It’s a quick trip this time around for Jordan Spieth, the world No.2 and dual Emirates Australian Open champion.
He flew to Sydney later than he has in prior years and he will jet out quickly after the final putt drops on Sunday afternoon as he heads for the Bahamas and Tiger Woods’ Hero World Challenge event where next week the 14-time Major winner will return to action for the first time since February.
Spieth, meanwhile, has come south of the equator in a bid to claim a third Australian Open crown. The two-week, cross-hemisphere sojourn is calculated if also far-flung. The 24-year-old Texan hasn’t played since the Presidents Cup and is using this break from a regular off-season to assess where his game is – and to continue a trend of making our national championship a springboard to great things the next season.
“I saw what it did after 2014,” Spieth said of his maiden Australian Open victory that led to a double-Major season in 2015. “To be able to travel across the globe and see that your game travels and then to get to a world-class field at this point in the year where I can give myself an off-season after the Presidents or Ryder Cup – to give myself a true rest time and then be able to play in a world-class event at a world-class venue, which we’ve done the past three years – gives me that break but then that competition to figure out anything that I’ve worked on in that six-week period. It’s kind of … I say trial and error. It’s kind of seeing where things are at to make more adjustments as we get into the rest of the season.
“It’s a great time of the year for me to gear things back up and a fantastic event, that I’ve had success at and I’ve seen it propel into the next season. Any time you can travel to a different country, because within the States the longest I ever travel is three hours, so to go any more than that and to have success … I can look at last year and say, ‘Hey, I travelled to the Open Championship and I felt comfortable travelling across the pond,’ just a little bit more, because I’d done it a few more times. So, it actually, certainly I think it benefits in that case too.”
One point of difference this week to his past visits to our Open will be the sidekick walking the fairways beside Spieth. The readily distinguishable and loquacious Michael Greller is back at home after he and his wife recently welcomed their first son into the world. So Cameron McCormick, the Dallas-based Melburnian who is Spieth’s swing coach, will carry the bag this fortnight.
Spieth, for one, is keen to see what difference it makes.
“It will be a good experience for myself and Cameron to finally get some on-course reps and how I’m talking, how the swing holds up,” he said today. “I think it will be really good for us going forward. Cam’s more of: ‘Just shut up and hit it’; ‘Quit taking so long.’ He’s more: reaction, take the club. I’m not sure yet. It will be fun. It will be fun talking through clubs with him.
“Cam has the highest golf IQ of anybody I’ve ever talked to. I’ve learned so much from him over the past 10 years, 11 years and so to be able to kind of have him helping make those decisions is going to be really cool.
“Michael’s really upset not to be here. He’s been texting me daily, asking for pictures … but certainly, he’s where he needs to be right now.”
Whether the same can be said of Spieth’s game after such a lengthy break will be one of the talking points when he takes to the golf course at The Australian tomorrow afternoon at 12:10.
“I feel pretty good. Not much was changed over the off-season,” he says. “My ball-striking was phenomenal last year; it was the best that I’ve ever struck the ball for an entire season. [I’m] trying to improve just a little bit on my driving accuracy and a little bit on the green. From four to 15 feet I just didn’t make as many as I had the previous two years, so just some emphasis on some putting work. But I took a lot of time off, I rested a lot and started to gear it up as we get into this week.”
Winning three Australian Open titles would put the American in the same league as Peter Thomson and Norman von Nida and beyond recent two-time winners such as Aaron Baddeley, Peter Lonard, Robert Allenby, Peter Senior and Greg Chalmers. After that, only luminaries such as Ivo Whitton, Ossie Pickworth, Greg Norman, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player sit ahead of him. Win this week and only a fool would bet against Spieth joining that elite group someday.