No matter what the indefinable and elusive sporting quality of “it” might actually be, it is clear Jordan Spieth has it, gets it and owns it. Two days before making his third successive appearance at the Emirates Australian Open – record so far: first and second – the 23-year old Texan once again displayed the impressive level of maturity that sets him apart both on and off the course.
Okay, so his pre-championship press conference at Royal Sydney wasn’t exactly the toughest interrogation of his still young life, but the two-time major champion is not one for taking the easy path when answering even the most innocuous enquiry. Each response receives the same level of thoughtfulness and care. Glib he is not, even after a six-week break that has apparently included a modification in his full-swing technique and following the excesses of the US’s first Ryder Cup victory in eight years.
“I want to clarify, it’s not a new swing whatsoever,” he said. “It’s just progress through the backswing. I’m working on the same things I was doing the second half of 2015. Those were my best ball striking weeks, the second half of 15, which was after the Masters and US Open. I hit the ball much better the second half of the year.”
Amidst such deep and meaningful chat, there was also time for a little gentle humour. Asked if his 2016 season was a little disappointing after a 2015 former Australian Open champion Geoff Ogilvy calls “one of the two or three greatest years in the history of the game,” Spieth was moved to point out how perceptions can change quickly.
“I thought this was a good year,” he said with a smile. “We actually had three wins. The Ryder Cup was definitely a win for us. I think 2014 was similar to 16. Funny, then everyone told me it was a great year, but 2016 was much better than 2014, and now you feel like it’s not.”
This, of course, is a familiar theme. Back in July at the Open Championship, Spieth was singing a similar tune.
“Everyone goes through peaks and valleys,” he said then. “I've still won twice and finished second in a major. If that's a valley, then it’s going to be a lot of fun when we get back up to a peak. No offence, but you guys (the media) have made me feel like it’s a valley.”
It is also safe to say that his peers are no less impressed by Spieth now than they were 18 months ago when he was claiming those two successive Grand Slam titles at Augusta National and Chambers Bay. Spieth’s game may not have the same “smash it” quality routinely displayed by the likes of Jason Day, Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson, but there is an intelligence to his play that sets him apart as much as a 350-yard drive.
"You can always learn a lot, the way Jordan gets around a course,” says Ogilvy, who, along with US Amateur champion Curtis Luck, will partner Spieth in the opening two rounds here. “More than anyone, he seems to always sign for one or two (shots) less than you think he maybe should have. Every day. That's always the sign of a great player. Tiger was like that; he always seemed to sign for five less than he should have. Jordan's one of those guys who gets the best out of his round almost every time you play with him. That's something we can all observe and get something out of.”