For the past three years, three out of the four Majors in golf have presented someone with an opportunity to win the career Grand Slam.
Prior to 2017, that number was two of four, when Rory McIlroy stood a chance to achieve the feat at the Masters and Phil Mickelson took his crack at the U.S. Open. Jordan Spieth joined the “I’m only missing one” club with his win at the 2017 Open Championship, and next week, he’ll take his latest chance at the USPGA Championship in Long Island, as he attempts to conquer the notoriously difficult Bethpage Black course.
Only five players have won the career grand slam as we currently define it – Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, and Tiger Woods – which makes it stand out as one of the truly legendary accomplishments in the game. (Golf purists will be furious if I don’t mention Bobby Jones, who won all four “Grand Slams” in 1930, back when two of the Majors were amateur championships.)
The pressure clearly mounts when it comes to winning that final Major for the Grand Slam, at least for some. Jack Nicklaus took three years to win the Open Championship after capturing the other three, Player needed three for the U.S. Open, and Sarazen needed two to take the Masters. But the two others, Tiger Woods and Ben Hogan, won on their first try.
In both cases, it was the Open Championship, and Hogan’s win is remarkable because it was the only time he ever played the event (that year, 1953, Hogan had to skip the PGA Championship to travel to England, which meant he couldn’t attempt the calendar slam – he had already won the Masters and U.S. Open that season.)
Of the current crop, Rory McIlroy’s travails at the Masters are well-documented, and Phil Mickelson has amassed a whopping six second-place finishes at the U.S. Open, which is a remarkable enough number that it can make otherwise rational people believe in curses. But Spieth is still much earlier in his career, with plenty of time to contend, and he clearly has the best shot of the three to join Tiger and Jack and the others in the rarefied air of the career slammers.
But can he do it this week, when the PGA Championship settles into its new mid-May schedule? That’s a different question entirely. Spieth has been going through a very uncharacteristic low period in his game. Though I think there’s reason to believe he’s on the verge of coming out the other side, it’s been a very long time since we’ve seen a consummate Spieth-as-golden-boy performance.
He hasn’t even captured a top 10 since last summer’s Open Championship, and for his last win, you have to go all the way back to the 2017 triumph at Royal Birkdale. He played well at the Byron Nelson this past weekend, but playing well is a far cry from winning, and the Byron Nelson is a far cry from a Major championship at Bethpage Black. That’s the kind of course that won’t forgive a player trying to find his form, and the field is strong enough that Spieth – along with every other player – will need to be as close to perfect as possible to have even a faint prayer of winning.
In my estimation, he’s not there yet. It won’t be long until we see him back in the winner’s circle, because he’s far too good not to have a Major resurgence. But that comeback will have to wait for a better opportunity than Bethpage Black, and so will the career slam.
In lieu of Jordan, here are three picks that look very tempting for the PGA this week in a tournament where Paddy’s paying 10 places.
I know, I know, not exactly a revolutionary pick here. But I keep thinking back to his win at Shinnecock Hills in last year’s U.S. Open. That was another monster of a course, it was also on Long Island, and he won by being the most consistent, relentless player in the field, taking home the trophy with a +1 final score.
It’s a different Major, but it almost feels like he’s defending his title.
Considering that he finished second at the Masters, he’s got the form. I don’t see how anyone but ‘Brooks the Bomber’ can be the favorite this week and his prep in the AT & T Byron Nelson wasn’t too shabby.
It was a little bit of a shock when Rose missed the cut at the Masters, but that actually makes me even more bullish on him for the PGA. Rose is a grinder, as his lone Major win at Merion in the 2013 U.S. Open proved, and his game is perfectly suited to Bethpage Black, a course so difficult it actually has a warning sign.
If he’s not in or near the final group on Sunday, I’ll be just a little shocked.
I hesitate a little to tip Casey, just for the fact that he’s suffered two cuts in his two biggest tournaments this year, the Masters and the Players Championship. Elsewhere, though, he’s been immaculate – second in Singapore, second at Pebble, third at the WGC in Mexico, a victory at the Valspar, and fourth most recently at the Wells Fargo.
He’s a top 10 machine, and with Paddy Power paying 10 places, he feels like a lock…or as close as you can get in the world of wagers.
*Prices correct a time of publishing but are liable to change