Most golfers, even those who lose six balls per round to watery graves and those who struggle to break the century mark, have moments of wonder.

The driver, that monster club meant to intimidate the opposition, suddenly clicks. Your drive sails off into the distance, a perfect fade that lands in the middle of the fairway and bounds past the suddenly surprised 150-yard marker.

Your 9 iron, prone to fat shots and surprise shanks, lifts a perfect 120-yarder to the heart of the green, and it rolls within gimme range.

The putter, which has survived only because you’re not accurate enough to toss it in the closest pond, suddenly drops 20- and 30-footers. Dead. Solid. Perfect.

You’re on a roll. Golf is magic. You figure you’re on the verge of competing on one or more mini-tours. Or at least signing up for the local club championship tournament.

On the next golf day, the sun is shining brightly, the first tee is wide open and confidence is spilling from your new Callaway bag, bought the night before because….well, just because. 

The future is golden.

Until it isn’t. The first drive races low and left, a miserable duck hook that winds up in a tangle of briars far removed from the fairway. No matter. Everybody gets a mulligan on the first tee, right? But….the driver again refuses to cooperate, sending a topped shot dribbling 75 yards down the fairway.

Quick cell call to the pro shop. “Take my name off the club championship tournament signup sheet, please.”

This is how I am similar to Jordan Spieth.

After the 2015 season, in which he stormed out of Texas to win the Masters and the U.S. Open despite looking like he wasn’t old enough to own a credit card, I was convinced Spieth was the next Jack Nicklaus. He had style. He played well under pressure. He had the guile of a veteran. I was mapping out a timeline that would result in Spieth eclipsing the Golden Bear’s record of 18 victories in majors and carrying every trophy of any significance home to Dallas.

He won the 2017 Open for his third major. At the 2018 Masters, he led after the first round and, despite a very average Friday, rallied on the final day with a string of birdies to challenge Patrick Reed for the green jacket. He finished two back.

Now Spieth, instead of marching in the footsteps of Nicklaus, struggles to stay relevant. Once ranked No. 1 in the world, he is 78th, behind Tom Lewis, Chan Kim and Adam Hadwin. He is in the neighborhood with those names instead of with folks named Dustin, Jon, Justin, Rory and Bryson, precisely where he should be housed.

This is not to bash Spieth. He is a talent and an entertaining player and seems to be the kind of guy you’d like to tee it up within a Saturday foursome at the muni down the road. Millions of golfers would like to have his “struggles.” He’s only 27 years old and should have many more shots at glory in majors. His return to prominence in the season’s big events would make 2021 a more interesting year.

Yet his experience underlines the fact that even a sport’s best can fall from the peak and crash hard. Winning in dominating fashion and then battling all sorts of golfing technical maladies makes things worse.

After my latest run of good — albeit brief — fortune on the golf course, the black cloud of chunked shots, wayward putts, and disastrous drives followed me for weeks. Unlike Spieth, I haven’t resorted to coaching or hour upon hour of range time.

I keep arriving at the first tee looking for the return of the moment of wonder. I’ll be there today, waiting and watching. And swinging.

Mike Hembree

Mike Hembree is a veteran journalist who has covered a variety of sports for numerous publications and websites, including USA Today, Fox Sports, TV Guide and The Greenville (S.C.) News. He has written 14 books and has won numerous writing awards at the national, regional and state levels. He is a seven-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.