Jordan Spieth Is Trying to Play His Way Back Into Old Form: 'It's a Patience Test'

The three-time major winner returned to the John Deere Classic to begin a three-week stretch culminating with the British Open.
Jordan Spieth finished T26 at the John Deere Classic, where he won twice at the start of his career.
Jordan Spieth finished T26 at the John Deere Classic, where he won twice at the start of his career. / Joseph Cress-USA TODAY Sports

Jordan Spieth made an impressive run on Saturday, briefly tying for the lead after birdieing six of his first nine holes and settling for an 8-under-par 63 at the John Deere Classic, his lowest score in more than a year.

It was fitting that Spieth stirred up a supportive gallery at TPC Deere Run as only a few days earlier, the three-time major champion went down memory lane, recounting some of his earlier days at the Illinois tournament and offering a reminder of his fast ascent into the world of professional golf.

In 2013, as a 19-year-old without full status on the PGA Tour, Spieth holed a bunker shot to force a sudden-death playoff that he won for his first victory, earning a spot in the following week’s British Open.

Two years later, he won again, setting the stage for a dramatic week at St. Andrews, where Spieth arrived overnight at the Home of Golf and made a spirited run at winning a third straight major championship in 2015 before finishing a shot back of a playoff.

“It was kind of a dream-come-true ride, and I just kind of went where I needed to go and didn't ask questions and just played golf,” Spieth said. “Now things are quite a bit different in what you can schedule and how you set your season and whatnot. A lot of times it's hard. You want to play every week and you just can't do it.

“Getting close to it this year, but back then it was like, well, I'll just go where I need to go. I'm in next week? O.K., great. I'll go there.

“I feel in some ways the same, but in a lot of ways decently far removed given most of my life is off the golf course and it's quite a bit different.”

Spieth is 30 now, married and the father of two. He faded to a T26 finish Sunday in his first visit to the John Deere since that 2015 victory.

A year later, the tournament was scheduled for the same week as the Olympic Golf Tournament, of which Spieth opted out. Feeling it was wrong to skip the Olympics and play the Deere, he skipped that event too—and didn’t return until this year.

When Spieth didn’t win the Open in 2015, many believed the Deere victory and the subsequent travel took its toll. It created a “what-if” scenario that he readily dismisses.

“I was in control of the tournament with two holes to go at St. Andrews and just needed to go par-par for a playoff or par-birdie to win,” he said of the playoff he missed by one shot. (Zach Johnson won over Marc Leishman and Louis Oosthuizen; Spieth bogeyed the Road Hole, the 17th.) So I certainly—I wasn't off to a slow start. I was 21, too, so like the bounce back ... I had no regrets by the end of that week.

“It was just part of my schedule and it was the week before and I like playing into majors when I can, especially in those early years. We had Akron right into the PGA (Championship) late in the season. I played into the Masters every year regardless where it was. I tried to play into the Open.”

That was part of a dream year for Spieth that saw him win five times, including the two majors and the Tour Championship.

He won twice the following year and three times in 2017, including the Open at Royal Birkdale.

Amazingly, just two of his 13 PGA Tour wins have come in the ensuing seven years. After a four-year slump, Spieth won in consecutive years, but now hasn’t won again in more than two years.

“This year has been a bit frustrating because I feel like I’ve been a better player than any of the previous few years,” Spieth said. “I just haven’t produced the results yet, had it all come together. It’s been a patience test this year, but it’s a better place than kind of having no idea what to do, where I’ve lived before. So I can be patient if I’m confident about what I’m working on.”

Now ranked 34th in the world after starting the year at 15th, Spieth hasn’t had a top-10 finish since a tie for 10th at the Valero Texas Open the week prior to the Masters. Since then, he’s missed three cuts and his finish at the John Deere has been his best. Earlier this year, he was third at the Sentry and tied for sixth at the WM Phoenix Open.

He also finds himself out of the top 50 in the FedEx Cup standings—which will assure signature event starts in 2025—and is still not assured of qualifying for the FedEx Cup playoffs for the top 70. He is 59th.

Spieth can appear maddeningly inconsistent, and takes his fans on a multitude of thrill rides. The things that carried him years ago—such as great iron play and putting—have fallen off. But Spieth is seemingly a better driver of the ball now. And it’s unclear how much an ongoing ligament problem in his wrist is impacting him.

There have been no excuses offered from Spieth and he is playing again this week at the Scottish Open, where he had said he would not compete. With the Open to follow, that means three weeks in a row.

“I'm going to end up playing the Open as my third in a row, which has been a good spot for majors for me in the past,” Spieth said. “Masters was third in a row a number of years for me, too.”

Justin Rose and the British Open

Despite playing in last year’s Ryder Cup for Europe, Justin Rose was not exempt for the British Open next week at Royal Troon. The Open did away with the Ryder Cup/Presidents Cup team qualifications following the 2022 tournament at St. Andrews. And so Rose, the 2013 U.S. Open champion, found himself out of the field having made it via no other category.

