Jordan Spieth did not write golf history this weekend by winning the PGA Championship and completing a career Grand Slam a month after turning 24. With all eyes in the golf world on Spieth as he made the rounds at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, N.C., the second-ranked cool Texan demonstrated what every PGA Tour pro, club pro, scratch amateur or weekend hacker knows. Golf can be a maddening, frustrating and difficult game.
On Thursday Spieth bogeyed three of his first six holes, made the turn at 1-over par and finished that way. On Friday he had three bogeys and only one birdie, for a 2-over 73. On Saturday a double-bogey 6 on the 18th left him with an even-par 71. He and nine other players were tied for 37th at 3-over 216. On Sunday he finally broke par with a 1-under 70 despite a double bogey on No. 7 and finished the tournament 2-over par and tied for 29th.
Not the performance the 2015 Masters and U.S. Open champion and 2017 British Open winner envisioned. Errant drives into the straw or bunkers, botched recovery shots across the fairway or into the water and too many missed putts plagued his game. We duffers can relate, right?
Think of all of the things you have to do, even before you get to the first tee. You should arrive early, stretch, hit a few balls on the practice range, relax and visualize long, straight shots.
Usually you leave just enough time to get to the course, change shoes, grab a scorecard, drop two or three balls on the putting green and miss three-footers for a minute.
On the tee, you must run through your checklist. Driver or 3-wood. Tee the ball high enough. Pick a target and line up correctly. Hold the club so the V formed by our interlocked or overlapped hands points to your shoulder. Grip the club softly. Start the backswing with a slow takeaway. Keep our head down. Remember the shoulder turn. Swing through the ball nice and easy; no need to kill it. Transfer weight to the front foot. Follow through, face the target, watch the ball sail long and straight and land in the middle of the fairway.
You know the most frustrating thing about golf is that the ball doesn’t move, and so many things can still go wrong. An improper grip or an outside-in swing will produce a slice. Shanking the ball off the toe or heel of the club will mean trouble. Swinging too hard and opening up too soon will result in a vicious ground ball. Teeing it up too high will mean a pop up.
Once off the tee, a whole new world of adventure awaits. If you are good or lucky, your ball is on the manicured fairway. If you’re like most weekend golfers, or unlucky, your ball is in the rough. Or the trees. Or the sand. Or the water. You have to mount a search mission to find it, select a club to get you out of trouble, go through the checklist again and pray.
Eventually, you get to the green where more danger lurks. What’s the distance to the hole? Uphill, downhill or sidehill lie? Is the green fast or slow? Is the putt with or against the grain? Should you crouch and “read the green” even though you might as well be reading Mandarin?
Finally, you stand over your ball, look back and forth until you can’t put off the inevitable any longer, tap the ball and pray. If you’re good, or lucky, you’ll hear the satisfying plunk of the ball dropping into the hole. If your ball stops two or three feet from the hole and your playing partner is kind, you’ll hear “That’s good.” If you have to putt out, you’ll hear yourself saying “Seven” when asked for your score.
Then, because you decided to play golf, you get to do it all over again 17 times. Why? Because some genius long ago decided that a round of golf should be 18 holes. And because golf is seductive. You can swing 100 times, and you will make one or two shots that any pro would take. Like a chip from a sidehill lie in the rough beside a bunker that rolls too fast across the green but directly at the hole, hits the pin and drops in for a par 5. Or a 15-foot putt that breaks just right and falls for a par 4. That’s when you feel like Jordan Spieth. And you know that when Spieth struggles as he did this weekend with missed putts, he feels like you.