At times this season, Jordan Spieth has been fighting a two-way miss off the tee and other elements of his game but the emotional burden of withdrawing from the Rio Olympics may affect his performance at Royal Troon even more than physical factors.
"This was probably the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make in my life, at 22 years old," Spieth said during a Tuesday press conference ahead of this week's Open Championship. "This was something I very much struggled with, I bounced back and forth with, and ultimately a decision had to be made yesterday so I made it."
The two-time major champion is a passionate fan and backer of the Olympics and he clearly wrestled with whether or not to skip the Rio games. In withdrawing on Monday ahead of the deadline for finalizing the 60-player field, the world No. 3 became the fourth of the so-called Big Four — after Jason Day, Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy — to do so.
Spieth was adamant that the Zika virus — the mosquito-borne disease that causes birth defects as well as neurological problems in adults, and the reason McIlroy and others have cited for their WDs — was not the sole reason for his withdrawal.
"I’m not specifically pointing to any one thing in my health concerns," said Spieth, who declined to expand on other reasons, though there are reports of crime and environmental issues plaguing Rio. "I didn't cite that, so please don't do that for me. Strictly health concerns as a whole; that’s not the only one."
Golf is on something of a trial run in Rio. It will return to the Olympics this year for the first time since 1904 and is slated to be on the docket in Tokyo in 2020 -- games Spieth plans to make a priority going forward.
He acknowledged that while top golfers skipping this year’s Olympics could put golf’s future in the games in jeopardy, he had to do what was best for him and his entourage.
"I don’t feel I have to carry the torch (see what I did there?) for the sport or anyone else," he said. "That has absolutely nothing to do with my decision."
He also conceded that his decision would hang over him for some time to come.
"This is going to be a very, very difficult difficult thing for me to do, to watch the opening ceremony and watch my peers compete for a gold medal … and hear the national anthem playing," Spieth said.
With questions about the Olympics dominating his news conference, it was easy to forget that Spieth was in Scotland to compete in this week’s Open. Indeed, Spieth admitted that he lacked the immediate drive and energy that propelled him to a T4 finish at the 2015 Open, where he was coming off two straight major wins and seeking the third leg of the Grand Slam.
For sure, 2016 has not been the same magic carpet ride for Spieth that 2015 was. There was the blown chance at the Masters after the debacle on the 12th hole and a T37 at the U.S. Open. But he’s also notched two victories and is coming off a T3 at Firestone to go with two missed cuts.
He also entered last year’s Open Championship fresh from prevailing in a playoff at the John Deere Classic. With that tourney taking place the same week as the men’s Olympic session, Spieth said it would not be "appropriate" for him to defend his title at TPC Deere Run. He did not elaborate on why he would miss the competition.
In any event, given his up-and-down season, it’s a somewhat less cocksure Spieth who will tee off on Thursday with Justin Rose and Shane Lowry.
"I believe in my ability that if I'm in contention that I can bring my best stuff and take home the trophy. I believe I can close," he said. "I'm a little hesitant, tee to green, versus last year. I’d just come off a win at the John Deere, striking the ball great. It’s just a matter of not making many mistakes and just getting into a rhythm.
"Right now, I feel like I've got to do a little more work throughout my swing, to get it compact and ready for this style of golf," added Spieth, who is also trying to accelerate his pace of play. "But it’s not the same kind of feeling at this present moment. I'm working a lot on how to ‘gunsling’ it, which is what I did last year. You know -- just step up, hit it, go to my natural movement, and make some putts."
And, no doubt, try to put the whole Olympics controversy out of his head.
"There’s nothing I can do about it," Spieth said, "except go on and try and focus on this week."