He’s been sharing tips on high-performance sport with Olympic swimming legend Michael Phelps and it showed in a golden opening round from Jordan Spieth at Royal Birkdale. Ice-cool in ice-white pants, the world No. 3 charged to a share of the lead after day one of the 146th British Open. The Texan, with the bow-legged gait of a cowboy, threaded his way through the breeze and bunkers on England’s northwest coast in 65 shots for five under par.
He ended the day tied with last month’s US Open champion Brooks Koepka and fellow American Matt Kuchar. Former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel and England’s Paul Casey ended four under. Spieth’s round wasn’t perfect — or at least, he rated it a nine out of 10 — but the 23-year-old found a way to make it effective. A “top-five, probably” round in majors, he called it, and “extremely important” given Friday’s forecast for spells of heavy rain and strong, gusty wind. It was also significant given the efforts of top-ranked Dustin Johnson, who strode with the loose-limbed prowl of a panther, but could do no better than one-over 71 in balmy afternoon conditions.
His putting wasn’t always a match for the dead-eye shooting of his double major season in 2015. Often his palm-down hand gesture would will the ball to slow as it charged holewards. The longer game, too, was occasionally off kilter, mainly blown about by an early Irish Sea wind, which has permanently bent the Birkdale trees to its ferocious will over the years. On the 10th, Spieth — black puffy vest over grey, longsleeve shirt — pulled his second shot onto a grassy bank left of the green.
A little girl spotted it and handed it to her dad. The father was mortified and ordered her to drop it.
The ball was replaced before Spieth arrived, but recognising a sticky spot he told caddie Michael Greller, “Let’s just get out of here with a five.” But he pulled off a miraculous recovery for a tap-in to save his par four and remain three under.
From the lofty tee looking down over the 13th, Spieth carved his drive right. “Fore,” he bellowed, shocking oblivious passers-by.
The ball found the right rough, and while Spieth was assessing his options at its side, an orange-jacketed marshal, trying to stop the gallery using camera phones, trod on it. Spieth threw his hands in the air, shook his head and called over the match referee. He was awarded a free drop. Preparing for his shot, he kept up the perpetual conversation with Greller, a former maths teacher. “Wind 45 degrees off the right? No need to be aggressive here. I like this club, huh?”
He fired the ball forward with a nine-iron, a beauty onto the green, to gasps and cheers from the crowd. They’ve taken to the young master over here.
The offending marshal’s red face clashed with his jacket, but he told CNN he hadn’t seen the ball. Did Spieth say anything to him? “He heffed and jeffed, as they do. Never mind, he’ll get over it. He’s on the green now.”
He more than got over it, and added further birdies at 14 and 17 either side of a stunning par save from the bunker on 16 — his “shot of the day” — for a two-stroke lead over the then clubhouse leader Ian Poulter of England. “Things are in check. It’s just about keeping it consistent,” said Spieth, who fueled himself up on a breakfast of eggs, bacon, avocado on toast and orange juice. His meeting with Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time, occurred on a recent vacation to Cabo San Lucas with a crew that also included NBA legend Michael Jordan, former Masters champion Fred Couples and NFL star Dwight Freeney.