On April 12, 2015, Jordan Spieth completed one of the most spectacularly brilliant performances in golfing history.
Aged 21, Spieth not only won the Masters, he controlled the tournament from start to finish, becoming the first wire-to-wire victor at Augusta National since Raymond Floyd in 1976 and tying the record score of 18 under having set new benchmarks through 36 and 54 holes.
The young Texan’s success, 12 months after he had finished second on debut at the same event, represented the most eye-catching breakthrough success in a major since Tiger Woods’ 1997 Masters triumph.
And while it took Woods more than two years to register a second win in one of golf’s premier strokeplay events, Spieth took his next opportunity just 10 weeks later, courtesy of a dramatic U.S. Open victory at Chambers Bay.
In the immediate aftermath of that tournament, it seemed reasonable to assume Spieth – the youngest player to win two majors since the great Gene Sarazen in 1922 – would end up with eight, 10 or maybe even 15 to his name.
His putting was demonstrably better than any of his peers, while he also boasted incredible self-belief and had already proven himself more than capable of delivering under pressure when so many others often faltered.
Spieth continued to excel in the remainder of 2015. After coming agonisingly close to completing the third leg of an unprecedented calendar Grand Slam, as he finished one shot outside a play-off in The Open at St Andrews, he finished second in the US PGA Championship to round off a stunning year in the majors.
Victory in the Tour Championship followed and he ended the campaign as the FedEx Cup winner, world number one and the PGA Tour Player of the Year.
This summary of Spieth’s annus mirabilis should have made one thing clear. In the relatively recent past, he was a man capable of hitting the sort of heights few ever reach.
With that in mind, it is hard to explain how the same man now sits 56th in the world rankings during top-level sport’s enforced hiatus, with no win to his name for almost three years and precious few meaningful challenges for titles in the same period.
Any lover of golf will be familiar with its maddening ups and downs. There are few other sports where competitors, even at the elite level, experience such wildly fluctuating fortunes from week to week and even from day to day.
Examine the leaderboard of any recent PGA or European Tour event and you will see countless examples of players shooting 66 one day and 75 the next, or vice versa. For those of us less talented, the scores may be higher but the underlying principle remains – one weekend is brightened by a promising round of 82, the next as good as ruined by a 96.
Continuing the theme, it is far from uncommon for someone to miss the cut in a succession of events before returning a top-10 finish or maybe even a win out of nowhere. The list of those to have endured prolonged dips in form or sudden bursts of glory is a lengthy one.
Even so, few golfing slumps in recent decades can have been more surprising or unexpected than Spieth’s current slide.
Many will point to the aura-shattering experience of the 2016 Masters, when a shocking collapse from five clear with nine to play enabled Danny Willett to claim glory, as a significant factor.
However, Spieth was back in the winners’ circle the following month – triumphing at the Dean & DeLuca Invitational – and the demons of his Masters meltdown looked to have been exorcised in 2017 when he gave up a three-shot lead in the final round of The Open at Royal Birkdale, only to bounce back in sensational fashion, rescuing an unlikely bogey from the wildest of drives at the 13th and then playing the next four holes in five under to deny Matt Kuchar.
That third major title helped Spieth end the year second in the rankings, but it has been downhill ever since.
Three third-placed finishes – two of which came in majors – represent his best efforts over the last two completed seasons. Prior to the suspension of this year’s golfing calendar, Spieth’s five starts in 2020 yielded inauspicious results: one tie for ninth, one missed cut and three placings between 55th and 59th.
Asked for his thoughts on Spieth’s lack of recent success, Chris DiMarco – a three-time major runner-up who famously came second to Woods at Augusta 15 years ago – told Stats Perform: «It’s confidence – there’s no doubt about it.
«He was on a high. He also was, arguably, for three years, maybe the best putter ever and that’s hard to keep up. It’s hard to maintain that. When every putt doesn’t go in the hole like you’re used to seeing, you’re not going to win as much and then when that happens your confidence goes down a little bit. And now all of a sudden instead of contending for tournaments, you’re trying to make cuts and you’re trying to get yourself into contention.
«It’ll come back. He has to let it happen, he has to get that confidence back. He has to stop listening to everybody and just go back to what Jordan knows makes Jordan the best, and then go on from there.»
As the wait for the first major of this decade continues, nostalgia has been the order of the day for many sports fans, with multiple great deeds of past years having been revisited in the absence of live action.
Still only 26, Spieth already has a back catalogue of glorious triumphs worthy of prolonged reflection. Five years on from his majestic major breakthrough, he will hope it is not long before he can once again shine on the biggest stages.