HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – That empty feeling that has been gnawing at Jordan Spieth since Sunday’s final round at the Masters was still there as he made his way around Harbour Town Golf Links for Wednesday’s pro-am.
It will be there when he tees off for Round 1 of the RBC Heritage on Thursday. It will be there for the rest of this season. Truth is, it will be there forever.
“You don’t ever get over it. It will always be disappointing,” Davis Love III said.
Love came by his pain honestly. At the 1996 U.S. Open he bogeyed his last two holes to finish a stroke behind Steve Jones. Love turned 50 on Sunday, celebrating with friends and family right about the time Spieth’s magical Masters run was being washed down Rae’s Creek, and the ghosts of that ’96 Open loss still haunt him.
So imagine how Spieth, a 20-year-old going on 35 who was playing his first Masters, has spent the last three days – reflection, regret, resentment?
“It left me stinging,” he acknowledged Wednesday.
Yet as the golf world is learning, this is not your off-the-shelf 20-year-old. Along with the pain came plenty of appreciation for the opportunity to play for and ultimately lose the green jacket.
“There’s nothing haunting me from last week,” he said.
Spieth, who moved to ninth in the world golf ranking this week to become the youngest American to crack the top 10, spent Sunday night relaxing with friends and family. They played ping-pong and ate beef shish kabobs with rice and sub sandwiches, because that’s how 20-year-olds roll.
Late Sunday, Spieth texted his Dallas-based swing coach Cameron McCormick and on Monday the two had a lengthy conversation about what had happened during the final round at Augusta National: the less-than-perfect layup at No. 8 compounded by a follow-up bogey at the ninth that resulted in a four-stroke swing with eventual champion Bubba Watson, the indecision at No. 12. Oh, the indecision at the 12th.
“I let the 20-year-old inside me just barely slip out,” Spieth said.
And it cost him. A 9-iron from 150 yards, 143 yards to carry Rae’s Creek, that he’d hit a thousand times in his mind. A 9-iron that would drop short into the bank and eventually trundle into the creek.
“I hate having 9-iron and not being able to go to the pin,” he said. “We picked a spot and I got over the ball and felt like there was no wind or, if anything, a touch of help, which is what that hole does to you.”
McCormick calls it “objective self-reflection.” In practical terms, it is what separates Spieth from many, if not all, of his up-and-coming contemporaries.
“It goes back to when he was 16 years old and we would have conversations and I’d make suggestions. He’s always been receptive and at the same time inquisitive,” McCormick said. “He questions you, challenges you. Part of that is he’s developed this trait of objective self-reflection to understand very quickly what he needs to improve on.”
This goes back to a moment earlier this year during a match against Ernie Els at the WGC-Match Play Championship when Spieth admittedly lost his cool.
“I’m embarrassed about the way I acted on the course today. Played like the 13-year-old version of myself mentally. A lot of positives,” Spieth tweeted following the loss.
McCormick said that Spieth’s social-media mea culpa was “from the heart,” and completely unprovoked. By comparison, his Sunday swoon at the Masters was more an opportunity to learn than an opportunity lost.
For 61 holes Spieth controlled his emotions and his golf ball with equal savvy, not a first-timer learning the nuances of arguably the most demanding test on the fly.
“I’ve looked back to all the positives,” Spieth said. “I feel like I played really well to not shoot an over-par round on that course and not make more than a bogey for four days the way that course was playing.”
It’s why Spieth’s mental toughness, more than his flawless swing or short game, appears to be his best attribute. Consider that at this point last year he didn’t have status on the PGA Tour and watched the year’s first major from his couch like the rest of us.
Where some see failure and the baggage that comes with it, Spieth appears determined to take a more scientific approach to an opportunity that can’t be reproduced in a lab.
“He will learn from how Bubba carried himself or how Ernie carried himself at the Match Play,” McCormick said. “There are always learning experiences and he is good at understanding that.”
Still, missed opportunities have a tendency of festering into painful reminders (see Mickelson, Phil, U.S. Open). If Spieth sounded resolute in his ability to move on from his Masters miss, there were telltale signs that he still may need some time.
Asked on Wednesday if he’d watch the replay of Sunday’s final round Spieth offered a quick, “No.”
Will you ever watch it?
“Probably not. I don’t think so,” he said before pausing, “maybe if I win.”
Some wounds are better left unopened.