Spieth: 20, and really something

By Joe PosnanskiApril 13, 2014, 12:30 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – There’s a fun scene in the movie “Big” where Tom Hanks, playing the grown-up version of a 13-year-old boy, is talking to a neurotic and increasingly jaded co-worker named Susan. He tells her that she’s nice.

“You don’t know me that well,” Susan says.

“Yes I do,” he says. “You’re one of the nicest people I’ve met.”

She looks at him – there’s just this wonderful innocence on his face, completely devoid of cynicism and world-weariness and all the things that she had grown accustomed to in the adult world. She is so disarmed by his look, so disarmed by the childhood wonder on his face, that all of her defenses just fall away and she is, in this crazy way, happy.

“How do you do it?” she asks.

That’s the question I think people really wanted to ask Jordan Spieth Saturday evening. How do you do it? The questions were mostly about the astonishing story that builds around him. Spieth is 20 years old. He’s at his first Masters. And he goes into Sunday tied with Bubba Watson for the lead. Nothing at all about this makes much sense.

Look: No first-timer has won the Masters since Fuzzy Zoeller somehow beat Tom Watson and Ed Sneed in a playoff in 1979. No 20-year-old has ever won it. This, after all, is Augusta National. The most used word Masters week – with the possible exceptions of  “patron” and “tradition" and “pimento cheese” – is “experience.” All you ever hear about is how experience, course knowledge, a sense of the land is imperative if you want to contend. Six 50-somethings made the cut this year. Augusta National is a country for old men.

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So Jordan Spieth going into Sunday’s final round tied for the lead is an absurd, amazing, crazy story.

So questions revolved around that. But there’s something even more amazing about Jordan Spieth than his dazzling golf game. Tiger Woods as a young man was no mystery to anyone. He came to win. He came to conquer. He never hid his hunger, his ambition, his intense belief that nobody in the world could beat him.

First time he came to Augusta as a 19-year-old amateur phenom, people asked him what he hoped to learn from the experience.

“I came to win,” Woods said, and he meant it.

While a few of the old-timers might have blanched a bit at the chutzpah, there was no missing the essence of the young Tiger Woods. He did not come to joke around or to hang out with the old legends. He was not here to take in the atmosphere or to have his photo taken at the Hogan Bridge. He was not here to smell the azaleas. He was Alexander the Great, and he came to get what he believed was rightfully his.

Two years later, when he became the youngest champion in Masters history – and did it by 12 shots – everybody understood exactly where it came from.

But Jordan Spieth – how does he do it? There is no bravado. He’s quirky and funny and respectful and agreeable. There is no talk of destiny. There is no talk of winning. He falls to his knees at No. 12 as he prays for his ball to stay on the green (it does). He gives himself little pep talks right on the course: “We’re going to be all right,” or “We’ll make bogey at worst,” or “Hit the smart shot” and so on. He talks about being so nervous out there that he’s losing his hair (at age 20!). He talks about how much it means to him to be here.

“I’m 20, and this is the Masters, and this is the tournament I’ve always dreamt about,” he says happily.

Also, there’s the Mister thing. He calls the great golfers “Mister.” He doesn’t do this awkwardly; it’s clearly part of his makeup. Mr. Crenshaw was helpful. Mr. Nicklaus helped out, too. When someone asks him how old someone needs to be to earn the “Mister” honorific, he says that anyone older than him gets it.

“So you’ll call Bubba ‘Mister?’” he’s asked, referring to his co-leader.

“Yeah, Mr. Watson for sure,” he says, and he smiles. “Just because it’ll mess with him.”

Tiger Woods would have seen such admissions and chumminess and openness as signs of weakness. I don’t mean this as any sort of judgment. That was the right way for Tiger Woods; he needed to create an aura around himself, a sense of invincibility. He did that, and it led him to become for 10 years or so the greatest golfer anyone has ever seen. Through the years other young golfers – Rory McIlroy included – found themselves trying to be like Tiger, even if it did not fit their nature.

But Jordan Spieth seems entirely comfortable being Jordan Spieth. He had a spectacular amateur career, becoming only second player (along with Tiger Woods) to win multiple U.S. Junior Amateurs. He led Texas to a national championship his one year in college, then went to the U.S. Open as an amateur and finished 21st. He turned pro and finished second in his third tournament. He won a tournament last July at age 19. That made him the first teenager to win a PGA Tour event since the year the Empire State Building was finished.

He came to Augusta filled with all the joy and hope of a 20-year-old who has been dreaming about the place all his life. You couldn’t be around the kid without feeling … happy. Sure, he came to contend. He’s confident in his ability. Spieth’s golfing brilliance comes out of his quick ability to learn, his unnatural calm and incredible touch around the greens. There’s a beautiful simplicity to his game: He sees the shot and then he hits it.

For instance: At No. 10 he found himself at the bottom of a steep hill facing an absurdly harsh shot up to the green. On CBS, three-time Masters champion Nick Faldo talked about the countless things that could go wrong and the extreme difficulty of the shot. He made it sound roughly like trying to tightrope across Niagara Falls.

Spieth promptly hit the simplest looking shot that rolled to 2 feet from the cup, where he made his routine par.

“These youngsters!” Faldo blurted out with amazement in his voice.

But it’s Spieth’s energy, his easygoing way, his eagerness to learn and experience everything about Augusta that put him at the center of the gallery’s focus. Of course, nobody knows what happens on Sunday. But at this moment, the 20-year-old kid looks like the sturdiest player in the field. Saturday was a wild day as the greens hardened and slickened – by the end of the day players were calling those greens “frightening” and “on the edge.”

“It was crazy, crazy fast out there,” Spieth himself says. “I’ve never putted on greens like that before.”

But while the tournament tossed and turned, while golfers got hot and then golfers got cold, while Gary Woodland tied a course record with a 30 on the first nine holes and 50-year-old Miguel Angel Jimenez shot a 66 while second-round leader Bubba Watson couldn’t get any of his putts to the hole and Matt Kuchar rolled a putt 35 feet past the hole on 18 … Spieth was a rock. He made four birdies, two bogeys, held together.

“Tomorrow is about seeing how I can control my game and emotions out on the golf course,” he says.

Well, can he control his game and emotions? On Sunday? At his first Masters? At age 20?

“You draw on memories of guys that have made the putts on the last hole – from Phil to Tiger to last year with Adam,” he says. “You just dream of what it would mean and how cool it would be and all those putts I hit when I was real young with my friends … to win the Masters.”

He had this great look on his face. It was the Tom Hanks look from “Big.” With that, people all around remembered being kids and trying their own putts to win the Masters of their imaginations.

“You know,” Spieth says, “I would love the opportunity to test it tomorrow.”

Twenty years old. How does he do it?

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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

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First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

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After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.