Did we take Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas for granted?
It feels that way since both have gone missing (in a sense) for a time and they now seem to be getting back where they belong.
Spieth has been the victim of a balky golf game – first it was his putting then it became his perpetual hide-and-seek habit with hitting fairways – while Thomas has been out since the Masters while waiting for a bone bruise in his wrist to heal.
Thomas is scheduled to return this week at the Memorial Tournament, having skipped the PGA Championship two weeks ago while making sure his bothersome wrist is ready to go.
Meanwhile Spieth, who will also play Memorial, is coming off consecutive top-10 finishes at the PGA Championship and the Charles Schwab Challenge, the first time he’s done that since the Houston Open and Masters in 2018 and his first top-10s since the Open Championship last July. It’s been a long 12 months for the guy Thomas playfully calls the golden child.
In Thomas’ case, the wrist issue was serious enough that he met with a hand specialist and wasn’t allowed to begin hitting chip shots until mid-May. Thomas is believed to have injured his hand when his club hit a tree while hitting a shot during the Honda Classic in March.
Injuries are the game’s wild card, the one thing that can’t be predicted (though many believe the powerful golf swing used by younger players with limited hip rotation will lead to a preponderance of back injuries in a few years). Whether it’s a back, a shoulder or a wrist, an injury can change everything.
The arc of Fred Couples’ career changed when he felt a stab of pain go through his back years ago on a practice tee, and the litany of injuries Tiger Woods has endured raises the question of how much more he might have done had he been healthy through it all.
Both Spieth and Thomas let their emotions show, which is part of what makes them so entertaining to watch.
For Thomas, taking the time to be fully ready is the right thing to do. It’s tempting to rush back from an injury, to tolerate a measure of pain to get back to playing, gambling there won’t be a recurrence. But the long view is the right view, particularly at age 26, and if missing the PGA Championship meant being worry-free for the rest of the season and beyond, it’s a miniscule price to pay.
For Spieth, the past year has been a grinding battle to recapture the form that rocketed him to the top of the world in 2015. He won the Open Championship two years ago and had a chance to win both the Masters and the Open Championship last year but he hasn’t been the same player he was for a time.
To hear him tell it, he fell into some bad habits with his putting and, working to fix those, his ball-striking fell off, too. He complicated matters by working on some swing fixes that didn’t help him and for too long a time it’s felt as if every round Spieth plays has been a referendum on the state of his game.
That’s the way tournament golf is – the score tells the story. But often only part of it. Every week there are dozens of examples of players who play well but don’t score well and therefore are relegated to the shadows.
Sometimes they’re working on something specific and understand the results will come down the road rather than immediately. Spieth has been that way, talking about making progress on rediscovering what’s gone missing. Part of that is confidence, the ability to stand over a shot and make a swing that’s full of commitment. It’s harder than it sounds.
Golfers know the old adage that when they’re playing well, it’s hard to imagine playing poorly again and when it’s going badly, it’s hard to imagine playing well again. There’s been some of that with Spieth it seems.
A T3 finish at the PGA Championship and a T8 finish at Colonial last weekend put tangible results alongside encouraging talk. As good as he’s been, Spieth is no different than any other golfer in that he wants to see the effort he’s put in be rewarded.
Starting the final round at Colonial two off the lead, Spieth was never a factor in the final round but it was not a lost opportunity. He’s been fighting a fear of the big miss to the right, sometimes pulling shots badly as an overcorrection. He’s seeing less of that but Spieth still isn’t as accurate off the tee as he needs to be.
Both Spieth and Thomas let their emotions show, which is part of what makes them so entertaining to watch. Thomas is fiery and blessed with rare talent. There’s no course that doesn’t fit what he can do with his golf game.
In his remarkable run, Spieth putted like few ever have, particularly on those 15- to 20-footers that he made seem routine. He was so good on the greens it hid how good a ball striker he was. When both went flat at the same time, it left Spieth scrambling to put it back together.
He’s getting there while his buddy, Thomas, is coming back after a forced absence.
It’s nice to have them back.
Jordan Spieth yells fore during the third round of last week’s Charles Schwab Challenge golf tournament at Colonial Country Club. Photo: Ray Carlin, USA Today Sports
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