A member at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth knows Jordan Spieth’s father, Shawn. At one point in Jordan’s rocket-ship ride last year, she wrote Shawn an email expressing concern about Jordan’s ability to handle the pressure of success. “You don’t have to worry about Jordan,” the father replied. “His faith and his character will see him through.”
So when the pressure of failure came knocking at the 12th hole on Sundayat The Masters, my mind flashed back
to that email.
There are certain rules of Augusta National, even for people who have never been to the course. Don’t miss it left off the second tee; it’s known as the Delta Airlines check-out counter down there because it’s a guaranteed early trip home. All putts break toward Rae’s Creek. The tournament doesn’t begin until the back nine on Sunday.
Golfers of my father’s age knew that you always aim right of the 11th green guarded by a water hazard left. As Ben Hogan famously said, “If you see me on the green in two, you’ll know I missed my second.”
The next generation of golfers, like me, learned you don’t aim at the flag when it’s on the right side of the hourglass 12th green. In the Age of Nicklaus, Jack told us, “You never go for it when it’s right. You want to be left and long.”
These are the adages that keep us talking about The Masters as we head into this week’s Australian Open at Royal Sydney, where Spieth, incredibly, won’t go in as tournament favourite. Jason Day, if fully fit, takes that honour and deservedly so.
When Jordan, who had been leaving the ball to the right with his irons, came to Augusta’s 12th with a three-shot lead, he decided to hit a draw. Sometime after that decision and before impact, he ignored Jack’s advice and tried to “bleed” a fade into the hole. Anybody who has ever played the game could identify with that mixed message, and what happened next.
People said it was the worst collapse ever. But people have a five-minute memory. I give you two words: Greg Norman. And please don’t compare a player of Spieth’s stature to Jean Van de Velde or Billy Joe Patton. Or Ed Sneed or Scott Hoch.
The late, great Arnold Palmer was the defending champion and the third-round leader in the 1959 Masters, like Jordan. He came to the 12th on Sunday with a three-stroke lead, like Jordan. And hit it in the water, like Jordan. He birdied the next hole and then made a par and a birdie on 14 and 15, like Jordan. Arnie went for it on 17 and bogeyed it, like Jordan. He had to put the jacket on some other guy, like Jordan.
It won’t be the last time Spieth is compared with Palmer, who went on to win three more Masters, a US Open, two British Opens and an Australian Open.
When Jordan finally finished with all the haberdashery and interviews on that fateful Sunday night, he and his manager, Jay Danzi, collected his belongings from the Champions Locker Room and slipped down the back-verandah stairs to find a lone woman and her daughter who looked to be about 12 years old waiting in the gloaming. I don’t have to say other Masters champions might have left footprints on the back of their shirts rushing by, but Jordan paused, listened intently and then turned to the girl and had a small conversation with her. Now that was like Arnie and it’s why Aussie fans are sure to warm to him again this week.
I ran into another renowned gentleman, Nick Price, at a cocktail party the next night in New York. “You know the remarkable thing,” Nick said, “was his eyes while it was happening. If you look back at the tape on 12, most golfers experiencing that kind of trauma would have a deer-in-the-headlights look, blanking out, losing connection. You could see Jordan knew exactly what was happening every second. He was processing. He was learning. It burned him, he will hurt for a long time, but there’s no question as a player he’s over it.”
Paul Azinger has a similar view: “I think this guy Jordan Spieth is unique to anybody that I’ve ever known play golf, in that he treats all his mistakes like learning experiences,” says the 1993 US PGA Champion.
“And it’s painful right now. People forget that for all his maturity, he is still in some ways his chronological age . But he’s going to learn from it, and it’s just going to end up being part of his legacy. Just like Arnold had some very tough losses. But it will be an amazing legacy of a bunch of Majors.”
It all comes back to the father’s son. You don’t have to worry about Jordan. His faith and his character will see him through.
Look out, Sydney!