Rarely has a 21-year-old had so much on the line as American golfer Jordan Spieth at this week’s 144th British Open beginning Thursday at St. Andrews Golf Course in Scotland. But the pressure doesn’t phase him.
The young phenomenon from Texas is looking to become the second player in history to win the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open in the same year, a feat achieved only by American Ben Hogan in 1953.
By winning the Open, Spieth will be in position to win golf’s Grand Slam; all four major PGA Championship events in one calendar year, something no golfer has accomplished in the modern era.
American stars Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods are the only other ones to win The Masters and U.S. Open in succession since Hogan to have hopes of a Grand Slam, but they were unable to follow up with a win at the British Open. The PGA Championship is the last of the four majors and it is held each year in August.
Now ranked as the world’s No. 2 golfer, Spieth has been winning at a historic pace this season. He became the second youngest winner of the Masters Tournament in Augusta, Georgia, in April and last month the youngest winner of the U.S. Open since Bobby Jones in 1923. He did it by birdieing the final hole to beat fellow American Dustin Johnson in a thrilling contest at Chambers Bay in Washington state.
Spieth also leads the tour in putting average, scoring average and putts per round, skill sets that will be vital in navigating the Old Course’s large, undulating greens.
With a win at the Old Course, Spieth would overtake defending Open Champion, Rory McIlroy from Northern Ireland, and gain the top spot in the World Golf Rankings for the first time in his career.
After beating compatriot Tom Gillis in a Sunday playoff at the John Deere Classic in Illinois, earning his fourth victory of the year, Spieth silenced many of the critics who questioned why he played in the tournament instead of heading overseas early to prepare for St. Andrews, given his lack of experience playing links golf.
“I really didn't care anyways. I came here for a reason, and we accomplished that reason,” he said on Sunday.
Spieth is hoping to repeat history made by another legendary golfer, Tiger Woods. In 2000, Woods was the last player to win four tournaments before entering the British Open. He went on to win the Open that year.
The Old Course
Nestled in the old royal sea-town borough of St. Andrews, Fife, Scotland, the Old Course of St. Andrews is regarded as one of the oldest and most prestigious golf courses in the world. Established in 1552, the Old Course first hosted the Open in 1873 and has long since been a crown jewel for both players and fans.
“There really is nothing that quite compares with an Open Championship at St. Andrews,” wrote two-time Open Champion, Ernie Els of South Africa, in his blog on PGATOUR.COM. “This is where it all started; this is the Home of Golf. When you’re here you breathe in the history and the magic of this place.”
St. Andrews last hosted the Open Championship in 2010 when gale force winds up to 65 kilometers per hour caused play to be suspended for 66 minutes on the second day of play.
The winds also caused backup on the course that day, and some rounds took seven-and-a-half hours. Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa ended up dominating, posting a 16-under-par 272 score, to win his first major championship.
Two-time Open winner at St. Andrews, Tiger Woods, talked about playing experience at the course as a key factor to success.
“It's about understanding how to play the golf course under various winds,” he said. “Having to hit the different shots, shaping shots completely different from one day to the next on the same hole, it does help seeing the golf course under different winds.”
Course conditions on Tuesday were once again soggy and cold, with the greens and fairways staying receptive and soft. These conditions are expected to continue into the weekend.
One of the most shocking announcements in the golf world came last week when world No. 1 Rory McIlroy announced he would not participate in this year’s Open Championship. The defending champion was considered to be a top favorite at the Old Course, but decided to withdraw to heal the ankle he injured when playing soccer with his friends July 4.
2015 Players Champion Rickie Fowler of the United States appears to be hitting his stride at the right time after nailing a clutch birdie putt on Sunday to win the Scottish Open. It was a much needed rebound for the 26-year-old Fowler, who missed the cut at the U.S. Open by a total of nine strokes.
The win helped him rise to No. 5 in the world and has given him confidence for this week.
“It was nice to kind of quickly put [the U.S. Open] behind me. I really felt like at Chambers that I could play that golf course well and just kind of got it going the wrong way,” Fowler said on Tuesday. “But like I said, glad to have the game back where I want it.”
Dustin Johnson’s infamous three-putt collapse on the 18th hole at Chambers Bay last month doesn’t give him much confidence heading into the tournament, but the No. 4 ranked golfer in the world still remains unflinching in his quest to capture his first major. The Old Course’s wide open fairways allow Johnson the opportunity to unleash his long-range game, where he averages 319 yards per drive, the highest average on tour.
Though not considered to be one of the favorites at this year’s Open, Tiger Woods is seeking his third British Championship, and unprecedented third Open at St. Andrews.
The former world No. 1 is now ranked 241st, and is still in the process of reconstructing his swing for the fourth time after his most recent back surgery. Despite his recent challenges, Woods still feels confident in his abilities on the golf course.
"I know some of you guys think I'm buried and done, but I'm still right here in front of you,” said Woods. “I love playing. I love competing, and I love playing these events.”