AUGUSTA, Ga. – At a place with more ceremonies than a Greek wedding it’s slightly anticlimactic that returning the most iconic symbol of major championship success is as unceremonial as hanging up a coat.
The coveted green jacket that golfers grow up wanting to win has never been far from Jordan Spieth the last 12 months. He’s traveled with it, he’s glanced at it, daily, in his closet, he’s even entertained friends and grilled with it on.
But Spieth’s run as Masters champion ends this week and with that passing goes the green jacket, which can now be worn only when he is on property at Augusta National unless he becomes the first player since Tiger Woods in 2002 to win back-to-back Masters.
Two weeks ago as he prepared to travel to the WGC-Dell Match Play, that reality sank in for Spieth.
“When I packed it to go down to Austin [Texas], I was like, wow, there's a possibility that I don't have this back at my house anymore when I was leaving home,” said Spieth, who has shown a refreshing amount of sentimentality in his young career. “It kind of fired me up a little bit. Just the jacket itself provides a little motivation, which is cool but at the same time, it's not easy.”
It’s not easy parting with his green jacket and it won’t be easy bringing it back home to Dallas, not if the oddsmakers are to be trusted.
Jason Day, who unseated Spieth atop the Official World Golf Ranking two weeks ago, is the favorite, which Spieth said was fine by him.
Inasmuch as a defending champion who blitzed Augusta National with an 18-under total for a wire-to-wire victory last spring can, Spieth is happy to be under the proverbial radar.
Spieth has, after all, not been his dominant self the past few months after opening his year with an eight-stroke victory at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.
Since Maui, his best Tour finish is a tie for ninth at the Match Play. After making an early run last Sunday at the Shell Houston Open that included four birdies in his first five holes, he faded into a tie for 13th place.
Against that backdrop Spieth begins his title defense with something less than his best stuff to those watching from outside the green punchbowl.
Just don’t tell the 22-year-old that.
“We know we're capable of playing this place. We have proven it to ourselves the last two years. So the focus is on this week, and we feel as confident as probably ever leading into at least on Tuesday,” Spieth said. “So my game actually feels better right now than I think it did last year on Tuesday.”
The record would suggest that Spieth is at least on par with his performances through the first six months of last season.
Heading down Magnolia Lane last year he had won once, a playoff victory at the Valspar Championship, and had just one missed cut, the same as this year.
Statistically, he is 62nd in driving distance this year (55th at this point last year), 79th in driving accuracy (101st in 2015) and fourth in birdie average (sixth).
Beyond the nuts and bolts of his season it’s the unquantifiable elements of Spieth’s game that seem to give him confidence going into this week’s event.
After winning the first two majors last year and coming within a stroke of adding the claret jug to his growing Grand Slam collection, Spieth has largely quieted the outside noise that comes with such success and focused his energies on the inside voices.
“It's more the internal stuff that is trickier for me,” he said. “The only way it affects my golf is if I'm on the course and I feel like I'm giving strokes away and, therefore, I make an aggressive play that's unnecessary.”
Spieth also has history on his side.
Despite having played the Masters just twice he’s appeared to have the moves of a savvy veteran, avoiding the pitfalls both on and off the golf course the last two years and not allowing the enormity of the event to overcome him.
For Spieth, the familiarity is the byproduct of his early success when he finished runner-up to Bubba Watson in 2014.
“I think I was lucky that the first try, I wasn't trying as hard, and I think now I can just go back to the past couple years and draw off of that,” he said.
It’s that confidence, born from on-the-job experience, that helped temper his green jacket’s return to Augusta National this week, and why despite a chorus of concern over his recent form the moment was far from melancholy.
“I didn't take it for granted whatsoever,” Spieth said. “I think that I could have taken advantage of having it in my possession more than I did. But you learn and next time I'll do a little bit better.”