his first PGA tournament at the John Deere Classic.
OK, so it was last year. And actually, the precocious Spieth has completed a year filled with excellence while gaining the type of experience that should lead to many more wins, including a bag full of major titles.
Despite a variety of strong finishes, including a pair of runner-ups at the Masters and The Players Championship, he has yet to win since last year's John Deere. He’s been very close throughout his short career, logging 15 top-10 finishes since the beginning of 2013.
Winning a consecutive title at the John Deere could kick-start Spieth toward a possible win at either of the remaining two majors, The Open Championship and the PGA Championship.
Spieth has played well enough to catapult himself into the 10th spot in the world rankings and the fifth spot in the FedEx Cup standings.
In doing so, he has amassed $3.6 million while making 17 of 19 cuts.
Still, he has had to watch a bevy of newcomers, including Seung-Yul Noh, Brendon Todd and Hideki Matsuyama, win on the tour this year. It appears that while Spieth can get to the weekend, he just cannot seem to close when it counts.
His statistics bear this out, as he ranks 16th in scoring before the cut, 98th on Saturday and 67th on Sunday. He has improved his Saturday performance from 126th last year, but lack of four-day consistency has hurt his ability to win a second title.
That is why the John Deere could be so important to Spieth’s quest for not only his second victory but also his first major title. Should he win or at least post another top-10 finish, he will gain even more confidence heading into The Open Championship the following week.
The Open Championship, which will be played at Royal Liverpool, Hoylake, will undoubtedly test his entire game. Known for its windy conditions, the seaside course demands a tremendous amount of guile and strategy.
When Tiger Woods won in 2006, he used his driver only once during the entire tournament. He did so to control his distance and avoid the numerous pot bunkers lurking on the course.
Currently ranked eighth in scrambling, Spieth will need every bit of his toughness to pull out a win at this dangerous wind-swept, hardpan course.
As strong-minded and mature as Spieth may be, it would be quite a feat for a two-year pro to win at Hoylake. Eight of the last nine winners have been seasoned vets with names such as Phil Mickelson, Padraig Harrington, Ernie Els and Woods.
Spieth’s lack of experience may cost him across the pond, but he will be a legitimate contender at Valhalla in Louisville, Kentucky, where the PGA Championship will be played.
The 7,195-yard course may be long, but its fairways are framed by lush Kentucky bluegrass, which will gobble up errant drives and inhibit big hitters.
Spieth is neither a long driver nor a consistent hitter of greens in regulation, but somehow he knows how to score. He averages less than 70 per round, which is good enough for eighth place on the tour. He has the uncanny ability to refrain from putting up big numbers that can hurt him.
He is also ranked 24th in strokes gained-putting, which is why he has been able to be in the hunt in just about every tournament in which he plays. Should he be able to overcome his Saturday yips, he could likely put himself in position to win at Valhalla.
The John Deere is a benign lead-in to The Open Championship. No one would mistake the field for that of a major.
For Spieth—who rallied from behind last year with five birdies in his last six holes to beat David Hearn and Zach Johnson in a playoff—it represents a sentimental moment that launched him into the national conversation.
This time around, it could prep him for even greater success.