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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After Further Review: Haas crash strikes a chord

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 19, 2018, 2:39 am

Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.


On the horrifying car crash involving Bill Haas ...

I spent a lot of time this week thinking about Bill Haas. He was the passenger in a car crash that killed a member of his host family. That man, 71-year-old Mark Gibello, was a successful businessman in Pacific Palisades, Calif., and a new friend.

Haas escaped without any major injuries, but he withdrew from the Genesis Open to return home to Greenville, S.C. When he’ll return to the Tour is anyone’s guess. It could be a while, as he grapples with the many emotions after surviving that horrifying crash – seriously, check out the photos – while the man next to him did not.

The entire Haas clan is some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Wish them the best in their recovery. – Ryan Lavner


On TIger Woods' missed cut at the Genesis Open ...

After missing the cut at the Genesis Open by more than a few car lengths, Tiger Woods appeared to take his early exit in stride. Perhaps that in and of itself is a form of progress.

Years ago, a second-round 76 with a tattered back-nine scorecard would have elicited a wide range of emotions. But none of them would have been particularly tempered, or optimistic, looking ahead to his next start. At age 42, though, Woods has finally ceded that a win-or-bust mentality is no longer helpful or productive.

The road back from his latest surgery will be a winding one, mixed with both ups and downs. His return at Torrey Pines qualified as the former, while his trunk slam at Riviera certainly served as the latter. There will surely be more of both in the coming weeks and months, and Woods’ ability to stomach the rough patches could prove pivotal for his long-term prognosis. - Will Gray


On the debate over increased driving distance on the PGA Tour ...

The drumbeat is only going to get louder as the game’s best get longer. On Sunday, Bubba Watson pounded his way to his 10th PGA Tour title at the Genesis Open and the average driving distance continues to climb.

Lost in the debate over driving distances and potential fixes, none of which seem to be simple, is a beacon of sanity, Riviera Country Club’s par-4 10th hole. The 10th played just over 300 yards for the week and yet yielded almost as many bogeys (86) as birdies (87) with a 4.053 stroke average.

That ranks the 10th as the 94th toughest par 4 on Tour this season, ahead of behemoths like the 480-yard first at Waialae and 549-yard 17th at Kapalua. Maybe the game doesn’t need new rules that limit how far the golf ball goes, maybe it just needs better-designed golf holes. - Rex Hoggard


On the depth of LPGA talent coming out of South Korea ...

The South Korean pipeline to the LPGA shows no signs of drying up any time soon. Jin Young Ko, 22, won her LPGA debut as a tour member Sunday at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, and Hyejin Choi, 18, nearly won the right to claim LPGA membership there. The former world No. 1 amateur who just turned pro finished second playing on a sponsor exemption. Sung Hyun Park, who shared Rolex Player of the Year honors with So Yeon Ryu last year, is set to make her 2018 debut this week at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And Inbee Park is set to make her return to the LPGA in two weeks at the HSBC Women’s World Championship after missing most of last year due to injury. The LPGA continues to go through South Korea no matter where this tour goes. - Randall Mell

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Nature calls: Hole-out rescues Bubba's bladder

By Rex HoggardFebruary 19, 2018, 2:20 am

LOS ANGELES – Clinging to a one-stroke lead, Bubba Watson had just teed off on the 14th hole at Riviera Country Club and was searching for a bathroom.

“I asked Cameron [Smith], ‘where's the bathroom?’ He said, ‘On the next tee there's one. Give yourself a couple more shots, then you can go to the bathroom,’” Watson recalled. “I said, ‘So now I'm just going to hole it and go to the bathroom.’”

By the time Watson got to his shot, which had found the bunker left of the green, his caddie Ted Scott had a similar comment.


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“When he went down to hit it I said, ‘You know you haven’t holed one in a long time,’” Scott said.

Watson’s shot landed just short of the hole, bounced once and crashed into the flagstick before dropping into the hole for an unlikely birdie and a two-stroke lead that he would not relinquish on his way to his third victory at the Genesis Open and his 10th PGA Tour title.

“I looked at Teddy [Scott] and said, ‘You called it.’ Then Cameron [who was paired with Watson] came over and said I called it. I’d forgotten he and I had talked about it,” Watson said.

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Bubba Golf takes long road back to winner's circle

By Rex HoggardFebruary 19, 2018, 1:55 am

LOS ANGELES – Bubba’s back.

It’s been just two years since he hoisted a trophy on the PGA Tour, but with a mind that moves as fast as Bubba Watson’s, it must have felt like an eternity.

Since his last victory, which was also a shootout at Riviera Country Club in 2016, Watson was passed over for a captain’s pick at the 2016 Ryder Cup, endured a mystery illness, lost his confidence, his desire and the better part of 40 pounds.

He admits that along that ride he considered retirement and wondered if his best days were behind him.

“I was close [to retirement]. My wife was not close,” he conceded. “My wife basically told me to quit whining and play golf. She's a lot tougher than I am.”

What else could he do? With apologies to his University of Georgia education and a growing portfolio of small businesses, Watson was made to be on the golf course, particularly a golf course like Riviera, which is the canvas that brings out Bubba’s best.

In a game that can too often become a monotonous parade of fairways and greens, Watson is a freewheeling iconoclast who thrives on adversity. Where others only see straight lines and one-dimensional options, Bubba embraces the unconventional and the untried.

