Daniel Berger's reaction toon Sunday at the Travelers Championship was telling. Berger had just been waylaid by one of the great shots of Spieth's life in the first hole of a playoff.
"He hit an unbelievable bunker shot, and Jordan does Jordan things," said Berger.
Spieth's 10th PGA Tour win looked similar to his first win four years ago. In that event, the hole-out was much luckier and much more important. Spieth was looking to wrap up full-time PGA Tour status. He pumped one in on the final hole of regulation to get into a playoff which he won on the 5th hole.
Jordan does Jordan things.
It is cliche to shower an athlete with superlatives soon after an historic moment like we witnessed on Sunday at the suddenly-reinvigorated Travelers Championship. It is silly to tie weighty declarations to PGA Tour pros based on one round or one shot. But when you widen the scope on Spieth, you see a shot on Sunday that was emblematic of his season, his career to this point and his future.
Spieth does not have the prettiest swing or the most pop or the best bedside manner. His sometimes-slappy stroke often prohibits him from being included in the conversation with the best golfers of this (or any) generation. He can come across as whiny (at best) and petulant (at worst) on camera. He exists in his own world while playing competitive rounds on the PGA Tour, which creates a prism through which he is often misinterpreted. His art is very much internal, but he is stuck in an external business.
If the top 20 golfers in the Official World Golf Rankings were all lined up on the driving range and you were strolling back and forth, you would not stop behind Spieth to watch him hit. You would definitely come to a halt behind Dustin Johnson and his physics-assaulting move. You would probably at least pause behind Rickie Fowler and Sergio Garcia to appreciate the impossible trajectories on which their golf balls travel.
You would at least side eye Adam Scott, Jon Rahm, Henrik Stenson, Jason Day and Justin Thomas. You would probably end up spending the most time watching Rory McIlroy and his knee-weakening sounds. "Rory's shots make the best noise, more flush even than Tiger's at his best,". You might notice Jordan Spieth because he's Jordan Spieth, but you wouldn't linger for the show.
In an era in which the curmudgeons of golf complain that there are too many golfers built in swing factories and nobody knows how to actually play the sport, Spieth satiates the sensibilities of well-meaning but sometimes misguided analysts who long for yesteryear. He is a facsimile of a champion from the 1960s or 1970s when golf was less about swing speed and putter devices and more about getting buckets.
Jordan Spieth, for everything that is critiqued about him, his game and his mannerisms, gets some damn buckets.
This is not the only reason he is great, mind you. The whole being No. 1 in strokes gained on approach shots thing is useful as well. But Sunday's playoff hole at TPC at River Highlands against Berger was a microcosm for Spieth's career. He hit a trashy drive (Spieth is No. 114 on the PGA Tour in strokes gained driving) and it hit a tree. He hit a long iron into the front bunker and then made the thing. A three-act play, and only one of them was critically acclaimed.
Spieth is not a generationally-great swinger of the golf club, but now he's halfway to a lifetime PGA Tour card (20 wins) just 47 months after not even having full-time status -- all because he scores and he scores and he scores and he keeps scoring and he never stops scoring. He is always, in every way fathomable, intent on putting his Titleist in little white cups all over the world. This is both empirically and statistically evident.
Spieth scores early (No. 8 this year in Round 1 scoring), late (No. 5 in Round 4 scoring), often (No. 2 in eagles/birdie percentage), when he's down (No. 4 in bounce back), on both sides (No. 1 on front nine, No. 3 on back nine) and better than anyone else on the PGA Tour in 2017 (No. 1 in actual scoring average).
That doesn't mean he's going to win every week or even as much as you think, but it does help explain how he wins and why it happens so often (10 times in his first 120 PGA Tour events as an amateur and professional). Spieth is in position to win tournaments because his average proximity to the hole on approach shots this year is 32 feet, 11 inches, which is No. 2 on the PGA Tour. He closes out tournaments because he makes putts and chips and bunker shots that he has no business making. Tiger Woods, he is not, but there's a bit of that Tiger sleight of hand working beneath the Under Armour veneer.
We saw it on the 70th hole at Chambers Bay when he made a big boy birdie to help him win the 2015 U.S. Open. We saw it on the 71st hole at the Dean & DeLuca Invitational when he chipped in for his only win in the Lone Star State. And we saw it on the 73rd hole in Connecticut on Sunday.
This is intoxicating, must-see television, but it's also infuriating for those competing with Spieth. I walked with Spieth and McIlroy for 18 holes in the final group of the third round of the 2016 Masters (that Spieth went on to infamously lose on Sunday). It was a chilly, blustery day in which one golfer cracked 70. McIlroy shot 77. Spieth somehow pieced together a 73 with, like, his D- game. I'll never forget what McIlroy said after that round.
"I turned around on, after 15, I said, 'How the hell is he 2‑under par today?'" said McIlroy. "But it's his most impressive asset, it's his most impressive ‑‑ and as much as it could be annoying to his competitors, it's very, very impressive.
"I think that the guys that are out there that are playing that golf course today, we're the ones that appreciate that the most. And as much as it does dishearten you seeing those putts lip in, you got to take your hat off to him, because he is such a grinder and such a battler and he always sticks in there."
This, above anything else, is why Spieth is tracking to have a Phil Mickelson-like career. He is probably an overrated putter, an underrated iron player and possibly one of the great magicians of the last quarter century.
"If I was in Berger's shoes, I'd be cursing Jordan Spieth right now for the break off the tee and then holing a 30-yard bunker shot," said Spieth on Sunday. "But I took advantage of the good breaks and [am] happy to come out on top. We played great. The putter let me down today, but all in all this is a huge victory for us in the middle of the season as we go into this second half of the major season."
"I played great today, so I'm not going to be too upset," responded Berger. "Obviously, I wanted to win, just kind of speechless right now."
We all are.
The genius of Jordan Spieth is not dissimilar from that of Kyrie Irving, another preeminent bucket-getter. The Cavs superstar point guard scores like few in the world can without being an elite 3-point shooter (No. 30 of active players) and without the aid of a freakishly unguardable body like teammate LeBron James or Kevin Durant.
Irving is disciplined with his footwork, impossibly quick off the dribble and puts himself in position to score. And then he just ... scores. Over and over and over again. Without discrimination. On all types of defenders and in every way possible. Because he puts himself in a position to score often, sometimes he'll be in a position to do something truly spectacular (like hit a NBA title-winning 3-pointer). Something you talk about with your friends for weeks.
Spieth is much of the same. He does the boring stuff and doesn't normally take himself out of tournaments. Because of this, he's often around at the end with a shot at the tournament. It's true that Spieth is a tremendous scorer, but it's also true that he's in a position to score when it truly means something down the stretch of an event more often than most. Lots of golfers could have holed that bunker shot. Not a lot could do what it took the 72 previous holes to be in a position to hole that shot. Combine that consistency with a Texas-sized confidence and his stubborn, willful hands wrapped around the neck of a wedge or a putter and you get a lot of special golf.
Spieth will never hit it like D.J. or Rory nor possess an inscrutable short game like Phil. He'll never be the guy who gets the eyes of everyone within earshot on the range. But he'll keep winning because he keeps scoring. Spieth is disciplined with his short game, impossibly accurate with his irons and almost always in contention because puts himself in position to score. And then he just ... scores. Over and over and over again.
The end of the Travelers Championship was a reminder that nobody gets buckets like Jordan Spieth.