Monday Leaderboard: What happened to Jordan Spieth?

Checking in on the former Golden Child and the ever-growing Open Championship field, along with the other top stories from the week in golf

Welcome to the Monday Leaderboard, where we run down the weekend’s top stories in the wonderful world of golf. Grab an Arnold Palmer, pull up a chair, and help us solve a golf mystery …

For just a brief moment on Saturday at the John Deere Classic in Illinois, we got a look at an all-too-rare sight in the golf world: Jordan Spieth at the top of the leaderboard. He carded eight birdies through 12 holes at TPC Deere Run and looked like he was on 59 watch. But a bogey derailed him, and he would go on to finish 13 strokes behind eventual winner Davis Thompson.

The golf world has spent so much time fixating on Rory McIlroy’s inability to win his next major that Spieth’s dry spell has pretty much passed unnoticed. But it’s been a full seven years since his magnificent third major at Royal Birkdale. He has seven top-10 finishes at the 27 majors since then — a decent total, but nowhere near what was expected from a former world No. 1.

The numbers aren’t pretty. Spieth’s T26 finish this week was his best in three months, a run that’s included a missed cut at the Masters and finishes in the 40s at the PGA Championship and U.S. Open. He was a non-factor at last year’s Ryder Cup, going 0-2-2 over four matches. His putting, once a hallmark of his game, is now merely average, and his iron play is actively costing him strokes. He’s fallen out of the top 30 in the Official World Golf Rankings and outside the top 50 in the FedEx Cup rankings, which means his opportunity to play in signature events next year is in jeopardy. Yes, he’s shaping the future of the game as a member of the PGA Tour’s Players Advisory Council, but nobody plays golf to join more boards.

What’s gone wrong? Pick your answer. Maybe it’s the pressure of trying to match his mid-2010s run, where he won three majors. Maybe it’s the challenge of trying to keep up with the phenomenal talent in the game right now and the youthful challengers. Maybe it’s just the fact that golf is a hard damn sport, and Tiger Woods was the outlier — very few players can sustain more than a short few seasons at the top of the game.

If there’s any solace for Spieth and his fans, it’s that Spieth’s career tends to go in streaks. “What’s wrong with Jordan Spieth” headlines go back years now, and he’s managed to bounce back from adversity and obscurity several times. It may be too late to salvage 2024, but the offseason could give him a chance to figure out what’s wrong and chart a path forward. He’s done it before.

You kick the door enough times, and eventually it’ll break. Thompson had recorded two runner-up finishes in his last six starts, and this week at the John Deere, it all came together. No win on the PGA Tour qualifies as “easy,” but a four-shot margin of victory can take a bit of stress off the final few holes. Weird fact: Thompson is the third straight winner of the John Deere to stay at the “Trophy House,” a rental home near the tournament. J.T. Poston and Sepp Straka both stayed at the house the last two years and took home the title; expect rental fees for that home to quadruple next year. Thompson is the ninth first-time winner on Tour this season, and the 24th player to win his debut event at the John Deere Classic, the most of any tournament on the PGA Tour. And he wasn’t the only young player to find success this weekend …

Luke Clanton is a rising junior at Florida State, and he just pulled off a feat not attained since the 1950s on the PGA Tour. With his T2 finish at the John Deere and last week’s T10 at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, Clanton is now the first amateur in well over half a century to post back-to-back top-10 finishes in Tour starts. (The last guy to do it was Billy Joe Patton, although he did it at the 1957 U.S. Open and 1958 Masters, which is a pretty notable little achievement of its own.) Clanton now ranks third in the World Amateur Rankings and is the highest-ranked NCAA player. One of his fellow runners-up: Michael Thorbjornsen, who turned pro … last month. The youth movement is gaining speed.

(Bruno Rouby / Yahoo Sports)
(Bruno Rouby / Yahoo Sports)

Unlike American courses, which have to work around that nasty weather reality known as “sunset,” the courses in the Open rota are playable until at least 10:00 at night in the summer. So that means there’s no problem allowing the field at the year’s fourth major to swell beyond its usual 156-man banks. Thompson and co-runner up C.T. Pan claimed two spots in the field, which could reach as high as 159 depending on the decisions of past champions like Todd Hamilton. Still up for grabs: three spots at this year’s Scottish Open, teeing off this week. Start brewing that coffee, friends, there will be some long days at Troon next week.

A couple of gentlemen whose names may be familiar to you are planning to open a sports bar in venerable St. Andrews, Scotland, just steps from the Old Course. Tiger Woods and Justin Timberlake are bringing their T-Squared Social concept — which includes golf simulators and surely-not-overpriced craft cocktails — to an old St. Andrews theater. The duo received approval once they satisfied the locals that they would keep the character of the original theater. Patrons will be able to play simulated versions of more than 100 courses around the world, including, presumably, the nearby Old Course itself … without the need to sleep out overnight to snag a tee time.

Look, 59s in pro golf aren’t what they once were, but it’s still a mark worth treasuring. So when you get close, the last thing you want to do is sabotage your own chances. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what Ben Griffin did on Sunday, standing on the 17th tee with 10 birdies in hand. Two more and he would have that 59. Alas, his tee shot had other ideas:

Ouch. Still, Griffin would go on to finish with a 62, not bad for an afternoon’s work. He’ll have a chance to nab that 59 at the Open Championship next week.

Swing away and roll ‘em true this week, friends, and we’ll see you back here next Monday!