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The Case for ... The Career Slam


JORDAN SPIETH, 24 and already a future first-ballot Hall of Famer, now faces a mountain that dwarfs that 30-foot sand dune he charged up and down during the final round of the British Open. Then he was trying to figure out how on earth to play the par-4 13th hole at Royal Birkdale, with his itty-bitty golf ball serving jail time on that great and grassy dune. It took him 29 exhausting minutes to make the bogey heard 'round the world. He came off the green trailing his playing partner, Matt Kuchar, by a shot, but it could have been worse. The eight-footer he made turned his putter into a defibrillator. From 14 to the house he went crazy low: birdie, eagle, birdie, birdie, ending the day and the championship on a cool night and in spitting rain with a smart par. Poor Kuchar had no chance. Spieth won golf's oldest and grandest championship by three, and in so doing had knocked off another leg, his third, of the career grand slam.

The next mountain is always bigger, isn't it? On golf's (expanded) Mount Rushmore are the only five men who won all four of golf's modern majors: Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tiger Woods. Spieth won the 2015 Masters and U.S. Open, plus this year's British Open. What he needs to join that fivesome is to win the PGA. The first PGA Championship of the rest of his life will be played Aug. 10--13 at Quail Hollow Country Club in Charlotte. Expect hot.

The career grand slam is a rare achievement in part because the four events are played on such varied surfaces, much as Roger Federer & Co., in playing the four tennis majors, go from bouncy hard courts in Australia to clay in France to grass at Wimbledon to low-bounce hard courts at the U.S. Open. Augusta requires touch-of-class pitching, chipping and putting on the wildest set of greens in golf. A U.S. Open (by tradition) demands immense patience and exactitude. British Open golf is bouncy and primitive. The PGA is often played on a long, slow, soft track and in exhausting heat. Talk about having it all. To win all four, a player needs all the shots, plus good luck.

Sam Snead never did it. He never won a U.S. Open. Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson never won the PGA Championship. (Once, at a dinner, Watson, who won five British Opens, turned to Jeff Sluman, whose lone major was the PGA Championship, and said, "I'll trade you two of my Opens for your PGA.") Lee Trevino never won at Augusta. Raymond Floyd never a British Open. Stuck on three.

Among guys still swinging in anger, there are three players who are 75% of the way there. Phil Mickelson has won five major titles, but has never won a U.S. Open. (Six times a runner-up, though!) Rory McIlroy has four majors but is still searching for a green jacket he can call his own. And now comes Spieth, and the PGA. That Wanamaker Trophy is 27 pounds, young man.

Big Jack and Tiger each won—astoundingly—three career grand slams. Nicklaus was 26 when he completed his first one, in 1966. Woods was 24 when he completed his first, which he did at the British Open at St. Andrews in 2000, by eight. Let us pause to remember his greatness and his ability to seize the moment. One hopes he's doing that right now.

Master Spieth is really unlike Tiger Woods, not in his professional life (much less firepower), not in his personal one (much more open). Yet here he is, knocking on Tiger's door. He's like Tiger in one way, though, and it counts for everything. As he showed on that dune at Birkdale, kid's got no quit.

On golf's (expanded) Mount Rushmore are the only five men who've won all four of golf's modern majors.


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