HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – All of the elements were there, the competitive version of Kübler-Ross’ five stages of death and dying unfolding like clockwork in the days and hours since Sunday’s shocking finish at the Masters.
No one died but the mood at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of this week’s RBC Heritage, matched the gloom that hung low over the course.
As players made their way out for drizzly practice rounds, the same elements Elisabeth Kübler-Ross outlined in her landmark book “On Death and Dying” surfaced.
In 1969, Kübler-Ross created the acronym DABDA to help map the grieving process – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and, finally, acceptance.
And they were all there on Tuesday as players continued to process what happened to Jordan Spieth on Sunday at the Masters when he blew a five-stroke lead with nine holes to play to lose the Masters.
“He was in such control with nine holes to play, we all thought it was over,” said Colt Knost. “Pressure does crazy things to you ...”
For Knost, Spieth’s implosion – which included a wrenching stretch through Nos. 10-12 that he played in 6 over par – was personal.
Both are Dallas residents and play plenty of practice rounds together. Knost has seen, more times than he can count, Spieth’s short-game brilliance and mental toughness, all of which made his Masters meltdown so stunning.
Late Sunday night, Knost sent Spieth a text message but he really didn’t know what to say.
“Proud of you, handled yourself awesome. Keep your head up,” Knost finally thumbed into his phone.
“S*** happens,” shrugged Jason Gore. “It’s not like the guy has an issue with chunking wedges. It’s not like he has the driver yips or the wedge yips. The guy’s the best putter in the world and he screwed up. It won’t be the last wedge he ever chunks, it was just bad timing.”
Gore’s frustration was grounded in Spieth’s history at Augusta National. In his first 10 Masters rounds Spieth had posted a score worse than bogey just once – on Saturday last year at No. 17 – and his quadruple bogey-7 at the 12th on Sunday was one of just five “others” on that hole all week.
“On that golf course there’s something like that waiting to happen, especially with all that water in play,” Lucas Glover said. “If you’re playing well at a U.S. Open, you just chip back to the fairway and limit the damage. If you hit a bad shot there [Augusta National] you’ve got a bad angle and a touchy shot. It’s hard to limit damage there.”
Those who have watched Spieth emerge as one of the game’s genuine superstars understandably saw Sunday’s collapse as an outlier, an anomaly unique to the exacting test that is Augusta National more so than a sign of what we can expect from the uniquely dubbed Golden Child.
The alternative would be to think there was a crack in an otherwise flawless armor, and given Spieth’s record last year in the majors – two victories, a runner-up showing and a tie for fourth place – that just doesn’t seem likely.
“Oh, man, you’re heart hurts,” Glover said. “Anyone who’s played this game for a length of time has done something similar. Anytime you see a guy struggling it’s painful.”
They say NASCAR drivers avoid funerals as a defense mechanism for a job filled with occupational hazards. Similarly, Tour types normally don’t spend much time watching meltdowns like Spieth’s, but much like a NASCAR pile up they just couldn’t look away.
“It happened so fast you try to get a handle on it. Even the best players try to bounce back and there’s not a whole lot you can do about it,” David Toms said. “Any momentum in any sport, once it gets on the bad side especially in golf it seems like it’s hard to get it back.
“In other sports, you try harder, you play defense, you do other things. In golf there’s no such thing.”
“There’s always situations where you have a chance to do well and it went bad,” Toms said. “It happens to everyone, but it shocks people when it happens to the best player in the world at a tournament he’s dominated and made it look easy.”
This is where most players ended up less than 48 hours after Spieth’s collapse. On any given week there is any number of similarly sensational meltdowns and everyone knows that once the unraveling begins it’s hard to stop.
“Before you blink, your mind is racing and before you know it, it all happens,” Ricky Barnes said.
As players continued to process what happened there was also a healthy amount of sympathy for Spieth, who is one of the most popular Tour members.
It was particularly tough to watch the awards ceremony, which under normal circumstances is an endearing tradition. But given Sunday’s happenings it seemed to only add to the surreal moment.
“I was watching with Tim Clark when he put the green jacket on Danny [Willett] and we both said, ‘This is going to be brutal,’” Knost said.
The adjectives, from brutal to cruel, varied, but the theme remained the same for Spieth’s frat brothers – the Masters runner-up didn’t meet his ultimate demise but it sure did feel like a funeral on Tuesday at Harbour Town.