CARNOUSTIE, SCOTLAND | Jordan Spieth always knew he had to return the Claret Jug he won at the Open Championship a year ago at Royal Birkdale but he didn’t realize the formality of it.
Despite the fact that Carnoustie felt almost empty early Monday afternoon, returning the most famous piece of hardware in the game wasn’t as easy as handing it back to someone in a parking lot or inside the clubhouse. Absent the joy that fuels the presentation of the Claret Jug to the champion golfer of the year, there is a ceremony for handing back the silver chalice.
It drives home the point that this is a new year and, like returning the keys to a vacation rental home at the end of a happy week, possession of the Claret Jug doesn’t last forever.
“Because of that (ceremony), it actually hit me harder,” Spieth said a few minutes after giving back the Claret Jug. “I was like, man, this was in my possession. I took it to all the places that allowed me to get to where I am today.
“It’s the coolest trophy that our sport has to offer. So having to return that was certainly difficult, kind of hit me a little there on the tee box.”
There is an alternative.
“Hopefully only out of my possession for a week, which would be ideal,” Spieth said.
It seems almost strange that Spieth’s victory at Royal Birkdale was his last win. He’s played well in stretches but since his third-place finish at the Masters, Spieth doesn’t have a top-20 finish with three missed cuts. Putting, normally his strength, has been a frustration this year. Spieth ranks 175th on Tour in strokes gained putting.
As he did prior to Birkdale last year, Spieth took a break after the U.S. Open and Travelers Championship and arrived in Scotland feeling mentally refreshed.
Spieth went to Seattle to see his sister, cheering in the U.S. Special Olympics games, and spent part of one day walking Chambers Bay with caddie Michael Greller, the first time he’s been back since winning the 2015 U.S. Open there.
“It was cool reliving those memories,” Spieth said.
From there, Spieth went to Cabo to hang out with friends before returning to start grinding his game back in shape for the Open Championship. After Cabo, Spieth said, he felt the urge to get back to work.
“It was nice to kind of start from scratch, almost like wet concrete with parts of my game,” he said.
Through the Masters, Spieth felt his swing was in a good place but he fell into bad habits after Augusta. Intent on fixing his flaws, Spieth said he overcompensated at the Memorial Tournament. He feels like himself again over the ball, relying on old feels rather than forced positions. More artist, less carpenter.
“Is it as consistent as it’s ever been? Probably not,” Spieth said. “But can it be by the time we tee off? Absolutely.
“Does it have to be to win this tournament? No, because it requires so much feel over here. As long as I play to the right spots and give myself enough chances, it can be good enough.”
And Spieth could get his hands on the Claret Jug again.