Date: August 08, 2017
Author: Martin Blake

Spieth and the Holy Grail of golf

Martin Blake on the meaning of Jordan Spieth's quest for the career Grand Slam…

Jordan Spieth expects to have 20 or so shots at what he intends doing at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, North Carolina this week.

He's just turned 24 and finds himself on the verge of the achievement that many professional golfers dream of — the fabled career Grand Slam.

His win at the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale last month gives him three of the four modern majors, having won the Masters and the US Open in 2015, and only the PGA Championship remains to be ticked off.

The concept, itself, is interesting.

When Bobby Jones, the lawyer and Atlanta gentleman and one of the finest players to have picked up a club, won all four of the US amateur, US Open, British amateur and Open Championships in his glorious summer of 1930, it kicked off the discussion.

The expression Grand Slam did not even exist as it relates to golf back then, but Jones' feat captured the hearts and minds of America, with 125,000 people greeting him in Atlanta after he won the US Open at Interlachen with a long birdie-putt at the 72nd hole to complete three of the four legs. He had earlier won the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool and the British Amateur at Royal Liverpool, and nearing his retirement from tournament golf, he had the big four in mind.

SEE SPIETH IN ACTION AT THE EMIRATES AUSTRALAN OPEN

A record crowd of 18,000 people turned up at Merion Cricket Club (later changed to Golf Club) in September, 1930, to see if Jones could complete the fourth leg of the challenge. The American had retained his amateur status, and he was the best player in the world, so he strolled to an eight and seven win over Eugene Homans in the final.

It was front page news in America. The New York Times called Jones' performance "the most triumphant journey that any man ever travelled in sport''. Jones' ghost writer, OB Keeler, is credited with the first use of the words Grand Slam in association with the game of golf, and Jones himself did nicely from the trick. He had extracted healthy odds of 50-1 about the prospects with British bookmakers earlier in the year, and pocketed $US60,000.

No one has done it since, and the tournaments that constitute majors in golf have been changed in the game's ad hoc way. At some point, the amateur titles ceased to be considered majors, while the Masters at Augusta National, an invitational tournament, assumed the status of major championship. Hence, the set of four that the modern male players crave is the Masters, the US Open, the Open Championship and the PGA Championship of the United States.

Tiger Woods was among those who came close, winning the last three majors of the 2000 season — the US Open, the Open Championship and the PGA Championship, before taking out the Masters to begin the 2001 season, so that he held all four major titles at the same time. He is the only man other than Jones to achieve this, but it is not a Grand Slam as it was first constituted, because his wins came across two separate calendar years. This is why media outlets called his achievement the 'Tiger Slam', while Woods himself is absolutely convinced that what he did was a Grand Slam.

Ben Hogan might well have repeated Jones' efforts in 1953, having won the Masters and the US Open to start the season and then adding the Open Championship at Carnoustie, but he never had the chance. That is because the date of the PGA Championship at Birmingham, Michigan, overlapped with the Open in Scotland in July.

Realistically, it is a tough ask for any player to win them all in a single year, although Spieth himself won the first two of 2015 before falling  just short at the Open Championship at St Andrews. More manageable is the Career Grand Slam, which Woods completed in 2000 when he won his first Open Championship.

SEE SPIETH IN ACTION AT THE EMIRATES AUSTRALAN OPEN

Five players — all immortals — have won the set of four over their career, headed by Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Gene Sarazen and Ben Hogan along with Woods, but no Australian has come close. David Graham, the adopted Texan who emerged from Riversdale Golf Club in Melbourne, is the only Aussie male to have won more than one of the majors — the 1979 PGA Championship and the 1981 US Open.

The great Karrie Webb won the women's career Grand Slam and has won five different majors, but the women's game insists on adding and subtracting from the list of designated majors to confuse matters. For instance, Webb has not won the Evian Championship, which was added to the list of majors in 2013, since it was designated as a major. But she did win the Evian before it was a major, just as she won the 1995 and 1997 Women's British Opens before that tournament was designated to be a major.

On the male side, a group of 13 players — now including Spieth, the dual Emirates Australian Open champion — have won three of the four legs of the modern Grand Slam. They include some of the all-time greats, such as Tom Watson, whose eight majors never included the PGA title, Arnold Palmer, who also never won the PGA, Walter Hagen, who did not win the Masters, and Sam Snead, who was short of the US Open title.

They also include Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy, who has won the US Open, Open Championships and the PGA but not the Masters. They also include Phil Mickelson, whose only missing link is the US Open, a tournament that he has finished runner-up in a heartbreaking six times.

For Spieth, it is a personal target but a discussion that he would rather not have as he prepares for Quail Hollow. The American was blunt when he said that McIlroy, not him, is the player to watch this week, but he's not fooling anyone. It's a discussion that surrounds only the very best.

THE FIVE WHO HAVE

Tiger Woods (Completed at Open Championship 2000)

Jack Nicklaus (Open Championship 1966)

Gary Player (US Open 1965)

Ben Hogan (Open Championship 1953)

Gene Sarazen  (Masters 1935)