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True To His Word

Jordan Spieth has not played in a tournament since his thrilling victory in the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay three weeks ago.

Spieth of course has won the first two Majors of the year, having captured the Masters in April and is looking to do what nobody else has ever done; to win all four professional Majors in the same calendar year. The Holy Grail of professional golf, the Grand Slam.

Conventional wisdom and the great majority of talking heads on television would have Spieth playing in this week’s Scottish Open. The Scottish Open is the prelude for next week’s third Major, The Open Championship being held at the home of Golf, St. Andrews. Scottish golf, most especially at St. Andrews, is pure “links” golf.

Players have to play an entirely different style than they do in America. Like hitting putts from 120 feet from the pin, and 5 irons into the wind that travel only 130 yards. Links golf is quirky bounces, balls that roll 100 yards, dastardly hidden pot bunkers that can swallow a player whole and wind. Lots of wind.

Convention and the experts say that a player should get acclimated to these conditions, which is why so many of the best players in the game play in Scotland this week.

Jordan Spieth played the John Deere Classic at the TPC Deere Run in the Quad Cities. The tournament has special meaning for Spieth because it was the site of his first professional win 2 years ago. He also played because he had told the tournament’s sponsors and organizers that he would. He was keeping his word when nobody would have blinked if he had decided not to. Who would have thought back in February, when he made his commitments, that he would be chasing his third consecutive Major Championship?

Spieth shot a very pedestrian even par, 71, in Thursday’s first round which left him 8 shots behind leaders, Justin Thomas and Nicholas Thompson.

A second round 7-under par, 64, would vault Spieth to the periphery of contention, but still with a lot of players ahead of him.

Lightning struck in a bottle on Saturday’s third round. Spieth enjoyed one of those rare days on the course where all parts of your game are firing on synthesized cylinders. It all started with a sublime 3 wood approach to two feet on the par-5 second hole setting up an eagle.

Even when Spieth wasn’t flawless he could do no wrong. After pulling his tee shot left into the trees on the par-5 17th hole and laying up to 100 yards for his third shot, Spieth hit what he thought, was a very bad wedge shot. It landed three feet past the cup and spun back into the hole for an eagle-3.

A closing birdie-3 on the last hole gave Spieth a 10-under par, 61, and a 3-day total of 17 under par. Spieth would take a two shot lead into Sunday’s final round over New Zealand’s Danny Lee who played brilliantly to card a 63. Lee broke through for his first win last week at The Greenbrier and seems on the cusp of fulfilling all the enormous potential that he has shown. Spieth’s 61 was his lowest round to date on the PGA Tour.

Sunday proved to be a very different day for Lee and Spieth, who both struggled with their games on the front 9.

Tom Gillis is the antithesis of Spieth and the very definition of the word “journeyman”. Gillis is 46 years old and played in his first PGA Tour event before Spieth was born. In the ensuing 21 years, he has played in 171 PGA Tour events without winning, in addition to having played professionally in 26 countries. Gillis began the final round 4 shots behind Spieth, but his 7-under par, 64 left him alone at the top of the leaderboard at 20 under par.

Lee and Spieth found their grooves again as they played the back 9 and a flurry of birdies by both players tied them with Gillis as they teed off on their final hole. Lee made a bogey-5 on the 18th leaving Spieth and Gillis tied at 20-under and headed to a 2 man playoff.

Gillis and Spieth made good par-4’s on their first playoff hole, the difficult 18th. Playing the closing hole again on the second playoff hole, Gillis hit his drive into the rough while Spieth found the middle of the fairway. Gillis attempted to hit a recovery shot between trees for his second shot but found the water that guards the left-hand side of the green. Spieth played his second to the middle of the green and two putts later had recorded his 4th win of the year and the 5th of his career.

Turns out that keeping his word was the right thing to do after all.