SPRINGFIELD, N.J. — Jordan Spieth hit the reset button after the U.S. Open, a prudent decision to keep from looking in the rearview mirror.
Gone was the burden of trying to repeat 2015 by winning the Masters and U.S. Open in the same year. This was all about looking ahead at two more majors, not so much to salvage the year but the chance to make it another great one. And now, even that is about to end.
Golf, known for its deliberate pace, is on warp speed this year.
“I had said after the U.S. Open it felt like now the second half is starting,” Spieth said. “And all of a sudden, you know, that’s the end of the majors for the year.”
Blame it on Rio.
Golf is back in the Olympics for the first time since 1904, a dozen years before the PGA Championship was held for the first time. To make room on the schedule, the PGA Championship agreed to move up to the final weekend of July ahead of the Rio Games.
That left 11 days between the end of one major and the start of another. From a claret jug to the Wanamaker Trophy with barely enough time to breathe.
“That’s pretty mad,” Graeme McDowell said with a slight grin as he shook his head. “An unusual summer.”
Ready or not, the final major starts Thursday at Baltusrol Golf Club.
This will be the ninth major at Baltusrol, which includes the U.S. Open seven times. Phil Mickelson won at Baltusrol in the 2005 PGA Championship, making birdie on the final hole to claim at the time was his second major.
The PGA Championship has the strongest field of all the majors, and it really stands out in an Olympic year. No one is skipping Baltusrol except for injury, while the Olympics will have only eight of the top 25 in the world.
As for the timing?
The PGA Championship, before it settled into a traditional August date in 1969, used to be all over the calendar. Jack Nicklaus won the 1971 PGA Championship in February when it was held at PGA National in Florida. The PGA was held in December 1929 at Hillcrest Country Club in Los Angeles. Over the years, it has been played in every month except for January, March and April.
What doesn’t change about the 98th edition of the PGA Championship are the stakes. For years, the slogan of the final major was “Glory’s Last Shot,” and that still applies. This is one last chance for players to reshape their outlook on the year, to turn a good season into a great one.
That starts with Spieth, defending champion Jason Day and Rory McIlroy.
They began 2016 as the modern version of the “Big Three” because they had traded turns at No. 1 in the world, they had combined to win five of the previous six majors and there were all in their 20s.
But going into Baltusrol, all three are in danger of being shut out in the majors this year.
Spieth is having a very good year, and he needs reminded of that every now and then. He has won twice, including in his home state of Texas. He was one bad swing away from winning the Masters again. It just feels like a failure compared with last year, when he won two majors and his worst finish was missing the playoff at St. Andrews by one shot. The high expectations created from 2015 are starting to wear on him.
“Had last year not happened I’d be having a lot of positive questions,” he said. “Instead, most of the questions I get are comparing to last year and, therefore, negative. Because it’s not to the same standard. So that’s almost tough to then convince myself that you’re having a good year when nobody else ... even if you guys think it is, the questions I get make me feel like it’s not.”
One major could change the outlook.
Ditto for McIlroy, whose only victory was the Irish Open before a home crowd. McIlroy ended 2014 with two straight majors, and he lost a chunk of last year recovering from an ankle injury. This was going to be the year when he asserted himself, except it hasn’t happened. He missed the cut in the U.S. Open and didn’t finish closer than five shots in the other two. Now imagine him holding the Wanamaker Trophy for the third time. Frustration becomes instant gratification.
“All I can do is keep plugging away,” McIlroy said after he tied for fifth at the British Open, 16 shots behind. “It’s really close. I’m staying positive about it. I feel like good things are happening. If I can drive the ball like I did this week at Baltusrol and sharpen up a few bits and pieces, I think I’ll be right there.”
Day has been No. 1 in the world since March, and his three victories are the most on the PGA Tour. When he won The Players Championship in May, it was his seventh victory in the last 10 months. It has been a very good year. A major makes it a great one.
Any of the major winners this year — Masters champion Danny Willett, U.S. Open champion Dustin Johnson and British Open champion Henrik Stenson — can claim the best year in golf by adding another major.
That all have one thing in common at Baltusrol: It’s their last shot until next spring at Augusta National.