Spieth, like his performance, shines at Masters

By Joe PosnanskiApril 13, 2015, 10:00 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – At the end of every Masters, an official from Augusta National will ask the newly crowned champion to “please go over your round.” This, like so many Masters things, is a tradition from a simpler time, before ShotLink disseminated on the Internet every possible scoring statistic for every golfer. Before television had 18-hole coverage, back when people could not see what the players had done.

In any case, this has become one of the first duties of a Masters champion: To sit at the microphone and mindlessly recite what shots he hit on every hole of his final round. The “going-over-the-round” oration tends to be a perfunctory 90-second affair, with the champion in his new green jacket impatiently reciting, “OK, on the first hole, driver, 8-iron, two putts. On the second hole, driver, 4-iron, hit a chip to 10 feet, made birdie. On the third hole …”

Jordan Spieth, of course, turned his round review into a long and joyous reenactment of what was “probably the best day of my life.” Because, you see, Spieth is like that.

“Michael [Greller, Spieth’s caddie] and I were joking at the first tee today,” Spieth said. “The University of Texas team is in Pasatiempo, another great Alister MacKenzie [golf course]. Actually I think he’s buried there.”*

*To interrupt for a moment: Spieth mostly got this right. MacKenzie, the great golf course architect who designed Augusta National and died two months before the first Masters, did have his ashes spread over Pasatiempo Golf Club in Santa Fe, Calif.”

“Anyway,” Spieth continued, “they are at Pasatiempo, and I would be a senior with the team right now. Michael said, ‘Aren’t you glad you are not at Pasatiempo now?’ Actually, he said, ‘Face it, aren’t you glad you’re here instead of there?’ That kind of sums it up.

“I had a 3-wood off No. 1 tee box. Then I had a good, kind of smooth, 9-iron into the green. Tried to bleed a little fade up there. I got it to where I wanted. Then I putted it where I wanted to; it was a straight putt coming right back up the hill. Justin obviously made his putt to start, so it was really nice to drop one on top of his to start the round.”

That was just Spieth’s description of the first hole. He did 17 more holes just like it.


On Spieth’s bogey at No. 7: “I hit driver right again. Then I hit a 6-iron through a little gap in the trees, which may not have been the smartest move but I didn’t really like any other options at that point. I got a bit unlucky because if the ball went into either of the sand traps there, it would have been a pretty easy up-and-down. Instead, it’s in between [the bunkers] and I don’t have a stance. I’d be interested to see a picture of that. Half my feet were dangling over the bunker.

“I was just standing there on my toes, and I actually hit a really good pitch to get it to makeable length. It’s just a tough putt. … It’s a feel-based putt. I just didn’t quite hit it hard enough to hold its line. So that was two bogeys in three holes. I was disappointed at that time.”

We haven’t seen a player quite like Spieth before. And it’s easy to get carried away. Every time a player puts together a sort-of-staggering performance like Spieth did at this year’s Masters, there’s a hunger to declare him The Next Big Thing. We go overboard. Golf is a sport vitalized and energized by its stars; when there aren’t players at the top who animate the imagination, the whole sport feels a bit lifeless. This wasn’t a problem in the late 1990s and most of the 2000s, because Tiger Woods was such a force of nature. But it has been almost seven years since Woods won a major championship, and while his on-again, off-again, now-he’s-injured, now-he’s-playing-great thrill ride always makes news, golf fans have been desperate to find someone new to headline.

Think James Bond movies after Sean Connery.

So, let’s see here, Keegan Bradley won the PGA Championship at 25. Webb Simpson was 27 when he took home the U.S. Open trophy. People tried to get excited about Jason Dufner for a while after he won the PGA. Martin Kaymer made mincemeat of Pinehurst No. 2 at the U.S. Open, and there was some thought he could dominate golf. Adam Scott, nicest guy in the world, won the Masters and he seemed to have sort of a cool Australian Bond vibe. Jason Day? Rickie Fowler? Bubba Watson? Justin Rose? All of them have been called The Next Big Thing.

Of course, the best bet to fill the Tiger void long has been Rory McIlroy, a brilliant young player with a wonderful personality. He is only 25, he’s the world’s No. 1 player and he has won four major championships. He plays the game with a verve and power that should thrill everyone. But, to be blunt, there’s just something Woods had that McIlroy, through no fault of his own, can’t quite duplicate, at least in America. Maybe it is because McIlroy is from Northern Ireland. Maybe it is that Woods is utterly irreplaceable because he was a social force in addition to a golf force; he was, after all, an African-American dominating a sport that had long been closed off for African-Americans.

