I'm not sure what I expected to see after Jordan Spieth missed the cut at the 2016 Players Championship by a single stroke, this coming on the heels of a 41 on the back nine at Augusta as he lost the Masters by three to Danny Willett. The takes, as is usually the case in this immediate-take world we've constructed for ourselves, were hotter than Brendon de Jonge in long sleeves at a mid-June U.S. Open.
"Kid needs to stop whining at his caddie."
"He's lost the fire IMO."
"Maybe he should bang balls on the range instead of dousing himself in Casamigos on spring break."
The reality is that Spieth this season hasn't been that much different than Spieth last season. You know, the season when he nearly won the grand slam and took home $23M. Through The Players Championship in 2015, his average finish at tournaments was 9.5. He had two wins (Valspar Championship and Masters) and two missed cuts (Torrey Pines and Sawgrass).
This year, Spieth's average finish in tournaments is 10.2. He has one win (Tournament of Champions) and two missed cuts (Riviera and Sawgrass). So why all the consternation? Spieth shot 75-72 here last season and went on to one of the all time great non-Tiger seasons in American golf history.
"No one ever wants to think that they can't match what they have done the previous year," said Spieth after his round. "You believe that you can get better all the time. And I believe that I can be a better player this year than I was last year. But in the off days I just need to do a little bit better job of being positive with myself and smiling a bit more. Having a bit more fun."
Spieth blamed his putting for the MC this week at Sawgrass.
"I just didn't putt well," said Spieth. "If I putted like I putted at the Masters, I would be at 10 or 12 under right now. I just had an off week with the flat stick."
But his putting overall is pretty similar to last year.
Jordan Spieth's strokes gained: putting figures:— Sean Martin (@PGATOURSMartin) May 14, 2016
This week: -1.23 per round
This season: +0.54
Last season: +0.57
Heck, his ball-striking (which often looks wayward) isn't that far off either. He gained 1.54 strokes per round last year from tee to green. He's at 1.24 this season.
The problem, as usual, is Tiger Woods. Tiger (and Jack Nicklaus to an extent) made us believe that legendarily great play was commonplace, that every great American golfer thereafter would continue holding that mantle, that every future American would be one of the two greatest players ever. We have 40 years worth of recent history saying that's the case.
But that's just not a reality, not when you're dealing with potentially the all-time greatest Australian golfer (Jason Day) and possibly the greatest European (Rory McIlroy), too.
"It's tough when you're getting shellacked by 15 shots in the same group, you know?" said Spieth of playing partner Jason Day (who actually beat him by 14). "When someone's birdieing almost every single hole, every other hole, you start to wonder why in the world you aren't making any of them. A lot of times it's good to play with if you can feed off of it. But for me it was tough this week without my putting being on. It just led to a lack of patience for me seeing every hole being birdied and not being able to do much about it."
If you're worried about Jordan Spieth's future in golf, you should probably take Rory McIlroy's advice. "Just because he hasn't won in five events or six events; he's 22 years old, he's a double major champion," McIlroy told The Guardian before the Match Play Championship in March. "He has more money than he's ever going to need. I think he's going to be OK. ... Jordan Spieth will be just fine, I can tell you that."
Spieth has a win, a second, four top 10s and eight top 25s this season in 10 events.
It's the second week in May.
He has three majors out in front of him and is a single par 3 at Augusta National from having won three straight Masters. It's fair that Spieth gets the microscope, too. He holds the American belt as "best golfer alive," and he's the first person to really be able to say that in the sort of post-Tiger era.
But let's not project 20 years worth of Spieth championships and future major titles off of one week or even a month. Don't let the lingering past of Tiger's greatness keep you from appreciating and enjoying the future pelts slain and hung on the wall of Spieth's Augusta-themed home.
He's going to put on a show for another dozen years (or more), and one swing, one hole, one tournament and one week can't do anything to change that.