To his credit, the Englishman entered Final Qualifying at one of the four qualifying venues last week. He was the only player among 288 entered who was ranked among the top 250 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Making it through was far from assured, but Rose shot 8 under par for his 36-hole qualifier at Burnham & Berrow to secure another spot in the championship where he finished fourth as a 17-year-old amateur at Royal Birkdale in 1998. Rose is now 43.

Justin Rose lines up a putt on the 1st hole during the second round of the 2024 U.S. Open.
Justin Rose is heading back to the British Open, having survived qualifying. / John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

“Sometimes you take it for granted,” Rose said. “You’re exempt, you turn up and play for many years, but as you get older, things get a little harder so in some ways it’s good to have to qualify because it makes you appreciate the Open a little more and how special it is.”

Rose added in an interview with Sky Sports that “I still feel that I can win the Open. And to win it, you’ve got to be in it, so that was the key to come here and get the job done to give myself an opportunity at that dream.”

Abraham Ancer and Sam Horsfield were the only two LIV Golf League players who made it through to the Open. The original entry list of 16 turned out to be just 11 who played, and it was an opportunity missed for those who elected not to try.

LIV is playing this week in Spain and again in two weeks in England, so the scheduling aspect of a one-day qualifier was not ideal. But these qualifiers had generally weak fields.

A total of 28 players across the four viewers either retired or withdrew, and a majority of the players in the final qualifier were not of high-level Tour caliber, even if there are dozens of excellent to compete against.

The point is earning one of four spots against a field of 72 players—most of whom are not at the caliber of LIV player—seems a change worth taking.

LIV players Anirban Lahiri and Brendan Grace were eliminated in separate playoffs while Sergio Garcia and Eugenio Chacarra each contended. Garcia, who finished tied for 12th last month at the U.S. Open after enduring qualifying, has now attempted to qualify for both Opens each of the past two years.

Bernhard Langer's homeland goodbye

Bernhard Langer made his final appearance on the DP World Tour, missing the cut at the BMW International Open in his homeland of Germany. Langer, 66, was paired for the first two rounds with fellow Germans Martin Kaymer and Marcus Siem and failed to advance after a second-round 73.

Langer, who still competes on the PGA Tour Champions, won 42 times on what was then the European Tour, second only to Seve Ballesteros.

“It’s been a dream come true,” Langer said after missing the cut. “I was able to live that dream for 50 years.”

Langer grew up in a small town in Germany, a place where golf was not popular. He turned pro at age 14 at a time “when people didn’t know what that meant.”

Bernhard Langer hits from the 4th hole during the final round of the 2024 Principal Charity Classic.
Bernhard Langer bid farewell to his home fans last week. / Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

He won his first European Tour title in 1980 at the Dunlop Masters, captured the Masters in 1985 and 1983, and became part of a “Big Five” of European stars who helped transform the Ryder Cup along with Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam and Sandy Lyle.

Langer owns some impressive accomplishments. He played in 10 Ryder Cups (21-15-6), five times on the winning team and once a tie. He also captained the 2004 team to a record victory at Oakland Hills.

In addition to being second all-time in DP World Tour wins, Langer last year became the leader in victories on the Champions Tour with 46 when he captured the U.S. Senior Open.

Langer also famously overcame the putting yips on multiple occasions.

“I was able to travel the world, meet with kings and queens,” he said. “Play golf with all sorts of people, whether they were successful businessmen or just the average butcher or bricklayer or whatever. Wonderful memories, all over the world.”

Richard Bland rising

Richard Bland famously played the majority of his career in Europe with a modicum of success. The definition of “journeyman,” Bland finally won in his 478th start on the DP World Tour, capturing the 2021 British Masters at age 48 and climbing the world ranking to the highest point of his career.

Now 51, Bland has played the last three years as part of the LIV Golf League, but stepped outside of that circuit to win both the Senior PGA Championship and the U.S. Senior Open.

The victories would make another player exempt on the PGA Tour Champions, but because Bland has competed in what the PGA Tour calls “unauthorized events” as part of LIV, he will be prohibited from doing so—even though Bland has never been a member of the PGA Tour.

In a wide-ranging interview with Golf Monthly, Bland disclosed that he was paid no guaranteed money up front by LIV Golf when he joined in 2022. He was doing it, he said, simply for the opportunity to play for considerable sums each week—$20 million purses, with $4 million paid to the winner.

“That was purely why I did it,” Bland said. “I wasn't trying to pull the wool over anybody's eyes. I was honest and upfront of why I joined LIV and it was purely for the money. I know people have been slated, you know, ‘it's growing the game, it's doing this doing that, whatever,’ I purely went for one thing and one thing only, and I'm not ashamed to say that.

