ORLANDO — Old habits may die hard, but Jordan Spieth is trying to talk less on the golf course. The three-time major winner, renowned for nervously talking to his golf balls after impact, doesn’t want to rehash every single shot to his very patient caddie, Michael Greller. Not anymore.
“I’m trying to do a better job of that,” Spieth said on Friday after a 69 at Bay Hill that put him at seven under par and just two shots behind 36-hole Arnold Palmer Invitational leader Kurt Kitayama. “I’m trying not to … how do I describe it? Tell a story to Michael after every shot. I’m trying to just hit it, and [accept]] it is where it is. I don’t have to justify why it wasn’t better.”
It was the drive on Bay Hill’s famous par-4 18th that measured just 199 yards and almost went out-of-bounds left. He wanted to justify it to Greller, but was too embarrassed. “It’s probably one of the worst drives I’ve ever hit,” Spieth said. “I was trying to play a head-high low draw to not have it run through [the fairway] and I got real steep and drop-kicky with it. I’m not sure I’ve ever done that.”
The attraction of Spieth is that at any given moment, he can change from looking and sounding like either one of the greats of the game or an 18-handicapper. He is made for television. But after that snap hook, he sounded like a weekend hacker.
“I was very prepared to grab another golf ball,” Spieth said. Thankfully for Spieth, the 13-time PGA Tour winner didn’t have to reload courtesy of his superior knowledge of the Rules of Golf (like the 13th hole during his 2017 Open Championship win at Birkdale). Spieth’s ball came to rest in the grass just a few inches from the fence, and with the cart path only inches away, Spieth had a reasonable chance to hit it left-handed. Doing so, however, would have him standing on a cart path, from which he would be entitled to relief. He hacked it out and two-putted for a bogey 5.
“I got pretty fortunate there,” Spieth said.
The seven holes prior to that narrow escape, though, were brilliant. The 29-year-old bounced back from a bogey at the par-4 10th to pick up birdies at Nos. 11 and 12, before two more at the par-5 16th and par-3 17th.
“I had two two-putts on par 5s,” Spieth said of Nos. 11 and 16. “I hit tee balls and approach shots that were key when I needed ’em. I stole one [a birdie putt from the fringe] on 17.”
Spieth kept Kitayama within reach after the two-time DP World Tour winner shot 68 to climb into the solo lead at nine under. Plenty of big names are lurking. Xander Schauffele and Corey Conners are six under, while Justin Thomas, Matt Fitzpatrick, Patrick Cantlay and Davis Riley are five under. Adam Scott and Scottie Scheffler are among a group at four under.
One big name who struggled during a hot, windy second round was World No. 1 and overnight leader Jon Rahm. A double-bogey 7 at the par-5 sixth represented two of the four shots Rahm dropped during a 76 that sank him to three under par, one day after a 65.
Rahm was in no mood when asked how he would characterize his second round.
“How would I characterize it? What do you think I’m going to say? Excuse my language, but it’s [expletive] hard,” Rahm said, laughing. “It’s firm, it’s fast and it’s blowing 30 miles an hour. It’s a very difficult golf course.”
Indeed, a difficult golf course. In fact, the fourth-hardest course on the PGA Tour last season. And it’ll be even harder for one of two players who have to return to finish their second rounds Saturday morning after play was suspended due to darkness at 6.47 p.m.
Justin Suh is two under and is all but assured of making the cut, which is projected at two over, when he finishes the difficult par-4 ninth. But Suh’s playing partner, Greg Koch, has the ability to both move the cut and make the cut depending on what he does Saturday morning. Playing the par-4 ninth, his 18th, Koch hit his drive into the left primary rough before play was called. If he makes an unlikely birdie, he can move the cut to one over and therefore make it. If he makes par, he can also make the weekend at two over. Bogey, and he’s heading home.
Golf is hard, for everyone from Spieth to Koch.