KAPALUA, Hawaii – However unfair and shortsighted it may seem, for many, Jordan Spieth’s 2016 season came down to a single swing.
Of the 25 worldwide turns he took at the till, his two victories on the PGA Tour and heroics at the Ryder Cup, his near miss at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and late-season run at the FedEx Cup, it was a single 9-iron from 150 yards on a postcard-perfect Sunday in April that defined his fourth year as a big leaguer.
It’s not fair, but he knows that’s the way stardom works. He knows that’s the way of the sports world, which is why last month when he stepped to the 12th tee at Augusta National with a group of members and friends he politely requested a moment of silence.
“I was vocally expressing that, guys, we have some demons to get rid of here, I'd appreciate if y'all stood to the side of the tee box while I do my work here,” Speith laughed on Wednesday at Kapalua.
Spieth hit 8-iron to 18 feet and made birdie. He followed that the next day with a 9-iron, of all clubs, that nearly spun into the hole. Another birdie.
“Last two times I played the hole, I made birdie,” he smiled.
It was Spieth’s way of acknowledging the 800-pound gorilla in the room that has lingered since last year’s Masters, where he turned a 5-stroke lead with nine holes to play into a runner-up finish after making a quadruple bogey-7 at the 12th on Sunday.
Charles Dickens pretty much summed up Spieth’s 2016: best of times, worst of times.
At 23, Spieth continues to impress by taking the long view when it comes to 2016 – thinking more about a career than what may or may not be around the next corner.
“Overall, recognizing that if last year is a down year for us, we're in really good shape long term when you start compiling those numbers,” he reasoned. “It makes me think a lot more positive about last season and my career going forward, just looking at it from a more elongated perspective.”
It’s a healthy outlook that’s defined Spieth in his young career, but that doesn’t mean he’s entirely immune to the inevitable peaks and valleys of golf. “I was happy when the [New Year’s] ball touched down and 2017 started,” he admitted.
As tough as the media may have been on Spieth’s season, it was probably the internal dialog that led to a few fitful nights for the eight-time Tour winner. He’d been virtually unstoppable in 2015, winning five times including the Masters and U.S. Open, and was a regular on leaderboards at the season’s final two Grand Slam events.
Winning the ’16 lid-lifter in Maui by eight strokes only fueled those expectations going into the meat of last year’s schedule and he began his week at the year’s first major with three solid rounds for a one-stroke lead heading into Sunday at Augusta National.
“The first major of the year after starting strong, I thought the last five majors I had a chance to win, why won't this continue,” he said. “But it's unrealistic for that to continue every single major consecutively.”
His misplayed 9-iron may have marred his play through Amen Corner and nixed his title chances, but he suggested it was his play at the U.S. Open, where he finished tied for 37th, that was truly frustrating. That he wasn’t a factor at The Open or PGA Championship only compounded that frustration, but throughout it all Spieth clung to the notion that by the time he ambles into the sunset of his career 2016 will be a distant footnote.
He closed last year with a playoff victory at the Australian Open in November and returned this week to Kapalua, where he’s finished first (’16) and second (’14) in two starts to begin anew.
Although he talked of the Plantation Course being a bomber’s paradise, it’s been his putting that has made Spieth the king of Kapalua in recent years.
Last year he led the field in putts, putts per GIR and putts made distance. That he spent his abbreviated offseason working almost exclusively on his putting should give the rest of the Tournament of Champions field plenty to think about.
But mostly, Spieth said he’s put 2016 behind him, a mental housekeeping he probably didn’t have much interest in when he arrived in Maui last January.
Earlier this week a jokester among his Tour frat brothers turned the sign marking Spieth’s parking spot at Kapaula around and scribbled a familiar moniker – “Golden Child.”
That wayward 9-iron that found Rae's Creek last April has done nothing to dull the golden one’s shine, or his confidence that something special is just one start away.