By Larry Fine
CHARLOTTE, North Carolina (Reuters) – Jordan Spieth prides himself on his ability to adapt, and he has coped beautifully with the clamor surrounding his shot at supplanting Tiger Woods this week as youngest golfer to complete a career grand slam.
The cool-under-pressure Texan, who turned 24 two weeks ago, said on the eve of Thursday’s start of the PGA Championship that he is “free-rolling” and feeling no extra stress at Quail Hollow.
“Do I have to be the youngest? No, I don’t feel that kind of pressure. Would it be really cool? Absolutely,” Spieth told reporters.
Spieth put himself on the brink of a career slam by winning last month’s British Open for his third major, following 2015 triumphs at the Masters and U.S. Open.
“It was only weeks ago that I was able to get the third leg, and that’s so fresh in my mind,” Spieth said. “I’m free-rolling.”
Spieth would be six months younger than Woods was when he won his grand slam with his victory at the 2000 British Open at St. Andrews.
World number two Spieth, who does not possess Woods’ long-hitting power, has carved out his success with precise iron play, a brilliant short game and an ability to cope with adversity.
“It’s just about being able to adapt to situations quickly and use that to my advantage,” Spieth said, saying his major victories varied greatly compared with the romps Woods enjoyed in his heyday.
At Royal Birkdale, a wild tee shot at the 13th hole of the final round led to a bogey that dropped him from the lead before a torrid finish brought him the Claret Jug.
“Each one of the major wins was very different from each other,” he said. “And then I’ve had a few I’ve had a chance to win where I haven’t, and each loss was different.
“You very rarely have parallel wins. Tiger had very parallel wins in the way that he got it done, but that was almost like a robot, and I don’t really expect that to happen with myself.”
Spieth noted that he managed to win at Royal Birkdale despite having issues with his vaunted putting touch.
“The British, I won without really feeling like I was putting well at all. I mean, the last five holes, six holes, was by far my best putting the entire week,” he said.
“To win a major and feel as uncomfortable as I did for a lot of it over the putter is extremely confidence-building.”
Spieth said he has also drawn strength from his most painful defeat, when he squandered a five-shot lead on Sunday’s back nine at the 2016 Masters, enduring the humiliation of drowning two shots in Rae’s Creek on the way to quadruple bogey seven at the short par-three 12th.
“I’ve already had enough not go well that I’ve almost accepted, OK, if this doesn’t work out, then it doesn’t work out. I’m going to have more chances,” he said.
“Just that kind of freedom allows me to take the fear away of any potential bad situation. I’ve gone through what will probably and hopefully be the worst loss of my career in the most public eye that golf has,” he said.
“So everything else that could happen is much lesser and therefore has probably helped me since then to focus and only see the positive that could come out of a situation.
“The chances go up that something beautiful could happen.”
(Reporting by Larry Fine; Editing by Larry King)