Jordan Speith embodies relentless drive, with a visible hunger to find winning solutions, which is an undoubted strength. But this same drive badly backfired when he ignored a form-destroying injury until it was almost too late.
As it was, he crashed out of golf’s top 100, a fall that took literally years to climb back from. After a crucial win at 2022’s RBC Heritage (after missing the cut for the Masters the week before), he has nudged back into the World Top Ten. This was only his second win since the 2017 Open Championship, but the 13th in his career.
As he admits, he has had a taste of what it means to have the sport he loves taken away from him. So, what are the biggest lessons this self-confessed golf nerd has learned from his rise, fall and rise?
**RSNG You’ve had a long road back from injury. You must feel you are in a good place now?
JORDAN SPIETH, PGA GOLFER** “I am hitting the ball well, without pain, I have a renewed hunger, and I think I’ve learned a lot about myself. So in all those respects, things are going well.”
**RSNG You seem quite philosophical about what you went through?
JORDAN SPIETH** “I think when you look back over it, and when you know you are out of the woods and, more to the point, you can identify what put you in the woods in the first place, it’s easy to be philosophical. It’s over.
“When you’re stuck in the middle of it searching for answers and direction, it’s more difficult.”
**RSNG You had a lot of support from other players?
JORDAN SPIETH** “Yes and no. There are tight groups and less tight groups. You will get players who have a lot of friends on the circuit who want you to succeed and play well. Yet for every player around you who does well, there is a threat to your own score.
“I know there are some players who love seeing a rival struggling and it fuels their own game. I don’t have a problem with that – it’s the nature of sportsmanship. What I’m saying is I don’t want sympathy from others when playing badly – that won’t help me. In fact it will probably make me play worse.”
**RSNG You have said a chipped bone in your hand was the cause of your dramatic drop down the world rankings. Has it been a long road back?
JORDAN SPIETH** “It has, and psychologically, you literally have to think of it like you are climbing your way out of a deep hole.
“I would attach small, positive improvements to practice rounds when I could feel myself getting hold of shots again and doing the right thing with the putter, and big, meaningful improvements when at the end of each tournament my finishes were showing I was back on the rise.
“You combine those two things together and end up feeling active progression in your game, and as I said, the most important thing about a period of poor form isn’t getting out of it; it’s knowing why you’re in it in the first place.
“I spent probably 12 months coping with a minor injury without factoring in the idea that perhaps my poor shots were being caused by it. I really didn’t think they were – I just thought I was going through a bad phase, and like any golfer you will have niggles and injuries that you play through.
“It takes a real dose of honesty for you to admit that the small injury you thought was nothing, is perhaps the thing that’s impacting your whole game.”
Trust the process’ is 100% correct – when you diagnose a problem you must then commit to a solution
**RSNG Do you think it was that injury alone that sent you crashing down outside the top 100?
JORDAN SPIETH** “It’s never one injury, but you will adapt and change very minor elements of your swing, or your follow-through, or your putting action to compensate for pain, or simply just lack of mobility in the tissue. Before you know it you are a few millimeters out, and that translates to a few feet out when you’re hitting a ball 200 yards. It’s an accumulating effect.”
**RSNG Yet you’ve admitted you found it difficult to stop and reset?
JORDAN SPIETH** “‘Trust the process’ is the phrase they say, and it’s 100% correct. When you diagnose a problem you must then commit to a solution. From a strength perspective, every fix makes sense, with rest being the first. Then mobility, flexibility, repetition etc. All that is fine.
“The issue for any sportsman is matching your mental position to the physical. Mentally you are screaming out for something to happen, something to resolve itself quicker. Mentally you are questioning if the injury is the problem, or whether you should just get back out on the driving range and smash a few balls, which is obviously totally counterintuitive to the process.
“These are the things you need to work through, but unless you have body and mind in harmony, and both in agreement with the proposed route back towards playing well, you will struggle to get back for a long while, and I can admit to taking too long over the process. I didn’t listen to my body until my form had gone completely.”
**RSNG It doesn’t help the fact you’re a self-confessed golf nerd?
JORDAN SPIETH** “True because you won’t let a problem play itself out. My obsession with the sport is that I’m looking for the quickest answer possible so I can just get on with it; in the same way that I am looking at getting to the hole in the fewest possible shots, every single time.
“When you have that relentlessness in your game it can be very difficult to accept that some things simply take time to play themselves out; but as I said there are small steps you can take along the way that will get you to the place no quicker, but that will at least work in being able to prove to yourself you are making progress.”
I’ve had a taste of what it’s like to have this sport I love taken away from me, and that in itself is a valuable thing
**RSNG A valuable lesson learned?
JORDAN SPIETH** “Of course. It all is in this sport. It's problem-solving – every hole, every round, every course, every injury. You are trying to get your body and the ball in the right place, and everything contributes to making that happen, or delaying that happening.
“Some problems you have to solve over a length of time; others, like in Augusta in 2016 I needed to solve very quickly and didn’t have the mental wherewithal back then to do it, but I think I would now.”
**RSNG Do you feel better than ever now?
JORDAN SPIETH** “Physically I feel back to where I was. Mentally I feel more empowered and better, I guess, in the sense of what I have been through. I now possess the hunger to stay back near the top, to listen more and to keep at it.
“I’ve also had a taste of what it’s like to have this sport I love taken away from me, in a competitive sense. I know it’s not always going to be easy, and that in itself is a valuable thing to feel, because as a sportsman it means you don’t sit back and assume things will always be okay; it means you will keep pushing and fighting so as to never be back in that dark place.”
WHAT NEXT? If you’re looking for a way to keep your own mindset positive on the course, then read our guide on how to use breathwork to maintain focus.
Photos: Shutterstock/ REX