Jordan Spieth, the 21-year-old golf phenom, is halfway to the Grand Slam.
No golfer has won the sport’s four majors in the same calendar year since Bobby Jones did it in 1930, in the age before Augusta National became the home of American golf. Tiger Woods’s so-called “Tiger Slam,” when he won the U.S. Open, the Open Championship, PGA Championship, and Masters from 2000–2001, is the closest we’ve had.
But now here comes Spieth, who is to Under Armour what Woods was to Nike, headed down one of golf’s near impossible courses. This past weekend, the Texas boy navigated his way around Chambers Bay, an impossible course for many of the game’s best players, including a fading Woods, to become the first player in a generation to win two majors before turning 22.
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Spieth became the youngest Open champion since Jones in 1923 and the youngest two-major winner since Gene Sarazen in 1922. He’s also the first player to win the first two legs of the Grand Slam since Tiger in 2002, and just the sixth player to stand two wins short of the feat.
Looking ahead to next month’s Open Championship at St. Andrews in Scotland, Spieth is a 6-to-1 favorite to win a third straight major. But if not for the awful collapse of Dustin Johnson, who three-putted on 18 Sunday, Spieth’s quest for a Slam would have died in Washington.
Johnson’s 12-foot putt for eagle would have won him his first major. A birdie would have forced a playoff. Like so many amateur golfers who likely felt as sick as he did after watching the horrific hole, Johnson missed both and ended his weekend one stroke behind Spieth.
Pro athletes can do things most of us only dream about. They can run faster, jump higher, and hit balls significantly further than mortal human amateurs. They have nerves of steel, they are able to block out the distractions of cameras and reporters, and they are compensated handsomely for their blend of mental and physical gifts. But every now and then, the pros can slip, they can mess up, and they can look a lot like us.
Last week, Tampa goalie Ben Bishop, lost control of the puck on a play that led to a Blackhawks goal and moved Chicago one game from winning their third Stanley Cup in six years. Bishop was playing hurt, but his blunder was amplified on an international stage.
Missed field goals in football have cost teams from Buffalo to Atlanta huge games. Errors in baseball, like Bill Buckner’s against the Mets in 1986, forever live in infamy. Own goals in hockey and soccer are traumatic and sometimes dangerous for the man who scores them. Chris Webber’s brain freeze in the Final Four, when he called a timeout Michigan did not have, is stitched in the fabric of sports-blunder history.
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But golf. Golf is a game where we have all been there, done that — the excruciating rounds and murderous holes we’ve all carded along the way. So many of us have been in Johnson’s shoes, standing over a putt that could mean greatness, an eagle, a birdie, or just a great round, only to miss it. And maybe miss it again. Golf history is full of pro players looking just like some of us do on the weekend.
It doesn’t make it any easier to watch Johnson miss those two putts. Or Greg Norman’s meltdown at the 1996 Masters. Or Jean Van de Velde’s choke at the 1999 British Open. Adam Scott’s slip at the 2012 British Open. Phil Mickelson’s double-bogey on 18 at the 2006 U.S. Open. Or Tin Cup’s 12 on 18 at the U.S. Open.
The wild finish at the U.S. Open set up a scenario where any one of four players could have won the tournament, including Branden Grace, who was tied for the lead with three holes to play. But it was Spieth who came out on top. And his quest to win a Grand Slam continues.