By John Strege
The caution flag came out last week in the midst of Jordan Spieth's race to immortality, the warning issued by Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee.
"The pitfalls of success coming early are many," Chamblee said on Friday from Augusta National. "One of the biggest hurdles is to conform, to change…All of a sudden you have all these people around you. Teachers are everywhere, sports psychologists are everywhere, and they'll whisper to you, and before you know it you start to change your golf swing, you change your equipment, you change everything.
"All things being equal, experience makes a player better, not change. And you see players that come out early and avoid those pitfalls year after year, they'll get better. When you see players change drastically — their body type, their equipment, their golf swing — of course they're making these changes either for more money or to get better, but it has the effect of robbing them, whether they know it or not, of their instincts, their beliefs.
"And I don't think Jordan Spieth will ever be susceptible to that. Jack Nicklaus wasn't susceptible to that. Ben Crenshaw wasn't susceptible to that. Tom Watson wasn't susceptible to that. But it is an epidemic in the game of golf today."
To Chamblee's point, the late Jim Flick said that when his protege, Beau Hossler, 16 at the time, was in the midst of contending in the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in 2012, "Beau's dad told me he had a few golf professionals say at the Open they could do a lot better job with Beau's swing than I've done."
A cautionary tale from a previous generation is that of Sam Randolph, a three-time All-American at USC, the college player of the year, a U.S. Amateur champion, a winner in his rookie year on the PGA Tour, superstardom his destiny, his college coach said. He was the quintessential feel player who became technical in a bid to improve, and his career derailed.
Spieth, meanwhile, does have idiosyncrasies in his swing, his instructor Cameron McCormick said recently, "that give the Johnny Millers of the world something to pick at and criticize. But we've allowed him to develop those patterns with heavy priority with what the ball's telling us in terms of function versus some architectural or appearance we want it to fit into. We've let his fingerprint be his fingerprint."