Jordan Spieth emulates Arnold Palmer at St Andrews
One of the greatest achievements in professional golf was, tantalizingly, only just out of reach for Jordan Spieth, as it was for Arnold Palmer 55 years before.
In attempting to become the first golfer since Ben Hogan in 1953 to win the first three majors of the season at the 2015 [British] Open, and after 72 holes of golf over five days at St Andrews, Spieth finished a shot shy of the playoff to decide the championship, before Zach Johnson won after four extra holes.
In 1960, Palmer arrived harbouring the same ambition as Spieth. Palmer had won the Masters and U.S. Open that year, and came to St Andrews to make his [British] Open debut, telling reporters how he believed a modern Grand Slam could comprise the Masters, U.S. Open, [British] Open and PGA Championship. The idea stuck, but so did Palmer’s challenge, as final-round charge left his four-round score a shot off Australian Kel Nagle’s winning total. A shot off the playoff at St Andrews in a chase for the Grand Slam, just like Spieth.
“Although I came in wanting to be two shots better… I’m very pleased with the way we battled,” said Spieth at St Andrews, who finished a career-best tied-fourth in his third [British] Open. “I have made a lot of right decisions down the stretch to close out plenty of tournaments, and this just wasn’t one of those. It’s hard to get it right every single time. I won’t beat myself up too bad because I do understand that.”
Despite being 21, Spieth’s maturity and analytical clarity are striking, and his positive thinking is hard-wired. Minutes after coming so close to clinching the [British] Open at the Home of Golf, Spieth was already looking ahead to the fourth and final major of the year, the PGA Championship next month at Whistling Straits, Wisconsin.
“I’m sure there have only been a few guys who have won three majors in one year,” said Spieth. “My sights are now set on the PGA Championship.”
Spieth could yet make history in the [British] Open if he can sustain the parallels with Palmer’s career. Having lost out in 1960, Palmer returned in 1961 and won the Claret Jug at Royal Birkdale, before successfully defending his title at Royal Troon in 1962.
There remains a buzz surrounding Spieth and a career that has flourished so fast. It will likely be a short time before he succeeds the injured Rory McIlroy as world No. 1, and judging by what Spieth has already achieved – having just turned 22 – the possibilities seem boundless.