Haven, Wis. – Whistling Straits can take away your breath, if not your resolve.
The vistas are at once intimidating and beautiful. To walk from the first tee to the first green is to see rough and hazards remindful of many major championships, and then a view unique to Midwest golf: a treacherous course abutting turquoise waters allegedly belonging to Lake Michigan but more likely transported from the Caribbean.
Because of its length and difficulty, popular sentiment holds that Whistling Straits, which will play at 7,501 yards during the PGA Championship this week, will reward the long hitter. That line of thinking has been popular for decades, starting when Jack Nicklaus began overpowering courses and continuing when Tiger Woods prompted the invention of the silly phrase “Tiger-proofing.’’
What the golf world has learned this year is that you can’t Spieth-proof a golf course, unless you’re willing to stick corks in the holes, or ban short putters.
This season has become a celebration of the extraordinary average golfer.
Jordan Spieth, who turned 22 on July 27, won the first two majors of the year. Zach Johnson, who is 39, won the third.
Spieth’s drives offer plenty of length, but he does not, unlike Nicklaus and Woods in their primes, defy physics or alter golf-course design. Spieth and Zach Johnson can’t compete with Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy or Bubba Watson in terms of distance or creativity. Johnson is one of the slightest and shortest-hitting of the world’s best players.
Spieth and Johnson have won two majors each. They are expected to be chronological bookends of the U.S. team that will compete at Hazeltine National in the 2016 Ryder Cup. And Spieth may be the youngest champion golfer ever to evoke the phrase “old-school.’’
He hits it straight, avoids trouble, manages his game intelligently, and makes putts. While 21, he won two majors because of nerve and maturity. That simple yet rare formula has made him perhaps even more precocious than Woods.
In Woods’ first 10 majors, he won one and finished in the top five four times.
In Spieth’s first 10 majors, he won two and finished in the top five four times.
Woods became known for the Tiger Slam — winning four straight majors, although not all in the same year.
Spieth is seeking the American Slam — victories at the Masters, the U.S. Open and the PGA in the same year.
No golfer has ever completed a modern, single-season Grand Slam. Bobby Jones earned the only Grand Slam on record, when amateur tournaments in the U.S. and United Kingdom were considered majors.
No golfer has ever won the American Slam. A victory this week would make Spieth the first, at the age of 22. Only two golfers have won three of the majors in the current lineup in the same year — Woods and Ben Hogan, a famous Texan whom Spieth, a native of Dallas, became aware of early in life and yet not that long ago.
“I must have been 12 or 13 years old,’’ Spieth said. “They have a Ben Hogan Junior Invitational, so they take you through a history and I’ve read about Ben Hogan’s history. … It’s inspiring.’’
Spieth is trying to become third-youngest player to win three majors in one year, and the other two played in the dead-ball era: Old Tom Morris and Gene Sarazen.
His maturity and competitiveness come through conversation.
Wednesday, during news conferences, McIlroy discussed his injured ankle and admitted he didn’t mind missing the British Open. Spieth minded missing the playoff.
“I certainly have a chip on my shoulder after that major that I’m wanting to get off,’’ Spieth said. “This week I’m looking to try to get myself into that position again and see if I can improve on it.’’
Spieth entered the year with the goal of making the cut in all four majors, and winning one.
He’s come close to winning three. Satisfied?
“I still haven’t accomplished that goal set at the beginning of the year,’’ he said. “I said I wanted to make the cut in all the majors. I haven’t done that.’’
The kid is giving his generation a good name.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MalePatternPodcasts.com.
On Twitter: @SouhanStrib.