Love and war, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a locked-in Jordan Spieth doubling as Houdini, and the version of him blocking one-foot putts; when discussing the duality of man in the world of golf, one cannot give meaning to the conversation without at least a mention of the Texas rollercoaster.
Ever since traversing through a career valley from 2018-20, when he experienced the lowest of lows for a three-time major champion in his mid-20s, the steady ascension of Spieth back into the spotlight has been on full display. In 2022, Spieth entered the winner's circle for the 13th time in his career when he got the better of Patrick Cantlay in a playoff at the RBC Heritage. Both players' approach shots found the greenside bunker on the first extra hole, and when it was confirmed Cantlay's ball was buried and Spieth's was lying clean, it all but secured his lone title of the year.
That week in Hilton Head, South Carolina, was just a little snippet into Spieth's year -- and, from a broader perspective, his career. It featured everything that makes Jordan Spieth, well, Jordan Spieth: Hole-out bunker shots from impossible angles, chipping out sideways when a persistent Michael Greller urges, missing 1-foot putts (badly, I might add) and making everyone, himself included, believe the tournament is out of his grasp until somehow it is in the palm of his hand.
"You have a lot of events where you feel like you should have won and someone outplays you or makes the putt or something, and a couple times you have one where you feel like you played good but not good enough to win, and I honestly felt like this was that week," Spieth said following his triumph at Harbour Town. "I needed a lot of things to go right. I needed to birdie the 18th then needed some help, got some help, dodged a bunch of bullets coming in and ended up in a one-on-one playoff where my lie in the bunker, although not great, was certainly better than Patrick's. Yeah, it's a bit of a surprise."
The rest of Spieth's regular season was relatively less surprising. He followed his victory with a runner-up performance to K.H. Lee at the Byron Nelson in his next start before capturing top-10 finishes at the Charles Schwab Challenge, Scottish Open and The Open to round out his year.
A strong final round at the Tour Championship propelled Spieth into the 2022 Presidents Cup at Quail Hollow as the most experienced member of the U.S. Team in a blink of an eye, and the golden boy-turned-man led by example. Garnering a 5-0-0 record in North Carolina, Spieth was perfect alongside Justin Thomas before capturing the first singles victory of his career between the Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup.
"I think I just used my example in here of the 2014 Ryder Cup and the 2015 season," Spieth said on leveraging his Presidents Cup performance for the 2023 season. "I thought Scottie [Scheffler's] last year into this year, I don't want to put words into his mouth, but I thought he could probably draw on the experiences of last year's Ryder Cup into his season this season ...
"For me, yeah, I'm really excited about the week that was this week," Spieth continued. "I thought that I played some of my best golf of the year this week, which was really cool to do it with and for -- you know, as a team with these guys ... there's a lot I can draw on for next year."
Despite this climb, there is still a ways to go to for him to return to his 2015 peak when he won the Masters, U.S. Open and Tour Championship. That begs the question: What should we expect Spieth's 2023 to look like? Is one win, a strong team performance and a potential run at a major championship the new baseline from which we should define success for him? It is worth pondering how much staying power this new baseline may truly have.
The romantic -- and maybe even the agent of chaos -- in me believes there's more to be had. The talent pool on the PGA Tour has never been deeper. The accolades mentioned above do make for a fantastic season in this era. Yet, for a magician like Spieth who can wave his wand awkwardly on rehearsal and effortlessly just moments later, you can't help but let your mind drift towards the unimaginable.
This season, the PGA Tour will unveil a new schedule which Spieth will very much be a part of after finishing third in the 2022 Player Impact Program behind only Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. Playing in 13 elevated events that will feature the best talent on the circuit, four major championships and a handful of other tournaments, winning has suddenly become even more difficult.
Never an afterthought at Augusta, and proving to be one of the great links golf players of his time, Spieth's name on the first page of a major championship leaderboard is expected at least once a year regardless of form. When the PGA Tour travels to the state of Texas, the same presence will be assumed from the former Longhorn.
Perhaps this leads to his first multiple-win season since 2017. Perhaps he is without new hardware as he was the three years following. Maybe his name jumps next to four-time major champions like McIlroy, Brooks Koepka, Ernie Els and Raymond Floyd. Maybe he does one better and joins the ranks of Seve Ballesteros and Byron Nelson.
On paper, accomplishing in 2023 what he did in 2022 would merit calling the season a success. However, golf isn't played on paper, and the projection of Spieth's next 365 days doesn't belong on it either.