Or maybe it is this: No one since Tiger (and few before Tiger) has so willingly and forcefully grabbed that No. 1 spot in the world. It’s a tough job. Sure, there’s good money in it and lots of glory – Late-night talk shows! Magazine covers! Commercials! Parties with celebrities! – but you can get plenty of that stuff being the No. 17 or No. 23 or No. 35 player in the world, too. And that’s easier. At No. 1, you are always the focus. You get the most autograph requests, the most selfie requests, the most interview requests. The other players want to beat you first. Whatever you say makes news. Wherever you go, you carry the game with you.

And, most just don’t want all that. Everybody wants to be James Bond, but nobody wants to get shot at all the time. I will always remember the delightful Nick Price – after he won two major championships in 1994 and was the No. 1 player in the world – coming into the Masters unsure that he even wanted to win the green jacket. He just didn’t want his life to get even crazier.

Tiger’s hunger to be the greatest player ever was so overpowering that he never had any doubts what he wanted: No. 1 was the only place to be. There haven’t been many who have so deeply craved to be on top of the world. Even McIlroy seems to have struggled with it at times as his personal life and various misjudgments have been splayed in stories across the world.

And Spieth? Can he handle how his life is about to change? Beyond that: Does he want – really want – the magnificence and responsibility that comes with being the best? Well, it sure sounds like it.

“The ultimate goal that I have mentioned, I think, each week,” he said, “is to try and become the No. 1 player in the world. … All in all, [winning the Masters] is really cool. This isn’t an honor that’s carried lightly. The members of Augusta National and everyone who partakes in the Masters demands the highest quality on and off the course from their champions. I’m ready to carry that baton.”


On Spieth’s birdie at No. 13: “I hit 3-wood, and got a nice little hook on the ball and a really good bounce to get up there so I could hit a comfortable 5-iron in. I think those shots at 13 were the two biggest shots I’ve ever hit in my life. I was coming off a three-putt, and Justin [Rose] was in a pretty good spot off that tee. I needed to do something. I needed to birdie that hole because otherwise I think I would have dropped.

“So I missed the 5-iron a little. I was trying to go a little left and just kind of hit it straight, kind of hit it a little off the toe. I was yelling, “Get up! Get up!” When it landed, from my angle, I thought it hit short and went in the water. All of a sudden the roar came up. When I walked up I saw the pitch mark was right on that little peninsula. And there was another moment where I thought, ‘This could be destiny.’”

The marvel of Spieth is that he is, at this moment of his life, a blend of wise-beyond-his-years sensibleness and youthful wonder. One minute, under the most intense pressure, he will be sinking an utterly impossible putt on greens that are like Formica. The next minute, he will be talking about the movie “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” One minute, he is charming everyone with his unusual blend of humility and confidence; the next he’s leaving dirty dishes all over his house. As a father, I sometimes will see a young person and wish I could talk to his or her parents just to ask: “How did you do that? How did you raise such a cool kid?”

Spieth says that his grounded nature was forged by the relationship with his younger sister, Ellie, who has a neurological disorder on the autism spectrum. She inspires him. She also reminds him constantly of what’s really important. A week before the Masters, in Houston, he lost in a playoff. He saw it through Ellie’s eyes; at the end of each day she would ask him if he had won. And through her eyes, Spieth realized his week could be summed up in five words: “Not yet. Not yet. No.’”

He took those five words with him to Augusta and did all sorts of remarkable things – youngest player to lead after the first round, lowest 36-hole score ever at a major championship, lowest 54-hole score ever at the Masters, most birdies at the Masters (28) – but the most impressive feat of all might not have been an actual record. He became the first player in almost 40 years to lead the tournament wire-to-wire. The last was Raymond Floyd in 1976 and before that it was Jack Nicklaus in 1972 and before that it was Arnold Palmer in 1960.

But even those three would concede that going wire-to-wire now is a much different deal. The intense pressure that comes from leading the Masters in today’s 24-hour news frenzy simply does not compare to years ago. Spieth said he slept pretty well the first night he had the lead. He slept considerably worse the second night. He hardly slept at all the third. He kept promising himself that he would not look at leaderboards; but he could not help but sneak a few peeks. He kept telling himself not to let the roars of the crowd distract him, but it is not easy to turn off your hearing, especially when you are as alert and present as Spieth.

Still, he endured. More than that, he dominated. His golf game is a symphony of small things done well. He does not hit it very far, he does not always hit it straight, he will occasionally falter in shots around the green. But he has a genius for hitting the right shot at the right time, which is what Nicklaus says professional golf is all about. And nobody putts like this guy.

