Can new kid Tame the old course?

Jordan Spieth is relaxed at practice ahead of the British Open. A win will earn him the ranking as the No. 1 golfer in the world. Fans are also hoping for a duel with other young guns like Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson.
Jordan Spieth is relaxed at practice ahead of the British Open. A win will earn him the ranking as the No. 1 golfer in the world. Fans are also hoping for a duel with other young guns like Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson.PHOTO: REUTERS

In-form Spieth, 21, has played only once at St Andrews but pundits say he can get job done

ST ANDREWS (Scotland) • Within minutes of holing out to win the John Deere Classic on Sunday, Jordan Spieth took ownership of the trophy, fulfilled his media commitments and uncharacteristically snubbed a horde of autograph hunters in a mad dash to catch a chartered flight that touched down in Scotland on Monday.

In an ideal world, it is not how golf's rising star would have prepared for his tilt at a third consecutive Major title at The Open, which would move him to within touching distance of an unprecedented Grand Slam.

But if he could remain loyal to the sponsors and organisers of his favourite PGA Tour event, and gain some confidence in the process, who could blame him?

Certainly not anyone at St Andrews on Monday, where news of his triumph the night before compounded the excitement.

No sooner had he arrived than he was out on the course, squeezing in a few holes with Daniel Berger, his fellow American, and having a laugh and a joke in the process.

So much for all the speculation that he should have taken the week off. So much for all the claims that his time would have been better spent playing links golf at the Scottish Open.

Before boarding his plane for the flight across the Atlantic, Spieth was asked if his victory had answered the critics. "I really didn't care anyway," he said. "I came here for a reason. We accomplished that reason, and I certainly have some momentum going into next week."

In the absence of the injured Rory McIlroy, the next few days will be all about Spieth.

Never mind that Tiger Woods, 39, who is at The Open to try and rebuild his career, had insisted on Monday that he "absolutely" could win the tournament.

For many, the focus is surely on the 21-year-old American - the sixth player in history to have won the first two Majors of the year.

Only Woods has won four in a row but even he could not manage it in a calendar year. If Spieth can add The Open to his victories in the Masters and the US Open, he will replace McIlroy as the world No. 1.

The problem for Spieth is that he has played the Old Course only once before, during a visit to the 2011 Walker Cup.

"I absolutely loved it," he said. "I loved the town. I loved the R&A clubhouse. I loved the Himalayas putting green.

"The entire experience of being there for two days was really cool.

"It's just mind-boggling that the golf course can hold the test of time and still host a major championship, centuries and centuries after it was built."

Spieth appreciates the history, but the course itself will be trickier to learn.

He knows it is softer than usual, and that his putting strengths will suit the sprawling greens.

But can he grasp in just over two days the subtle nuances that others have required years to master?

Some players, such as Paul McGinley, the former Ryder Cup captain, have been sceptical but the mood is changing .

Paul Casey said jet lag would be Spieth's only problem. Nick Faldo, whose three Open titles included one at St Andrews, argued that the youngster was uniquely equipped to get the job done.

"Jordan has got this great ability," Faldo said.

"Many people play one practice round with him, and the next day, he'll be talking about the golf course, and they'll have missed everything he's talking about.

"He's got a very high golfing IQ. He takes a lot on board."

With McIlroy laid up on the couch, many hope that Rickie Fowler, fresh from his Scottish Open triumph, will provide golf with the youthful duel it craves.

Another with big ambitions is Dustin Johnson, whose three-putt on the last green of Chambers Bay handed Spieth his US Open title.

A delicious twist of fate has paired Johnson with Spieth in tomorrow's opening round.

Asked yesterday about his rival's chances of pulling off the Grand Slam, Johnson replied: "Well, I'm playing in the next two so we'll have to see."


Day 1: Session 1 (tomorrow, 4pm). Session 2 (tomorrow, 8.30pm) - Singtel TV Ch114 & StarHub Ch208

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 15, 2015, with the headline 'CAN NEW KID TAME THE OLD COURSE?'. Print Edition | Subscribe