He’s waited 12 months to hear himself announced as “Champion Golfer of the Year” and Jordan Spieth reckons that will send a shiver down his spine on the first tee in the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie on Thursday.
“That title doesn’t get used on the PGA Tour as we are teeing off. But when I heard those words spoken at Birkdale last year, it just kind of hit me,” said the Texan, who covered the last five holes in five-under-par to claim the Claret Jug at the Lancashire venue.
“It was like someone had punched me in the gut in the best possible way.
“You need to realise how special this is and embrace what it means, feel the chill go through you.”
As was the case with last year’s venue, Spieth is getting his first taste of Carnoustie for this event and is expecting a tough but fair test, unlike last month’s US Open at Shinnecock Hills, where he missed the cut.
“I don’t think I should prepare myself for anything easier,” he said of the Angus venue, which is staging the game’s oldest major for the eighth time.
“I’ve seen Opens at Carnoustie and why the golf course has a reputation and the nickname, ‘Car-nasty’ among the players for being so difficult.
“Although it won’t necessarily be the golf course itself, the conditions can obviously create scores similar to those at the US Open. But I thoroughly enjoy links golf and The Open has always been one of my favourite events, so I am looking forward to the challenge I know Carnoustie presents, especially the finishing holes.
“As a competitor, you look forward to that tough but fair type of challenge, knowing that you can expect a little bit of everything over four days in Scotland, in terms of the conditions.
“Mentally it is a grind. No matter how much you throw out the noise, stick to what you love to do, accepting the challenges and not thinking about what that means, it’s the toughest thing to do in tournament situations.
“People are talking about score-to-par and that shouldn’t be important to us as we are playing ourselves and the golf course, and that’s what we’re focused on. But that’s sometimes very difficult, especially in the majors because you grow up hearing the praise people get for winning one and the life-changing aspect that comes with that and the place in history.
“You want that and that can sometimes impact on the way you feel and take you away from your normal game and create drama.”
Unlike Masters champion Patrick Reed and 2013 Open winner Phil Mickelson, among others, Spieth didn’t use the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open at Gullane to get himself ready for Carnoustie.
Following a similar path to 12 months ago, he is arriving in the UK today to begin his final preparations in earnest tomorrow.
“That’s no different from previous Opens or majors – other than the Masters – for courses I haven’t seen,” he said. “You can get a lot of work done within three days and totally understand the golf course and what it presents.
“My form has been on-off and results haven’t been up to my own expectations. It’s been putting the majority of the year. But I’ve been working so much on my putting and it’s started to come round and I’m seeing and hitting my lines better. So I’ve no doubt in my ability to defend.”
Spieth was still cutting his competitive teeth in the amateur ranks when Carnoustie last staged golf’s oldest major in 2007, when Padraig Harrington beat Sergio Garcia in a play-off. That title tussle coincided with Spieth starting to fall in love with the game.
“I remember watching Sergio and Padraig going at it on the 18th hole,” he said. “I don’t remember specifically where they hit to, but I know Sergio had a pretty good look at winning the tournament in regulation play but his putt just slid past.
“I also remember the routes they took and how good a score par was on probably one of the toughest holes in The Open Championship and will continue to be for Opens going forward. It creates some drama when it comes to Sunday, for sure, and I don’t think it will be any different this year.”