“He has no weaknesses,” said Phil Mickelson, who could not quite find a way to rattle the kid on Sunday. “He doesn’t overpower the golf course, but he plays the course strategically well. He plays all the shots properly. And he has the ability to focus and see things clearly when the pressure is on and perform at his best … that’s something you really can’t teach.”


Spieth on No. 18: “My driver wasn’t what I wanted it to be today. … But I got it over in the pine straw, and I knew I could get a 5-iron at least to into the bunker. If it gets into the bunker, then I can blast it out on to the green. … It curved to a perfect spot and at that point I knew I had won the tournament.

“After I got that 5-iron out, I knew. I had kept my head down before that. I was enjoying the right and intensity of the round because that’s what we played for. But it didn’t creep into my mind that I had won the tournament until I hit that second shot on 18 and walked up there. And I said to Michael, ‘Mike, I think we just did it.’ He says, ‘No, you haven’t. Don’t say that. Just go up there and hit the chip.’ That was perfect. That’s what he should say there.

“I’ll never forget watching the front of the hole as the last tap-in went in the front edge. There was no need for crazy celebrations. At that point, I was just really, really pleased with the whole week, being on top, being able to stay on top, being able to conquer my favorite tournament in the world.”

Jordan Spieth took 2,593 words to go over his round. To give you a comparison, the Gettysburg Address is 272 words. Spieth’s round review was a few more words than Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Tell-Tale Heart” and only about 40 words less than Mark Twain’s famous “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.”

Spieth’s short story was every bit as enjoyable. You sensed that he never wanted to stop talking about it. And isn’t that the most human thing? Don’t we all want to talk and talk about our best dreams?

In the end, Mickeson got it right: Spieth just has this knack for seeing things clearly. How can someone so young have that ability? How far can it take him? How much fun will it be to watch him and McIlroy and all those prodigies and perhaps even a revitalized Woods play for that spot on top of the world? How good can this kid be?

These are open questions. But when the Masters ended - and Jordan hugged his father Shawn, then his mother Chris, then his brother Steven, then his high school sweetheart Annie Verret, and then walked back onto the green to applaud the crowd that was applauding him – I’m willing to wager that across America my wife Margo wasn’t the only person crying.

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Singh's lawsuit stalls as judge denies motion

By Rex HoggardJanuary 23, 2018, 7:54 pm

Vijay Singh’s attempts to speed up the proceedings in his ongoing lawsuit against the PGA Tour have been stalled, again.

Singh – who filed the lawsuit in New York Supreme Court in May 2013 claiming the Tour recklessly administered its anti-doping program when he was suspended, a suspension that was later rescinded – sought to have the circuit sanctioned for what his attorneys argued was a frivolous motion, but judge Eileen Bransten denied the motion earlier this month.

“While the court is of the position it correctly denied the Tour’s motion to argue, the court does not agree that the motion was filed in bad faith nor that it represents a ‘persistent pattern of repetitive or meritless motions,’” Bransten said.

It also doesn’t appear likely the case will go to trial any time soon, with Bransten declining Singh’s request for a pretrial conference until a pair of appeals that have been sent to the court’s appellate division have been decided.

“What really should be done is settle this case,” Bransten said during the hearing, before adding that it is, “unlikely a trail will commence prior to 2019.”

The Tour’s longstanding policy is not to comment on ongoing litigation, but earlier this month commissioner Jay Monahan was asked about the lawsuit.

“I'll just say that we're going through the process,” Monahan said. “Once you get into a legal process, and you've been into it as long as we have been into it, I think it's fair to assume that we're going to run it until the end.”

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Videos and images from Tiger's Tuesday at Torrey

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 23, 2018, 7:45 pm

Tiger Woods played a nine-hole practice round Tuesday at Torrey Pines South, site of this week's Farmers Insurance Open. Woods is making his first PGA Tour start since missing the cut in this event last year. Here's a look at some images and videos of Tiger, via social media:

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Power Rankings: 2018 Farmers Insurance Open

By Will GrayJanuary 23, 2018, 6:59 pm

The PGA Tour remains in California this week for the Farmers Insurance Open. A field of 156 players will tackle the North and South Courses at Torrey Pines, with weekend play exclusively on the South Course.

Be sure to join the all-new Golf Channel Fantasy Challenge - including a new One & Done game offering - to compete for prizes and form your own leagues, and log on to www.playfantasygolf.com to submit your picks for this week's event.

