Spieth hopes to ace history exam

Jordan Spieth is on the cusp of history, and what better place to try to achieve it than the hallowed Old Course at St. Andrews.

The 21-year-old Texan, who claimed his first two major titles in recent months at the Masters and U.S. Open, plays this week in the 144th Open Championship, trying to join Ben Hogan (1953) as the only players in the modern era to win the first three Grand Slam events in one season.

A tall order to be sure, but there probably isn’t anybody who at the beginning of the year picked Spieth to win at Augusta and Chambers Bay.

If Spieth wins at St. Andrews, he would head to the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits next month trying to become the first player since the founding of the Masters to claim a calendar year Grand Slam.

“I think it’s in the realm of possibility,” said Spieth at Chambers Bay after becoming the youngest U.S. Open winner champion Bobby Jones in 1923.

“(But) I’m just focused on the Claret Jug (and the Open Championship) now. The Grand Slam is something that I never could have really fathomed somebody doing, considering I watched Tiger (Woods) win when he was winning whatever percentage of the majors he played in.

“And he won the Tiger Slam, but he never won the four in one year. And I figured if anybody was going to do it, it would be him, which he still can.”

Jones captured the Grand Slam in 1930 when the top four major tournaments were the U.S. Open, the Open Championship, the U.S. Amateur and the British Amateur.

There were those who said Spieth should have headed to Scotland early to prepare for his date with destiny, but he stayed in the United States long enough to fulfill his commitment last week to the John Deere Classic.

Not only that, but he made a par on the second playoff hole Sunday to beat journeyman Tom Gillis and win at TPC Deere Run for the second time in three years. Spieth claimed his fourth victory of the season.

Now, he is on to bigger things.

Hogan claimed the first three major events in 1953, capped by the Open Championship at Carnoustie, but he was still on his way home from the United Kingdom when the PGA Championship was played the following week.

The modern Grand Slam wasn’t anything anyone even discussed until 1960 after Palmer won the Masters by one stroke over Ken Venturi and the U.S. Open at Cherry Hills by two over Jack Nicklaus with a closing 65.

Palmer and sportswriter Bob Drum talked about a possible Grand Slam over drinks, and Drum wrote about it before Arnie headed to the Open Championship at St. Andrews, where he lost by one stroke to Kel Nagle of Australia.

Palmer subsequently tied for seventh in the PGA at Firestone.

Nicklaus had the next chance in 1972 after winning the Masters by three strokes over Tom Weiskopf, Bobby Mitchell and Bruce Crampton of Australia, and beating Crampton by three in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.

However, Lee Trevino edged the Golden Bear by one stroke in the Open at Muirfield, and Nicklaus tied for 13th in the PGA at Oakland Hills.

In 2002, Woods won the Masters by three shots over Retief Goosen of South Africa and the U.S. Open by three over Phil Mickelson at Bethpage Black.

Woods was only two strokes out of the lead heading into the third round of the Open Championship at Murifield that year, but his Grand Slam chances were blown away by rain and winds in excess of 40 mph, and he shot 81 on that Saturday.

After closing with a 65 to tie for 28th, Woods lost to Rich Beem by one stroke in the PGA at Hazeltine.

Craig Wood also won the first two majors in 1941, but he never had a chance to win the third leg of the Grand Slam because the Open Championship was not contested that year due to World War II.

And now there is Spieth, who won’t have to beat the world’s top-ranked player, Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy. The defending champion, McIlroy will miss the tournament because of a left ankle injury sustained while playing soccer with friends.

“Jordan is good enough to win the Grand Slam,” United States Golf Association executive director Mike Davis told ESPN.com. “Somebody who can win on a course like (Chambers Bay) and the Masters, these are just two different animals.”

Spieth, who became the youngest player to own two major titles since Gene Sarazen in 1922, also at the age of 21, is confident that he can win at St. Andrews.

He knows the Old Course, having played there on the way to Royal Aberdeen for the 2011 Walker Cup.

“It’s one of my favorite places in the world,” Spieth said. “I remember walking around the R&A clubhouse and seeing paintings of royalty playing golf, and it was dated 14-whatever. I’m thinking, ‘Our country was discovered in 1492 and they were playing golf here before anyone even knew the Americas existed.’ …

“I didn’t think that those names (Jones, Sarazen, Palmer, Nicklaus, etc.) would be mentioned (with Spieth). That’s a piece of golf history, and as a golf historian, that’s very special and it gives me goose bumps.

“It’s amazing. … Those names are the greatest that have ever played the game, and I don’t consider myself there. But I’m certainly off to the right start in order to make an impact on the history of this game.”

Spieth knows his history, and now he has a chance to make some.

–Story courtesy of The Sports Xchange, TSX Golf Editor Tom LaMarre

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