Spieth learns valuable lessons in defeat

By Joe PosnanskiApril 14, 2014, 1:04 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – A couple of years ago, Jack Nicklaus was talking about how young golfers have to “learn how to win.” That’s a common quote from golfers – that whole bit about learning how to win – but few explain what they actually mean by it. Nicklaus, though, has a way of piercing through clichés and making them meaningful. 

Here were five things he said about learning how to win: 

1. You have to learn how your body will respond under intense pressure.

2. You have to make certain mistakes so you can learn how to overcome them and how to avoid them later.

3. You have to then learn how to shrink your mistakes (you will always make mistakes), how to make them small enough they won’t cost you the tournament.

4. You have to learn the rhythms and pacing of golf so that you won’t try risky shots when you don’t need them.

5. You have to learn that golf tournaments are not usually won by making the heroic shot but, instead, by not making the disastrous ones. 

Nicklaus said a few other things, but that was at the heart of it … there are simply things that a 20-year-old kid, no matter how talented, no matter how mature, no matter how astute and intuitive, will not know. And no one can teach him; you have to learn it yourself. 


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Sunday, Jordan Spieth went into the eighth hole with a two-shot lead at the Masters and everything – EVERYTHING – pointed his way. He had already made four birdies, one of them a miraculous shot from the bunker at No. 4 and another a heart-stopping 10-foot curler at No. 7 that was a bit like putting on marble. He had dazzled everyone all week with his sense of himself. He was only 20! It was his first Masters! The word on him: Jordan Spieth was born old. 

Born old or not, this is still the Masters, those greens are still remorseless, and the Sunday pressure will still crush the spirit. On the par-5 eighth, Spieth hit his second shot to the right of the green and had a delicate but promising shot to set up for birdie. When he hit it, even though he could not see the ball land, he knew it was just about perfect. He expected that the ball would roll to within 3 or 4 feet of the cup. 

Trouble was: He didn’t hear the crowd roar. In fact he didn’t hear the crowd do anything at all. That was bad. He ran up to the green to see what had gone wrong. 

And he saw that his ball – impossibly – had just stopped, as if it had run out of gas. There was still a crazy 25-foot downhill luge course between the ball and the hole. 

“I was baffled by it, I really was,” he would say. “I thought it was a really good shot.” 

He left his first putt a little bit short. And he missed the next putt. Bogey. Bubba Watson made birdie and the two-shot lead was gone. 

On the ninth hole, Spieth faced that classic Masters second shot into a green so severe that television simply cannot capture it. Basically, you are hitting into a green shaped like the Transamerica Pyramid Center in San Francisco. The thing you cannot do – CANNOT DO – is hit it short and have the ball roll back off the green. Jordan Spieth hit it short and the ball rolled back off the green. 

“I hit it very solid … I saw it hit the bank, thought it would climb up,” Spieth would say. “I was kind of surprised to see it come back down.” 

He followed with a nice chip and a superb putt that did not fall in. Bogey. Bubba Watson made birdie and, like that, impossibly fast, Spieth was two shots back. He would never be in the lead again. 

But you notice the surprise Spieth felt on each of those shots? That’s a 20-year-old. People who have played in the major championships a lot learn: Bad breaks should NEVER surprise you. 

Spieth did cut the margin to one shot on the next hole. But then, finally, there was the 12th hole. Golden Bell. The most famous golf hole in the world. It’s just a harmless looking little par 3 that somehow messes with the minds of the greatest golfers who ever lived. Spieth knew all about the mind games of this hole. He’s been following the Masters since he was a kid. He’d studied the way the greats – Nicklaus, Gary Player, Ben Crenshaw – played it. He’d parred the hole each of the first three days. 

It’s different on Sunday. 

Spieth felt no wind at all. You never feel the right wind at No. 12. He hit his 9-iron and thought he’d hit it well. As he looked into the sky, he saw that his ball seemed to be fighting a little something, as if it was trying to break a tackle. What was that? Wind? “Go,” he said softly. The ball hit the front of the green, seemed to briefly take in the scenery, and then regretfully rolled back into the water. 

After that, Spieth was never really a threat to Bubba Watson. Nobody was. Nobody made any run at all. Watson hit a 366-yard drive on the 13th hole, made birdie, and breezed uncontested to a three-shot victory. 

So what’s the takeaway? Jordan Spieth is unquestionably sensible beyond his years. But 20 years old is still 20 years old. And no 20-year-old has ever won the Masters. It was tempting all week to think that he would be immune to that but, realistically, no one is immune. 

The last time I wrote about Spieth, I quoted the movie “Big” … today it’s “The Matrix.” Remember the scene where Neo is about to try the jump across buildings? 

“What if he makes it?” one of the crew asks. 

“No one’s ever made their first jump,” says another. 

That’s what this was for Jordan Spieth: His first jump. He’s a brilliant player. He has a genius for the short game, a great iron game and a unique ability to visualize the shot that he needs to hit before hitting it. 

But as the day progressed, and the realization of what was happening hit him, Spieth began to get a bit emotional. He looked as if he was going to slam his club after one bad shot. He wildly flapped his hands in an effort to stop a putt he’d hit too hard. He shouted “Dad-gonnit, golly!” after hitting his shot short at No 16, which is kind of a fun thing to say – you have to like the G-rated version of the golfer’s wail – but it still reflected that his mind was running in a hundred different directions at once. 

He looked defeated at times, frustrated at others, overly excited at other times. That easy pace that had guided him all week was just a little bit off. 

“I wasn’t quite as patient today as I was the first three rounds and holding emotions as well,” he would say. “I was very close. It was still the best I’ve ever done on a Sunday, and I know that it can only improve from there.” 

Spieth dreamed this dream many times in his young life. He imagined himself in the lead of the Masters again and again. But there are only so many things you can simulate about being in the lead at the Masters on Sunday. There is no way really to know how it will feel to be in that position, how you will respond to bad breaks and, conversely, how you will deal with the standing ovations on the some of the most famous holes in the world – not until you go through it.

And it is only when you go through it all that you can learn those Nicklaus lessons. Let’s say this, though: A perceptive and brilliant young player can learn those lessons pretty quickly. Nicklaus won the sixth major championship he entered. Tiger Woods won his fifth. A couple of years ago the young Rory McIlroy had the lead at Augusta going into the back nine on Sunday and then blew up. A few weeks later, he won the U.S. Open. 

“I feel like I’m ready to win,” Spieth would say. “I just want to get back out there.” 

See, he’s learned one big lesson already. There will be other chances.

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.



The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”



Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.