Jordan Spieth: Even the great struggle with fundamentals

I am continually amazed at how all these great players on the PGA Tour have these phenomenal runs where they get anointed as the next best thing…and then all of a sudden, they can’t seem to find their swing.

That happened to Jordan Spieth in Thursday’s opening round of The Players Championship. He’s been on this terrific run from the beginning of the year that culminated in three wins including a masterful performance at the Masters. He had an understandable letdown at the RBC Heritage and then wasn’t able to get out of the Round Robin matches at the WGC-Cadillac Match Play. But he looked okay doing it.

And then, in Friday’s pairing with Rory McIlroy and Jason Day, he shot 3-over while the two of them shot 3-under. How does that happen?  

Well, he gave us some good stuff in his explanation of what happened and what he’s trying to do to fix it:

Really tough ball striking day. Just couldn’t find anything really since I have gotten here on Monday. I mentioned it in the press conference that I was struggling hitting the ball this week, that I was looking for something in my alignment, just didn’t quite trust it today until I was already too far behind the 8-ball.

So, yeah, just a really, really poor day. I’ve got to find something to work on. Sometimes when you’re hitting it really well, you just get tough breaks and you have a bad day. This wasn’t one of those.

I actually really need to find something on the range. Just hasn’t been good ball striking this week, and if I didn’t putt well today, it could have gone up there towards that 8 number, so I really saved my round in the middle of it there.

Did he expect things to go south on him? Was he expecting it to get progressively worse as the day went on?

I don’t think so. Really it was unbelievable, some of the breaks today. Rory had a couple bad ones himself, but 11 was really tough [where his short game couldn’t save him] and I had a couple others where I hit putts I thought were really good and then they just lipped out, and sometimes those lip in for me.

And I found this next comment embedded in his previous answer. I thought it was the “money” quote; something that revealed his means of success. He apparently accepts where he finds his swing on any give day and moves forward from shot to shot rather than “looking into it” while he’s playing:

It’s just one of those days where I started maybe looking into it a little too much rather than just accepting it and going forward and it just happens every once in awhile and I’ll get over it. I’m fortunate we have a lot of time before we tee off in this next round versus a quick turnaround. So just going to have to find some answers.

And then he went into some great detail about how his alignment was out. As he describes it, it is hard to believe that someone who has been playing so heroically would suddenly find himself completely out of whack:

When I got here I put a stick down after I wasn’t hitting it well on the range and figured out I was 20 yards lined up too far right with my lower body, and then I was too far left with my shoulders.

And it’s something I’ve been working on to try and square my shoulders up, but my lower body was so significantly off that once — I’m feeling like I’m dead open hitting the golf ball and it’s tough. I’m not finding the bottom [of his normal swing], I’m not finding the ground. So I’m hitting a lot of long irons fat and then overdoing it and hitting some thin heel shots, as well.

All he has to do is get all squared up again by trusting the alignment sticks — in the early going, it can be truly amazing how out of whack things have gotten — and then taking that trust to the golf course.

So, it’s not going to be major; it’s not like I’ve taken a ton of time off since I’ve been playing really well. I haven’t. It’s nothing major, it’s just — what it is, it’s a level of trust out there. And it’s tough with this golf course. It’s not an easy course, and when there’s a lot of water in play, it’s difficult to trust. You’ve got to really be on your game.

And that lack of trust inevitably cascades into compensating by trying too hard. When you’re running on the ragged edge, you want to simplify your strategy rather than pushing the boundaries of a problematic swing. He explains his bogey on the simple 4th hole:

The fourth hole, I didn’t simplify it. It’s just a hybrid and a pitching wedge to a gettable pin. I tried to hit 3-wood because I was upset at [a careening bogey on] 3 and thought I had something going there after [a birdie-4 on] No. 2 and I just tried to force it.

It’s just a mistake I make a little too often. When you’re not swinging well, that’s not a good time to force it. I should have simplified it. [So he] made bogey; I was fortunate to make bogey, actually made a really good four- or five-footer there for bogey.

This was a pretty keen insight from a player at the top of the game, No.2 in the world, and how he thinks in golf. Masterful even.

I can’t wait to see what he shoots Friday and what he has to say about that.

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