The question was asked innocently enough of Jordan Spieth on Wednesday in advance of Thursday’s PGA Championship opening round at Bethpage Black.
“As you’re in this bit of a slump … ’’ it began.
“Was,’’ Spieth corrected the questioner, with a forced smile.
Well, that’s actually still to be determined as Spieth continues to learn the burden of expectation always weighs the heaviest.
A furious three-year stretch that featured 10 wins — including a Masters, U.S. Open and British Open — raised the bar to a pretty daunting level.
It’s a level that Spieth, whose last win came in 2017 and who’s played 13 tournaments this year without as much as a top-20 finish, has had difficulty returning to.
That’s why his pursuit this week to become only the sixth player in the history of the sport to complete a career Grand Slam with a PGA Championship victory might be the most under-the-radar pursuit of a career Slam in the history of the sport.
Rory McIlroy’s chase for his first Masters green jacket to complete a career Slam was massively more hyped than Spieth’s third try at his first PGA Championship is this week.
And Phil Mickelson’s never-ending search for a first U.S. Open victory to complete his career Slam is certain to be one of the most glaring narratives next month at Pebble Beach.
“I mean, I didn’t like go away from the game for five years,’’ Spieth said. “I just happened to not win in the last year and a half or so.’’
But it’s also the way Spieth has played en route to not winning in a year and a half. His putting, which was a backbone to his successes as he won five times in 2015, twice in 2016 and three times in 2017, has not been the same. His driving accuracy also has deteriorated.
It’s all added up to this: An endless stream of questions about what’s wrong with Jordan Spieth?
“In golf, you’re never as bad as you think you are and neither are you as good as you think you are,’’ CBS analyst Peter Kostis told The Post on Wednesday. “Jordan has to maintain 100 percent confidence and belief in what he’s working on is correct for him. The question becomes, how long can you stay 100 percent committed to it without seeing some tangible results? And for Jordan, tangible results means getting back into the winner’s circle.
“You have to put all the negative stuff aside. You can’t listen to the static. You have to clinically — not emotionally — look at what you’re doing, how you’re hitting it, where you’re missing it, what kind of control do you have and what kind of confidence do you have in what you’re doing.’’
Kostis, who coaches Paul Casey, said he’s most surprised at how long Spieth’s putting woes have lasted.
“He hasn’t putted up to Jordan Spieth standards in over a year now,’’ Kostis said. “So that’s a little baffling to me that it takes that long to get him back. Because he was brilliant.’’
Spieth, because he has to, downplayed his struggles with a tone of certainty that he’s on the verge of returning to the form that won those three major championships.
“The questioning and the wording that’s used to describe me by media over the past year has only come up because of the amount of success that I’ve had,’’ Spieth said. “So, it actually could be looked at positively, as well, because if I didn’t have the success that I’ve had I wouldn’t be in here right now.
“I’ve had friends on Tour reach out and say, ‘Hey, everyone goes through ups and downs, and … stick to it, you’re doing the right things.’ ”
“He’ll get it,’’ Kostis said. “He’s too good of a talent and too dedicated to his craft to not get it back.’’
Until then, however, Spieth will continue to slip curiously under the radar — as he is this week despite the Grand Slam pursuit.
“Had he been coming in here on form, it would have been a big storyline,’’ Kostis said. “Without a top-20 [finish] this whole year, it’s kind of hard to imagine that he turns it around this week. But he very well could.’’
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