Jordan Spieth and Lydia Ko, the leading figures in golf’s youth movement, have experienced contrasting fortunes as they build towards the most important phase of the golfing year so far.
Ko, 18, is in brilliant form as she bids for back-to-back majors while 22-year-old Spieth has been knocked from his world number one perch having not won since the first week of the year.
Twelve months ago Spieth was runner up at the Houston Open having won in Tampa and finished second at the Texas Open in his previous two tournaments.
His irresistible form continued at Augusta, where he triumphed with a record-equalling 18-under-par score.
This time his results have been less promising. Knocked out by Louis Oosthuizen at the last-16 stage of last week’s WGC Matchplay, he was only 18th in Tampa and 17th in the WGC Championship in Doral at the beginning of March.
For most other players these would constitute respectable returns but given the way Spieth, who is also the US Open champion, played last year they represent a decline in fortunes.
It prompted a recent conversation with his caddie Michael Greller aimed at putting his current situation into its proper perspective.
“It’s pretty simple,” Spieth said. “Everything has been good. Our last 12 events, we’ve had 11 top 20s and two wins. We’re in a good place.
“He’s like, listen, there’s peaks and there’s valleys. If you’re considering this a valley, then we’ve got a lot of peaks coming. That’s a pretty nice valley to be in.”
Nevertheless, he will be very keen to climb quickly back towards the high ground, now dominated by newly-crowned world number one Jason Day.
The Texan youngster will enjoy huge support from the home crowds in this week’s PGA Tour event in Houston, where he came up just short against JB Holmes last year.
On greens conditioned to emulate the treacherous surfaces that will confront the world’s best at Augusta National the following week, Spieth will be looking to improve his position of a lowly 90th in the PGA Tour’s ‘Total Putting’ statistics.
The two-time major champion also languishes at 153rd in hitting greens in regulation and while the stats only tell part of the story, it is clear his game is not as sharp as it was when he was taking the sport by storm in the first half of 2015.
Spieth, though, feels better equipped to deal with all the attention that surrounds him as he prepares to defend his debut major title.
“I think that I’ve been able to learn by personally speaking to different athletes that are at the top of their sport. I think that that’s really helped,” he said.
“Around major championships, I just need to take that model into the rest of the PGA Tour now, which is just stay away from all the outside influences, whether it’s TV, where you see yourself, or it’s social media, whatever it may be.
“Just do less of it and find something else to do, whether it’s reading or whether it’s discovering a new place, going out in your car that week, instead of just sitting around. Because then you’re tempted.”
There is less hullabaloo around the women’s game, but Ko is still centre of attention. The New Zealand teenager claimed her first major with victory in the Evian Championship last year.
At 18 years, four months and 20 days she became the youngest player to win one of the big five tournaments on the women’s circuit.
Ko heads to the Dinah Shore course with her confidence sky high after collecting the 11th LPGA victory of her extraordinary career at the Kia Classic last week.
She has been a model of consistency all year and has yet to finish outside the top 15 in her six starts worldwide.
Ko defended her title at the New Zealand Women’s Open in February on the Ladies European Tour and held off world number two Inbee Park in Carlsbad for her four-shot win last week.
This will be her fourth appearance at the ANA Inspiration and her best result to date was 25th in 2013. Expect a much higher finish this time.
Reflecting the strength of the younger generation, it is worth pointing out the field also includes a 20-year-old from Stockport, Bronte Law, who is currently fifth in the amateur world rankings.
The number one in those standings, Ireland’s Leona Maguire, is also in the field.
Both players are regarded as an outstanding prospect but the fact they are both comfortably older than Ko serves to highlight just how remarkable the New Zealand starlet is.
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