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British Open 2021: Jordan Spieth sums up links golf after sizzling 65: It's not hitting a 'driving-range shot in Palm Springs'

July 15, 2021
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SANDWICH, England — He even has the parlance down. Jordan Spieth had just gotten the type of break you need to win Open Championships: a smother hook left on the par-5 14th, perhaps a subconscious insurance policy given the OB down the right, one-hopped into a spectator’s backside and came to rest in an oasis of short grass. Spieth trudged through the knee-high gorse before catching a glimpse of his peachy lie.

What, then, would the American abroad say? Great? Awesome? Sick?

“Lovely,” with an ear-to-ear smile. He’s one of their own. Whether he hails from Dallas or Dover, no one can say.

Spieth could not have looked more comfortable in opening the Open with a five-under 65, which had him one back of Louis Oosthuizen as tea time approached in southeast England. His slump has been banished to the annals of history, and it’s been that way for a while—one could make the argument he’s been the most consistent player in 2021. He’s been T-19 or better in 11 of his last 13 starts, and while he maintains his ball-striking is not where he wants it, rounds like Thursday’s provide compelling evidence to the contrary.

Spieth relishes any opportunity to navigate a venue that is undulating and fiery, that spits in the face of bomb-and-gouge—a venue like Royal St. George’s, perhaps the quirkiest of the Open courses, where the fairways look more like a ski slope than their counterparts at Torrey Pines. This seaside links is a canvas that urges players to summon their creative instincts. Spieth has plenty of those. He’s old school in that way. More carving shots, less analyzing launch monitors.

He also has an Open Championship on his résumé, having won in remarkable fashion at Royal Birkdale four years ago. Spieth has never missed a cut over here, not even back in 2019, when he hadn’t the slightest clue where the ball was going. For Spieth, there’s something about links golf. It holds his attention, which is no easy task.

“It brings a lot of the feel aspect into the game,” he said. “I shorten swings up over here, and hit more punch shots, and stuff that I probably should be doing at home. You get less swing-focused and more shot-focused over here because the second you take your brain off the shot you’re hitting, you may not find your ball.

“Instead of just a driving-range shot in Palm Springs, there’s always some shot you have to play that gives you a little bit of an advantage. Certain club selections, based on if you hit a fade or a draw, they go 15 or 20 yards different distances. To sum that up, there’s just a lot of external factors over here, and I think that external is where I need to be living.”

Let’s return to that good break on 14 for a window into external living. The lie was fantastic, but a wall of gorse loomed six inches to the right, directly in the way of his ball’s shortest-possible route to the green.

“I don’t have a hybrid this week,” Spieth said to caddie/amateur psychologist Michael Greller, “so it’s not going to come out high. I think if I hold the face open I can start it left and kind of hold it against the wind. It’s going to hit some grass coming out but it should have enough to get through it and still cut. What’s the cover on those two bunkers?”

Two-hundred.

“OK, two-hundred. So the green is, like, 235. We’re gonna need those people to move then.”

Greller sprung into action. Keep going. Further. Another 10 feet at least. He’s going to start this at those grandstands way over there.

“Well, not quite that far, Mikey.” Laughs all around.

For all the golf nerds out there, this was 90 seconds of audible ecstasy. Spieth then did execute exactly what he and Mikey talked about, peeling a fade with a driving iron that did indeed carry those bunkers. Much to the delight of the fans he called “the best in golf.” The feelings are mutual.

Jordan Speith plays his second shot on the first hole during the opening round at Royal St. George's.

Matthew Lewis/R&A

As he took off to play his next, an awestruck 20-something shook his head in amazement. His accent suggested he made the two-ish hour trek from London to watch the golf. “What a player,“ he said. What a player indeed.