Jordan Spieth knows all about pressure. He also knows about the history that awaits him at the PGA Championship.
Surprisingly, he doesn’t think the two are connected.
Spieth understands what’s at stake in the final major championship of the year. A victory would make the 24-year-old Texan only the sixth player — and the youngest by about six months over Tiger Woods — to capture the career Grand Slam.
And he has never felt more at ease.
Maybe that will change when Spieth gets to Quail Hollow Club for the 99th edition of the PGA Championship and the conversation shifts from his British Open victory and that amazing finish at Royal Birkdale to the prospect of owning all four trophies from golf’s biggest events.
“There’s going to be a bunch of buildup and hype around it, and it’s going to be said a lot,” Spieth said. “But it’s almost like if we don’t win . . . we’re free-wheeling. I’m going to play to win. And if it doesn’t go well, then so what?”
Woods was the most recent addition to golf’s most elite group when he won the U.S. Open and British Open in a span of 35 days in 2000.
It took 13 years before anyone else even had the chance, and now there are three candidates. Phil Mickelson picked up the third leg of the career Grand Slam at the 2013 British Open, and Rory McIlroy joined him by winning the claret jug a year later. In both cases, they had to wait until the next year for their opportunity to get the last one — Mickelson at the U.S. Open, McIlroy at the Masters.
Spieth only has to wait three weeks, which is one reason he doesn’t feel anxiety. For him, the pressure was getting to this point.
It was having a three-shot lead going into the final round of the British Open, knowing that everyone was watching to see if he would have a repeat of the 2016 Masters, when he crumbled in a three-hole stretch on the back nine.
“I had to get over some added pressure and fear, which shouldn’t ever happen — fear of what I was going to have to answer and how long I would have to answer,” he said. “It’s annoying more than anything. What’s asked and what’s published is ultimately what the public ends up thinking. And it’s then your reputation to an extent. The only reputation I should care about is first off, what I think of myself. Secondly, what our team thinks. Third, the other guys, my peers. After that, you shouldn’t care.
“But that’s something you have to work on,” he said. “And that’s a crash course out here at the speed we’ve been going through things.”
Spieth surely could draw on his experience from two years ago, when he won the Masters and U.S. Open at age 21 and headed to St. Andrews to pursue the calendar Grand Slam. He missed a playoff by one shot in the British Open.
In both situations, he already had won a major that year.
The same can’t be said for McIlroy and Dustin Johnson.
Johnson never imagined he’d come to the final major without even being in contention for one this year. Before the Masters, he was coming off his third straight victory. Then he slipped down the stairs and wrenched his back, sidelining him on the eve of the Masters. He missed the cut at the U.S. Open. He fell behind early at the British Open.
McIlroy hasn’t won all year, and he split with his caddie after the British Open.
The PGA Championship has the strongest field of all the majors, with 98 out of the top 100 in the world ranking. Martin Kaymer and Scott Piercy are injured.
For now, it’s mostly about one player and his bid for the career Grand Slam. Of the five players who have achieved it — Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen — no one ever won the final leg at the PGA. The only two players lacking the PGA were Tom Watson and Arnold Palmer. They spent the better part of two decades chasing it.
“I believe I’ll have plenty of chances, but it doesn’t have to be this year,” Spieth said. “Getting three legs of it is much harder than getting the last leg — although I’ve never tried to get the last leg, so it’s easy for me to say.”
AT A GLANCE
Dates: Thursday through next Sunday.
Site: Quail Hollow Club, Charlotte, N.C.
Length: 7,600 yards.
Field: 156 players (136 tour pros, 20 club pros).
Prize money: TBA ($10 million in 2016).
Winner’s share: TBA ($1.8 million in 2016).
Defending champion: Jimmy Walker.
Last year: Walker held on for par on the 18th hole at Baltusrol for a 3-under 67 and a one-shot victory over Jason Day. It was the longest final day in 64 years at the PGA Championship because of rain, with Walker
playing 36 holes on Sunday.
Grand Slam: Jordan Spieth can become the sixth and youngest career Grand Slam winner.
Familiar territory: Quail Hollow has hosted a PGA Tour event since 2003.
Noteworthy: Tiger Woods is the only player to win the PGA Championship in back-to-back years since it moved to stroke play in 1958. Woods has done it twice.
Television: Thursday and Friday, noon to 6 p.m., TNT. Saturday, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., TNT; 1 to 6 p.m., Ch. 2. Sunday, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., TNT; 1 to 6 p.m., Ch. 2.