Laureus World Sports Academy Member Gary Player gives young star Jordan Spieth a real chance of winning his third straight Major Championship, at St Andrews this week, something not achieved since Tiger Woods in 2000.
Player, one of only five men to complete the Grand Slam of four Major Championships, told Laureus:
“The fairways at St Andrews are wide and generous, so there is not a great premium for driving the ball. In my opinion, chipping and putting will win this tournament.
“Since Jordan Spieth arrived on the PGA Tour he probably has had the best putting stroke in the world, so it’s really no surprise he is playing so well and winning Majors. If he comes to The Open with the same mind set he has displayed all year, I have no doubt that he will be in contention.”
Spieth, from Dallas, has won both The Masters and the US Open this year, at the age of just 21, and has massively impressed nine-time Major Championship winner Player.
Player said: “Jordan Spieth has such a tremendous future ahead. What’s remarkable about Jordan is his maturity for a 21-year-old. Obviously, he was raised well by his parents. Jordan respects the game of golf and speaks very well for a young man, which is important for a star athlete. I am excited to see what the future holds for Jordan.
“Winning back-to-back Majors is something that few have accomplished. I saw him in the players’ dining area at the US Open and he was extremely focused. So it’s not just his talent that is impressive. The ability to block out distractions and focus on your preparation during a full week at a tournament, especially a Major, is equally if not more important than talent.”
Player believes that the unique characteristics of the Old Course at St Andrews will suit Spieth.
He said: “Jordan does not have a swing like a Rory McIlroy or Jason Day, but his short game gives him an advantage over everyone on the PGA Tour. You have to remember that St Andrews is not a typical Open Championship course.
“The Open at St Andrews is very different to every other venue because here you do not have to hit it straight. At most other Open Championships there is a great premium on driving well. Here you can hit it basically all over the place.
“Obviously if you put it in some of those bunkers it can be a problem, but the fairways are very, very wide. So the long hitters that are sometimes wild off the tee have a better chance than they do in most other Open Championships.”
Who else does Player see as strong contenders in St Andrews for the tournament which begins on Thursday?
“Kevin Kisner, Jason Day, Ian Poulter and Jason Dufner. My South African countrymen - Branden Grace, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel - are playing exceptional golf too and have a great chance,” he said.
With two Major Championships this year, Spieth must already be a strong contender for Nomination for the Laureus Sports Awards. Victory in the Open Championship at St Andrews would seem to make it a certainty, but is it possible in the modern age for a golfer to win three, or even four Major Championships in a row?
Gary Player knows the answer to that: “Almost anything in sport is possible.”
The Open Championship has been transformed by the absence of Northern Irish star and world No.1 Rory McIlory, following his ankle ligament injury.
Player said: “Rory has had an outstanding year. He has had several wins and some top tens. I know he wanted to win The Masters to join myself, Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the only men to capture the career Grand Slam. I was rooting for him. Most years 12-under-par will get you the Green Jacket, but Jordan Spieth had a record-setting performance.
“Rory can still have a strong finish this year if he can recover from his recent injury. It’s always unfortunate when someone is involved in an accident that prevents the person from doing their job. Only God knows how many Majors Ben Hogan would have won had he not been involved in a serious car accident. When Rory is healthy he is usually the favourite in every tournament he enters.”