For a player who sometimes refers to himself in the third person, it was a perfectly Bubba moment midway through his final round on Sunday at the Genesis Open. Having stumbled out of the 54-hole lead with bogeys at Nos. 3 and 6, Watson pulled his 2-iron tee shot wildly right at the seventh because, “[his playing partners] both went left.”

From an impossible lie in thick rough with his golf ball 2 feet above his feet, Watson’s often-fragile focus zeroed in for one of the week’s most entertaining shots, which landed about 70 feet from the hole and led to a two-putt par.


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“His feel for that kind of stuff, you can’t go to the range and practice that. You can’t,” said Watson’s caddie Ted Scott. “Put a ball 2 feet above your feet and then have to hold the face open and then to swing that easy. That’s why I have the best seat in the house. That’s the essence of Bubba golf.”

There were plenty of highlight moments on Sunday for Watson. There were crucial putts at Nos. 11 (birdie), 12 (par) and 13 (par) to break free of what was becoming an increasingly fluid leaderboard, and his chip-in birdie from a greenside bunker at the 14th hole extended his lead to two strokes.

“It was just a bunker shot, no big deal,” smiled Watson, who closed with a 69 for a two-stroke victory over Kevin Na and Tony Finau.

A player that can often appear handcuffed by the most straightforward of shots was at his best at Riviera, withstanding numerous challenges to win the Genesis Open for his 10th PGA Tour title.

That he did so on a frenzied afternoon that featured four different players moving into, however briefly, at last a share of the lead, Watson never appeared rattled. But, of course, we all know that wasn’t the case.

Watson can become famously uncomfortable on the course and isn’t exactly known for his ability to ignore distractions. But Riviera, where he’s now won three times, is akin to competitive Ritalin for Watson.

“[Watson] feels very comfortable moving the ball, turning it a lot. That allows him to get to a lot of the tucked pins,” said Phil Mickelson, who finished tied for sixth after moving to within one stroke of the lead early in round. “A lot of guys don't feel comfortable doing that and they end up accepting a 15 to 30 footer in the center of the green. He ends up making a lot more birdies than a lot of guys.”

It’s the soul of what Scott calls Bubba Golf, which is in simplest terms the most creative form of the game.

Watson can’t explain exactly what Bubba Golf is, but there was a telling moment earlier this week when Aaron Baddeley offered Watson an impromptu putting lesson, which Bubba said was the worst putting lesson he’d ever gotten.

“He goes, ‘how do you hit a fade?’ I said, ‘I aim it right and think fade.’ How do you hit a draw? I aim it left and think draw,” Watson said. “He said, ‘how do you putt?’ I said, ‘I don't know.’ He said, ‘well, aim it to the right when it breaks to the left, aim it to the left when it breaks to the right,’ exactly how you imagine your golf ball in the fairway or off the tee, however you imagine it, imagine it that way.”

It’s certain that there’s more going on internally, but when he’s playing his best the sum total of Watson’s game can be simply explained – see ball, hit ball. Anything more complicated than that and he runs the risk of losing what makes him so unique and – when the stars align and a course like Riviera or Augusta National, where he’s won twice, asks the right questions – virtually unbeatable.

That’s a long way from the depths of 2017, when he failed to advance past the second playoff event and dropped outside the top 100 in the Official World Golf Ranking. But then, Watson has covered a lot of ground in his career on his way to 10 Tour victories.

“I never thought I could get there,” he said. “Nobody thought that Bubba Watson from Bagdad, Fla., would ever get to 10 wins, let's be honest. Without lessons, head case, hooking the ball, slicing the ball, can't putt, you know? Somehow we're here making fun of it.”

Somehow, through all the adversity and distractions, he found a way to be Bubba again.

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Spieth: 'I feel great about the state of my game'

By Will GrayFebruary 19, 2018, 1:43 am

LOS ANGELES – Jordan Spieth is starting to feel confident again with the putter, which is probably a bad sign for the rest of the PGA Tour.

Spieth struggled on the greens two weeks ago at TPC Scottsdale, but he began to right the ship at Pebble Beach and cracked the top 10 this week at the Genesis Open. Perhaps more important than his final spot on the leaderboard was his standing in the strokes gained putting category – 12th among the field at Riviera Country Club, including a 24-putt performance in the third round.

Spieth closed out the week with a 4-under 67 to finish in a tie for ninth, five shots behind Bubba Watson. But after the round he spoke like a man whose preparation for the season’s first major is once again right on track.


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“I was kind of, you know, skiing uphill with my putting after Phoenix and the beginning of Pebble week, and really just for a little while now through the new year,” Spieth said. “I just made some tremendous progress. I putted extremely well this week, which is awesome. I feel great about the state of my game going forward, feel like I’m in a great place at this time of the year as we’re starting to head into major season.”

Spieth will take a break next week, and where he next tees it up remains uncertain. He still has not announced a decision about playing or skipping the WGC-Mexico Championship, and he will have until 5 p.m. ET Friday to make a final decision on the no-cut event.

Whether or not he flies down to Mexico City, Spieth’s optimism has officially returned after a brief hiccup on the West Coast swing.

“For where I was starting out Phoenix to where I am and how I feel about my game going forward the rest of the year, there was a lot of progress made,” he said. “Now I’ve just got to figure out what the best schedule is for myself as we head into the Masters.”