It's a curious thing to say, but for a guy who headed to St. Andrews this summer with a chance to win three consecutive majors, it might actually be Jordan Spieth's next tournament that counts as the most important of his year.
Spieth has now missed two consecutive cuts. He hasn't broken 73 in four rounds. Plenty of players on tour endure these sorts of dry spells, but rarely is it a guy who won two majors that year and is just days removed from being the No. 1 player in the world. How would we assess his year if it ends with such a thud?
For starters, there is the once open-and-shut Player of the Year Award debate. Perhaps Spieth still deserves it based on his otherworldly record in majors. But consider the scenario if Spieth flounders through the FedEx Cup playoffs, and Jason Day -- already with one major and four wins for the season -- cruises to the $10 million bonus and claims the top spot in the world ranking? Shouldn't we at least discuss it?
Beyond that, though, there is the larger question of how Spieth handles adversity. We thought we saw evidence of his resilience when he lost the Masters in 2014 and then came back to win it the next year. But you could argue that was still a period when the expectations were quite low. Now Spieth is the face of golf, with the new burden of needing to perform every time he plays. Maybe he doesn't frame it that way, but even he acknowledges he's contending with negative thoughts of late.
“I had really bad self-talk this week, something I haven't experienced in quite a while,” Spieth told reporters after missing the cut with a 75-73 at the Deutsche Bank Championship. “Maybe heightened by just everything that's happened this year, and just being so used to being in contention, that not only was I out of it, but I was also outside the cut line. And maybe it just heightened my self-talk. I need to walk with some cockiness in my step these next two tournaments."
It's on weeks like this when we regain appreciation for Tiger Woods' 142 straight cuts made between 1998-2005. Woods, too, faced unreasonable expectations as the sport's top player, and he, too, surely had weeks when he was contending with a troubled swing and mental distraction. Somehow he still managed to hang around.
Spieth has done an admirable job distancing himself from comparisons to Woods, which is often a recipe for disappointment. But he does want to be the best in the world, and part of the job requirement is fighting through pockets of doubt. More than anything, his next start at the BMW Championship, which comes after a welcome off week, will be a measurement of just that.
“I don't feel it's far off, even though my score is far off,” Spieth said. “I don't think I have to fix much in my game other than really work hard on my putting [going] into Conway and then mentally I can control that. I can control walking with the cockiness, whether things are going good or bad, and that's what you have to have inside the ropes. And I'll bring it when we get to Chicago.”