PGA Championship 2020: Jordan Spieth again attempts to join rare company with career grand slam

When it comes to the career grand slam in golf, the names that are most often discussed are Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson. Those two have famously (infamously?) not completed the career slam. McIlroy because he shot a final round 80 at the 2011 Masters. Mickelson because he’s lost U.S. Opens every feasible way you could lose U.S. Opens.

They’re trying to join Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Gene Sarazen and Tiger Woods on the list of golfers who have won all four major championships. Neither will have a shot this week, though both will have opportunities later this year. 

The player who does have a shot this week, who we conversely almost never talk about when it comes to the career grand slam, is Jordan Spieth. The winner of the 2015 Masters, 2015 U.S. Open and 2017 Open Championship has put together a more subtle run because he’s never really contended at a PGA Championship like McIlroy and Mickelson have at the majors that currently elude them.

Nevertheless, history is still on the table this week at TPC Harding Park.

Spieth actually had one of his best-ever PGA Championship performances last season at Bethpage Black. He was in the final pairing with Brooks Koepka on Saturday in Round 3 before sliding a bit to a T3 finish at the end of the week. He never really contended because Koepka was lapping the field, but he at least got a taste. Spieth also finished solo second in 2015 when he was beaten by only four golfers at the four major championships.

This year, he’s coming into TPC Harding Park off two solid performances (given how he’s played over the last three years) as he finished T13 at the Memorial Tournament and T30 at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational. His iron play is trending in the right direction, although the driver still leaves a lot to be desired. That could be the downfall this week. Nobody in the field will be able to out-putt a poor driving performance at a “meaty” (Spieth’s words) place like this. 

There is, of course, a chance Spieth awakens the echoes and unsheaths a classic Spieth-ian performance from tee to green. And while it’s not cool to admit that your mind is on the thing it should probably not be on, Spieth was honest this week about how he feels about the slam. 

“[It’s been on my mind] about as much as it’s been since I won The Open Championship, I guess,” he said. “It’s something that I really want. It’s probably the No. 1 goal in the game of golf for me right now is to try and capture that. I’d love to be able to hold all four trophies, and this is the one that comes in the way right now. Between this event, the Players, those are kind of the two events that I haven’t won that are the two that I really would like to.”

All three of his other major wins have come amid massive crowds who came to see the thing he delivered in those two weeks in 2015 and one week in 2017. However, in an interesting sidebar to his quest in San Francisco, this week’s PGA Championship won’t have spectators at all. Just golfers, caddies and essential personnel. I suspect that, just as the Memorial Tournament a few weeks ago felt major-like over the final nine holes, this one will as well — no matter who’s tuning in.

Given how little we discuss Spieth’s grand slam bid, wouldn’t it be fitting if his cliching performance came at an event without any fans at all to acknowledge the moment?

“It’s going to be odd playing a major championship without fans,” said Spieth. “Nobody wanted this, but we’d rather be playing it than not, and I think overall, if anything, it just brings an extra comfort level to everybody that you’re normally trying to get over as you get going into a major championship. You’re trying to kind of quiet those nerves down, but I don’t really think, at least starting out, that we’ll have the same experience, feel the same way as we normally do. 

“But I think Saturday and Sunday you’ll start to really kick it back in and feel like a major no matter what because you’re still trying to beat the best players in the world.”

Spieth is trying to beat the best players in the world and join the best players of all time. Here’s where each of the five men to pull off the career slam did so.

  • Ben Hogan — 1953 Open Championship
  • Jack Nicklaus — 1966 Open Championship
  • Gary Player — 1965 U.S. Open
  • Gene Sarazen — 1935 Masters
  • Tiger Woods — 2000 Open Championship

He has plenty of career left to accomplish the mission, or he will join the eight others who came and went without ever picking up the career slam.

The PGA Championship is the only one of the four majors that has yet to experience a player winning the career slam at its tournament. Spieth (and only Spieth) can change that either this year at TPC Harding Park or next year at Kiawah Island. 

The odds are that he won’t get it done, but Spieth — over the course of his career — has often lived at the intersection marked “unlikely” on one side and “historic” on the other. If he closes the slam this weekend in San Francisco, this one would certainly be the unlikeliest and most historic one of them all.


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