Jon Rahm won this event last year by three shots over Charles Howell III and C.T. Pan. Here are 10 names to watch in La Jolla:

1. Jon Rahm: No need to overthink it at the top. Rahm enters as a defending champ for the first time, fresh off a playoff win at the CareerBuilder Challenge that itself was preceded by a runner-up showing at Kapalua. Rahm is perhaps the hottest player in the field, and with a chance to become world No. 1 should be set for another big week.

2. Jason Day: The Aussie has missed the cut here the last two years, and he hasn't played competitively since November. But he ended a disappointing 2017 on a slight uptick, and his Torrey Pines record includes three straight top-10s from 2013-15 that ended with his victory three years ago.

3. Justin Rose: Rose ended last year on a tear, with three victories over his final six starts including two in a row in Turkey and China. The former U.S. Open winner has the patience to deal with a brutal layout like the South Course, as evidenced by his fourth-place showing at this event a year ago.

4. Rickie Fowler: This tournament has become somewhat feast-or-famine for Fowler, who is making his ninth straight start at Torrey Pines. The first four in that run all netted top-20 finishes, including two top-10s, while the last four have led to three missed cuts and a T-61. After a win in the Bahamas and T-4 at Kapalua, it's likely his mini-slump comes to an end.

5. Brandt Snedeker: Snedeker has become somewhat of a course specialist at Torrey Pines in recent years, with six top-10 finishes over the last eight years including wins in both 2012 and 2016. While he missed much of the second half of 2017 recovering from injury and missed the cut last week, Snedeker is always a threat to contend at this particular event.

6. Hideki Matsuyama: Matsuyama struggled to find his footing after a near-miss at the PGA Championship, but he appears to be returning to form. The Japanese phenom finished T-4 at Kapalua and has put up solid results in two of his four prior trips to San Diego, including a T-16 finish in his 2014 tournament debut. Matsuyama deserves a look at any event that puts a strong emphasis on ball-striking.

7. Tony Finau: Finau has the length to handle the difficult demands of the South Course, and his results have gotten progressively better each time around: T-24 in 2015, T-18 in 2016 and T-4 last year. Finau is coming off the best season of his career, one that included a trip to the Tour Championship, and he put together four solid rounds at the Sony Open earlier this month.

8. Charles Howell III: Howell is no stranger to West Coast golf, and his record at this event since 2013 includes three top-10 finishes highlighted by last year's runner-up showing. Howell chased a T-32 finish in Hawaii with a T-20 finish last week in Palm Springs, his fourth top-20 finish this season.

9. Marc Leishman: Leishman was twice a runner-up at this event, first in 2010 and again in 2014, and he finished T-20 last year. The Aussie is coming off a season that included two wins, and he has amassed five top-10s in his last eight worldwide starts dating back to the Dell Technologies Championship in September.

10. Gary Woodland: Woodland played in the final group at this event in 2014 before tying for 10th, and he was one shot off the lead entering the final round in 2016 before Mother Nature blew the entire field sideways. Still, the veteran has three top-20s in his last four trips to San Diego and finished T-7 two weeks ago in Honolulu.

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Davis on distance: Not 'necessarily good for the game'

By Will GrayJanuary 23, 2018, 6:28 pm

It's a new year, but USGA executive Mike Davis hasn't changed his views on the growing debate over distance.

Speaking with Matt Adams on SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio, Davis didn't mince words regarding his perception that increased distance has had a negative impact on the game of golf, and he reiterated that it's a topic that the USGA and R&A plan to jointly address.

"The issue is complex. It's important, and it's one that we need to, and we will, face straight on," Davis said. "I think on the topic of distance, we've been steadfast to say that we do not think increased distance is necessarily good for the game."

Davis' comments echoed his thoughts in November, when he stated that the impact of increased distance has been "horrible" for the game. Those comments drew a strong rebuke from Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein, who claimed there was "no evidence" to support Davis' argument.

That argument, again reiterated Tuesday, centers on the rising costs associated with both acquiring and maintaining increased footprints for courses. Davis claimed that 1 in 4 courses in the U.S. is currently "not making money," and noted that while U.S. Open venues were 6,800-6,900 yards at the start of his USGA tenure, the norm is now closer to 7,400-7,500 yards.

"You ask yourself, 'What has this done for the game? How has that made the game better?'" Davis said. "I think if we look at it, and as we look to the future, we're asking ourselves, saying, 'We want the game of golf to be fun.' We want it to continue to be challenging and really let your skills dictate what scores you should shoot versus necessarily the equipment.

"But at the same time, we know there are pressures on golf courses. We know those pressures are going to become more acute."