Souhan: Spieth sticks with what's worked for him

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Jim Souhan, Star Tribune
·4 min read
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AUGUSTA, GA. — As Jordan Spieth warmed up on the Augusta National practice range on Tuesday, his longtime coach Cameron McCormick stood to his right, alongside his longtime caddie Michael Greller.

Spieth's victory on Sunday, at the Valero Texas Open, was his first in four years. That he finally won shouldn't be all that surprising. He's won three majors and finished in the top three of a major as recently as the 2019 PGA Championship.

What should be surprising is that after a four-year drought, the same coach and caddie were with him when he won.

Tiger Woods changed coaches and caddies after winning majors with them. Spieth stuck with his people when he was at his worst.

"For me, it was taking ownership and this is what happened," Spieth said. "I believe in my team. They have proved themselves to be the best in the world, and how can we all get a little bit better through this and what steps are we going to take forward to be able to feel this momentum together as we start to make progress in the right direction, and then believing that that's happening."

If that answer was a few dozen words longer than necessary, welcome to golf's version of the filibuster. It's not clear whether Spieth gives interviews, or whether microphones just periodically capture what he would have been saying even if he were alone in a room.

He talks to himself. He talks to his golf ball. His conversations with Greller, when caught by on-course microphones, are often more entertaining than the actual golf.

On Tuesday, in preparation for the Masters, Spieth practiced with Phil Mickelson on his right and Daniel Berger on his left, and talked to both, and their caddies, between swings. Dustin Johnson replaced Mickelson, and Spieth seemed to realize he would have to carry that conversation, so he did.

Walking up the 14th fairway, he held an animated, hand-waving conversation with two caddies. Maybe his losing streak didn't drive him to therapy because he carries his own virtual coach wherever he goes.

"I think I've learned a lot of patience," Spieth said. "I probably spent a year of struggling where I was forcing things, and it just made it worse. But it was just kind of hard not to force it because I just wanted to be back to playing good golf so quickly. Sometimes, less is more."

Spieth has already been an overachiever; he won two straight majors at the age of 21. He became the second-youngest player to win the Masters in 2015.

Was he an overachiever at 21, or an underachiever at 26?

Not surprisingly, Spieth offered a mature answer, noting that winning three majors by the age of 27 is hardly the stuff of tragedy.

"I like to step back and think, yeah, I'm 27, and a lot of people's careers get started at 27 in this sport," Spieth said. "Phil was, what, 31, when he won his first major?"

Mickelson was actually 33 when he won his first major, at the Masters in 2004 — further making Spieth's point.

On camera, Spieth looks like a well-conditioned athlete. See him next to Johnson, or even Berger, and he looks slight.

Spieth has won three majors without the obvious advantages enjoyed by so many other champions. He lacks Johnson's explosiveness, Arnold Palmer's muscle, Jack Nicklaus' forearms, Gary Player's fitness fanaticism, Bryson DeChambeau's bulk, Rory McIlroy's power.

Like a soft-throwing lefthanded pitcher, Spieth has little margin for error, and his mistakes will lead to large numbers.

During his practice round Tuesday, Spieth walked to the 12th tee and hit one of his gentle draws to the left side of the green.

In 2016, trying to repeat as Masters champion, he hit two balls into the water at 12, took a quadruple-bogey 7 and finished tied for second, three shots behind Danny Willett.

That kind of hole could ruin a career — especially if you're a caddie or coach. Spieth decided to keep those close to him close to him.

Jim Souhan's podcast can be heard at TalkNorth.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. jsouhan@startribune.com