PLAYA DEL CARMEN, MEXICO | There are many colors of emotions mixing through Jordan Spieth at the moment.
There’s a tinge of red — the frustration of having to answer the recurring questions of why he hasn’t won since July 2017 and why his normally brilliant putting sank to 136th in the PGA Tour’s strokes gained putting category last season. Last week in Las Vegas, a fan yelled during his backswing and he hooked a ball out of bounds — that’s a microcosm of his poor fortune.
“It was one of those weeks where your ball just seems to kind of find the divots and the lips of the holes,” he said bluntly.
And there’s some Texas Longhorn burnt orange — the same hue as the sunsets off the beach of Mayakoba where Spieth relaxes during a fall season with far less pressure. It’s his last tournament as a single man as he will soon get married, a life highlight and a good time to decompress before the 2019 schedule arrives.
“I like to play a couple times in the fall and I typically go to Australia and Tiger’s event,” Spieth explained. “I’m not doing them this year, so I asked a lot of the guys what were kind of the best events to play in and this one was raved about. Now that I’m here, I’m wondering why I haven’t played it every year.
“It’s just so beautiful here. I get the afternoon on the beach.”
But the other color is some shade of mysterious deep blue — the kind you can see in the distance in the Gulf of Mexico. Just like we know there are sting rays somewhere below the surface, we all agree that Spieth is fully capable of being a top-5 player in the world or winning a major championship with each opportunity he has. The sting rays are in there somewhere. Spieth’s magic is in there, too.
The process to fish that magic out has been messy and is still very much ongoing.
He worked tirelessly on his putting alignment throughout 2018 and there are some solid signs that momentum has turned. He finished on the positive side of the strokes gained stat in seven of his final eight starts of the summer and is ranked 30th in the category so far in the early going of the new season.
Although he was a respectable 54th in strokes gained off the tee last season, Spieth took last week to try out a new driver and 3-wood. It went poorly and he has already reverted back to his old driver and 3-wood, the same ones he has won three major championships with.
“I’ve got to figure out the perfect combination going forward with the new stuff,” Spieth said, adding that the new clubs could potentially make their way into his lineup for next year. “I’ve got time after this.”
While Spieth has spent time trying to figure things out in what he has called a rebuilding year, the landscape of the game has shifted around him.
He’s fallen to No. 14 in the world — behind Tiger Woods, Bryson DeChambeau and Xander Schauffele — who could have predicted that when 2018 started?
But more than rankings, the game has continued to shift towards the power hitter.
Here are the world rankings and how that player stacked up in the strokes gained off the tee category last season:
No. 1 — Justin Rose (14th)
No. 2 — Brooks Koepka (9th)
No. 3 — Dustin Johnson (1st)
No. 4 — Justin Thomas (30th)
No. 5 — Bryson DeChambeau (11th)
No. 6 — Rory McIlroy (6th)
No. 7 — Francesco Molinari (7th)
No. 8 — Jon Rahm (3rd)
No. 9 — Rickie Fowler (52nd)
No. 10 — Tommy Fleetwood (17th)
It’s almost a prerequisite for being a dominant player in this era. That is, unless you are extraordinary in other categories like Spieth has often been during his career.
If he wants to get back to where he was, he’ll have to be special in that category and at least respectable off the tee. But for now, it’s a lot of conflicting shades running together as Spieth tries to get everything in working order.