         “I had the opportunity to make my life, my family’s life and whatever we do as a family a lot more easier. So I say it was a no-brainer.”

Bland insists he did not receive the kind of up-front compensation that reportedly went to the likes of Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Cam Smith and others. And he is fine with that.

“LIV didn't offer me a dollar, it was just purely the opportunity to play,” he said.

“They've been at the sharp end of golf so to speak at the high end of the world rankings for a lot longer than I was. I'd only been there a year sort of buzzing around the top 50,” Bland said. “So how can I suddenly go right I want $10 million? It's kind of like getting above your station a little bit.

“Those guys, the DJs and the Brookses and the Brysons, they've been top 10 in the world for probably a decade. Me buzzing around 50th for six, nine months, it's a little different. I was just thankful that they believed in me and gave me the opportunity and hopefully I've repaid that to them.”

The prize money on LIV has sometimes been overlooked in contrast to the nine-figure signing bonuses the likes of Jon Rahm received.

But without winning a tournament, Bland made more than $3.5 million in 2022, another $4.4 million last year and has earned more than $3.5 million this season. The Englishman also won $630,000 for his victory at the Senior PGA and $800,000 for his U.S. Senior Open win.

It would be fun to see Bland attempt to attain a “triple” of sorts by also adding the Senior British Open trophy to his PGA Senior and U.S. Senior Open wins. But the tournament to be played at Carnoustie in three weeks is opposite the LIV Golf England event. Because Bland is contracted to play the 14 scheduled LIV events, there is no avenue for him to withdraw and compete in Scotland.

He returns to LIV Golf this week at the LIV Golf Andalucia event in Spain.

John Henry speaks ... and other notes

Calling it “one of the most unique deals in the history of sports,” John Henry spoke to the Boston Globe—a newspaper he owns—about how his Fenway Sports Group joined forces with other wealthy investors to form the Strategic Sports Group.

“Why do I say that?” Henry said. “You have North American team owners coming together to invest as relatively small shareholders fully aligned with the players and having four seats on this board offering not directions of, ‘This is what we’re going to do,’ but offering counsel, advice, and support for the best way to build this enterprise going forward.”

In January, SSG invested $1.5 billion in PGA Tour Enterprises, with a commitment to double the amount.

In the meantime, negotiations continues with the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia in an attempt to unify the game. Henry, who also owns the Boston Red Sox and Liverpool in the Premier League, is now part of a “transaction committee” that includes Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott that is negotiating directly with the PIF.

“The players have the desire, the Public Investment Fund has the desire, same with the Tour in general—I don’t think there’s anyone in golf that doesn’t want to see (a unification of professional golf) happen,” he said.

And a few more things

The PGA of America is set to announce the U.S. Ryder Cup captain for 2025 on Tuesday, and it is not expected to be Tiger Woods—who has basically been the one and only candidate for the better part of the last six months. The PGA has delayed its decision waiting on an answer. The announcement will take place in New York.

> Davis Thompson, who won the John Deere Classic on Sunday, and C.T. Pan, who tied for second, earned exemptions into the British Open next week. Pan, who tied for second with Michael Thorbjornsen and amateur Luke Clanton, got the spot because of his higher ranking in the OWGR. The Open will also offer three spots to those not otherwise exempt at this week’s Genesis Scottish Open.

> Clanton, who plays at Florida State, was tied for 10th in his PGA Tour debut at the Rocket Mortgage a week ago, making him the first player to post consecutive top-10 finishes in his first two Tour starts since Billy Joe Patton did it at the 1957 U.S. Open and the 1958 Masters, tying for eighth in both events.

> The Open also gave five spots to players who were top five among the DP World Tour Race to Dubai, not otherwise exempt, including LIV reserve Laurie Canter and BMW International tournament winner Ewen Ferguson.

> A big golf stretch now begins. This week sees the Genesis Scottish Open as well as LIV Golf’s return with the LIV Andalucia event in Spain, a popular event last year that will be enhanced with Spain’s Jon Rahm in the field. A week later it’s the British Open at Royal Troon followed by LIV Golf’s England event. Then it’s the Women’s British Open at St. Andrews, which is the same week as the Men’s Olympic Tournament in France.


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Bob Harig

BOB HARIG

Bob Harig is a senior writer covering golf for Sports Illustrated. He has more than 25 years experience on the beat, including 15 at ESPN. Harig is a regular guest on Sirius XM PGA Tour Radio and has written two books, "DRIVE: The Lasting Legacy of Tiger Woods" and "Tiger and Phil: Golf's Most Fascinating Rivalry." He graduated from Indiana University where he earned an Evans Scholarship, named in honor of the great amateur golfer Charles (Chick) Evans Jr. Harig, a former president of the Golf Writers Association of America, lives in Clearwater, Fla.