Mike Purkey: Is Spieth ready to be compared to Nicklaus, Woods?

Jordan Spieth of the United States smiles during a news conference after winning the British Open last week at Royal Birkdale in Southport, England. (AP Photo/Dave Thompson)

The comparisons have been fast and inevitable. Now that Jordan Spieth has won three majors before age 24, he has been included among golf new Big Three – Spieth, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.

Spieth is the second youngest to win three of golf’s four major championships and will attempt to complete the career Grand Slam at the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow. Nicklaus was the youngest and completed the Grand Slam in 1966 at age 26. Woods was 24 years and six months when he collected his Grand Slam major in 2000.

“I’ve answered this question a few times a couple years ago, so I’ll be careful with my answer,” Spieth told the media at the Open Championship. “It’s amazing. I feel blessed to be able to play the game I love, but I don’t think that comparisons are … I don’t compare myself. And I don’t think that they’re appropriate or necessary. So to be in that company, no doubt is absolutely incredible. And I certainly appreciate it. And we work really hard to have that, with that being the goal. Therefore, I enjoy moments like you saying that.

“But I’m very careful as to what that means going forward because what those guys have done has transcended the sport. And in no way, shape or form do I think I’m anywhere near that, whatsoever. So it’s a good start, but there is a long way to go.”

In a very big way, to compare Spieth with Nicklaus and Woods is blatantly unfair, particularly to create similarities with Woods, who dominated the game so completely and set a standard that could be unreachable for this generation of players.

Physically, Spieth and Woods could not be any more different. Woods overpowered the game with his strength and length. Spieth is not the shortest off the tee but he’s not nearly the longest, either.

But they do share traits. Both are outstanding iron players and it’s a toss-up as to who has the best short game. And as great a putter as Spieth is, Tiger was probably a hair’s breadth better. But no more than that.

Woods and Nicklaus had the best minds in the game, by far. But Spieth isn’t far behind. In fact, Spieth is mentally the strongest player of this generation. He is the most dogged and determined of any player in today’s game.

You hear it all the time from coaches in team sports: They want their players to compete on every play. Spieth does that. No matter the odds or the situation he’s facing, he’s completely invested in every single shot.

That’s how he won the Open Championship. After falling almost completely off the rails, he made a bogey at the 13th at Royal Birkdale when he should have easily made a 6 or a 7. He then produced one of the most remarkable stretches in major championship golf, going 5 under over the next four holes to eventually win the title by three strokes.

When Spieth arrives at Quail Hollow, he will find a long, physically demanding course. If he is to win and complete the career Grand Slam, he must improve his driving. At the Open Championship, he hit only 24 of 56 fairways and that won’t lead him to the Wanamaker Trophy at the PGA.

Brutal, thick Bermuda rough will penalize those who are wayward off the tee and that includes Spieth, no matter how good his short game and putting are. He must find a way to get the ball in the short grass if he is to have a chance.

But if the Open Championship proves anything, we are to never underestimate Spieth, no matter where he stands on the leaderboard. He never gives up or gives in. Ever.


2 Replies to “Mike Purkey: Is Spieth ready to be compared to Nicklaus, Woods?”

  1. Great article Mike… I couldn’t agree more about Speith’s grit. I hope he wins the PGA… it would be great for golf…

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