"Don't let a win get to your head, or a loss to your heart.”
- Chuck D (Public Enemy)
HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – The subtle nuances of competition can only lead to open-ended conclusions.
Did Jordan Spieth lose the Masters?
Did Danny Willett win the 80th edition?
For each, these types of esoteric debates are likely irrelevant. Willett has a green jacket, however he arrived at his major crossroads, and Spieth has a hole that will take some time to fill.
He said as much on Sunday following the most dramatic collapse in Masters history.
“This one will hurt,” said Spieth on Sunday, his face etched with emotion. “It’s going to take awhile.”
How long it will take Spieth to embrace a competitive and cognitive reset is up to the 22-year-old; history suggests the amount of time it takes a player to recover from collapse varies wildly.
“I forgot about it straight away,” said Jason Day when asked how long it took him to recover from his biggest loss (the 2013 Masters). “That night sitting around and thinking, ‘I just lost the Masters,’ was tough. But I also started thinking, what can I do to learn and get better and change that around the next time?”
Day tied for the lead briefly on Sunday back in ’13 at Augusta National thanks to three consecutive birdies starting at the 13th hole. The Australian stumbled, however, with back-to-back bogeys at Nos. 16 and 17 to finish two strokes out of a playoff that was won by Adam Scott.
That’s not to say there weren’t difficult moments for Day in the wake of his Masters loss.
“I was so angry that night, but the next week it was time to move on,” the world No. 1 said.
For Davis Love III, who turned 52 on Wednesday, reclamation was not so swift.
In 1996, Love began the final round of the U.S. Open at Oakland Hills two strokes back, but he charged into the lead with birdies at Nos. 11, 12 and 15 to move atop the leaderboard. The implosion was just as abrupt as Spieth’s on Sunday, with back-to-back bogeys to close his day and lose to Steve Jones by a stroke.
“I had a putt to win and then I had a putt to get in the playoff and then I made the putt to not be in the playoff. I'll never forget it,” Love said.
Twenty years after his brush with disaster Love still seems somehow stung by that loss, a likely byproduct of the harsh realities of age and rapidly diminishing opportunities.
“Maybe you think you're never going to have another chance,” Love said. “At 22, you're going to have a lot more chances. I'm sure [Spieth] is looking at it differently. [But] it doesn't matter if he wins five Masters, he's still going to look back and go, I could have won that one. He'll never get over it.”
Although it wasn’t on the glaring stage of a major, Kevin Kisner endured his fill of missed opportunities last year on the PGA Tour, a run that began at the 2015 RBC Heritage when he lost a birdie exchange to Jim Furyk in extra frames.
Kisner’s is a tale of perspective.
Some will say he lost the Heritage, Players Championship and Greenbrier Classic, which were all three playoff decisions that didn’t go the South Carolina native’s way.
“I wouldn't say any of them I left feeling probably the way Jordan felt on Sunday,” Kisner said. “I felt like I never really gave one away, I just didn't win. I hit good shots coming down the stretch here. The Players I really thought I had that thing won, even on 17, the fourth [playoff] hole.
“But I can't be upset over the way I played; he played better.”
It’s always a delicate distinction for those in defeat. With the line between winning and losing so fine, the internal dialogue a player encounters after such a defeat can be complicated.
History will likely remember the 2016 Masters as the one that got away from Spieth, just as the 1999 Open Championship will always be the claret jug that Jean Van de Velde lost.
That, of course, ignores Willett’s flawless Sunday 67 that included a clutch birdie at the 16th hole after he realized Spieth had made a quadruple-bogey-7 at the 12th hole.
It also brushes over Spieth’s unflinching comeback attempt that included birdies at Nos. 13 and 15 after he’d deposited two golf balls in Rae’s Creek at the 12th.
Did Spieth lose the Masters?
Did Willett win?
For a player like Kisner it’s best to simplify such abstract concepts down to a much more personal option.
“When it’s ‘could have won,’ it’s like, yeah, we need to improve on that and win. ‘Should have won,’ it’s a kick in the gut,” Kisner explained.
Which mindset Spieth chooses to cling to remains unknown, but given his penchant for self-improvement you would expect him to embrace the former. But it may take some time.