If Jordan Spieth is going to hit for the Grand Slam this weekend in Charlotte at the PGA Championship, he needed to make sure not to strike out on Thursday.
As the old golf saying goes, you cannot win a golf tournament on the first day, but you sure can lose it. Spieth seemed to be in some danger of doing just that Thursday. He was 3 over par after 15 holes at Quail Hollow Club while being watched by a large gallery that included his friend Michael Phelps, the Olympic swimmer and shark racer.
But Spieth salvaged a respectable round with birdies on two of his final three holes – Nos. 7 and 8, since he played the back nine first -- which put him at 1-over 72. It wasn’t a strikeout, exactly. It was more like Spieth kept fouling pitches off, with the ultimate result of this at-bat still to be determined.
The problem wasn’t Spieth’s driving. Instead, the 24-year-old who already has won three of golf’s four majors, just didn’t putt well.
“It seemed like the lid was on today,” Spieth said. “I burned a lot of edges. Some were good putts, some weren't. ...I can't putt any worse than I did today.”
Spieth was visibly annoyed several times during his round.
“When I had the chances that I had and I just couldn't get the ball to go in on the greens,” he said, “that is when I get the most frustrated I can get out there.”
As for his driver, though, the world’s No.2-ranked golfer found no flaws.
“I was really pleased,” Spieth said. “If you told me I was going to hit my driver the way that I did today, I would have definitely thought I shot a few under par, which was an awesome score.”
Spieth will probably have a couple of decades to try to win the PGA and complete the career Grand Slam, which only five other players have done. But this weekend at Quail Hollow will be Spieth’s only shot at becoming the youngest player to ever do it. Tiger Woods was about six months older than Spieth is now when Tiger completed his own career grand slam at age 24.
Spieth insists that he feels no pressure from the weight of expectations, but he certainly did not play his best golf Thursday. He had hoped to lead wire to wire, as he did at the 2015 Masters.
“Historically, I'm pretty solid with the lead,” Spieth said after his round. “So that was kind of the goal -- to grab the lead. It's much easier when you are on the front page of the leader board than it is coming from behind. Given it's the first round, I know I'm still in it.
“But I know that (Friday’s) round becomes that much more important. ...If I'm five back at the start of the day, I've got to be less than five back after Friday to really feel like I can play the way this golf course needs to be played and still be able to win.”
Brooks Koepka, himself a major winner and also one of Spieth’s playing partners Thursday, agreed that Spieth’s putter was the culprit for his mediocre round.
“I thought Jordan played OK,” Koepka said. “He didn't make as many putts as he usually does. I feel like that 15- to 20-foot range, (you) usually see him make a bunch of putts. He just didn't make any.”
Spieth’s second round begins Friday at 1:35 p.m.
He just hopes his putter doesn’t take the day off again.