Spieth, like his performance, shines at Masters

By Joe PosnanskiApril 13, 2015, 10:00 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – At the end of every Masters, an official from Augusta National will ask the newly crowned champion to “please go over your round.” This, like so many Masters things, is a tradition from a simpler time, before ShotLink disseminated on the Internet every possible scoring statistic for every golfer. Before television had 18-hole coverage, back when people could not see what the players had done.

In any case, this has become one of the first duties of a Masters champion: To sit at the microphone and mindlessly recite what shots he hit on every hole of his final round. The “going-over-the-round” oration tends to be a perfunctory 90-second affair, with the champion in his new green jacket impatiently reciting, “OK, on the first hole, driver, 8-iron, two putts. On the second hole, driver, 4-iron, hit a chip to 10 feet, made birdie. On the third hole …”

Jordan Spieth, of course, turned his round review into a long and joyous reenactment of what was “probably the best day of my life.” Because, you see, Spieth is like that.

“Michael [Greller, Spieth’s caddie] and I were joking at the first tee today,” Spieth said. “The University of Texas team is in Pasatiempo, another great Alister MacKenzie [golf course]. Actually I think he’s buried there.”*

*To interrupt for a moment: Spieth mostly got this right. MacKenzie, the great golf course architect who designed Augusta National and died two months before the first Masters, did have his ashes spread over Pasatiempo Golf Club in Santa Fe, Calif.”

“Anyway,” Spieth continued, “they are at Pasatiempo, and I would be a senior with the team right now. Michael said, ‘Aren’t you glad you are not at Pasatiempo now?’ Actually, he said, ‘Face it, aren’t you glad you’re here instead of there?’ That kind of sums it up.

“I had a 3-wood off No. 1 tee box. Then I had a good, kind of smooth, 9-iron into the green. Tried to bleed a little fade up there. I got it to where I wanted. Then I putted it where I wanted to; it was a straight putt coming right back up the hill. Justin obviously made his putt to start, so it was really nice to drop one on top of his to start the round.”

That was just Spieth’s description of the first hole. He did 17 more holes just like it.


On Spieth’s bogey at No. 7: “I hit driver right again. Then I hit a 6-iron through a little gap in the trees, which may not have been the smartest move but I didn’t really like any other options at that point. I got a bit unlucky because if the ball went into either of the sand traps there, it would have been a pretty easy up-and-down. Instead, it’s in between [the bunkers] and I don’t have a stance. I’d be interested to see a picture of that. Half my feet were dangling over the bunker.

“I was just standing there on my toes, and I actually hit a really good pitch to get it to makeable length. It’s just a tough putt. … It’s a feel-based putt. I just didn’t quite hit it hard enough to hold its line. So that was two bogeys in three holes. I was disappointed at that time.”

We haven’t seen a player quite like Spieth before. And it’s easy to get carried away. Every time a player puts together a sort-of-staggering performance like Spieth did at this year’s Masters, there’s a hunger to declare him The Next Big Thing. We go overboard. Golf is a sport vitalized and energized by its stars; when there aren’t players at the top who animate the imagination, the whole sport feels a bit lifeless. This wasn’t a problem in the late 1990s and most of the 2000s, because Tiger Woods was such a force of nature. But it has been almost seven years since Woods won a major championship, and while his on-again, off-again, now-he’s-injured, now-he’s-playing-great thrill ride always makes news, golf fans have been desperate to find someone new to headline.

Think James Bond movies after Sean Connery.

So, let’s see here, Keegan Bradley won the PGA Championship at 25. Webb Simpson was 27 when he took home the U.S. Open trophy. People tried to get excited about Jason Dufner for a while after he won the PGA. Martin Kaymer made mincemeat of Pinehurst No. 2 at the U.S. Open, and there was some thought he could dominate golf. Adam Scott, nicest guy in the world, won the Masters and he seemed to have sort of a cool Australian Bond vibe. Jason Day? Rickie Fowler? Bubba Watson? Justin Rose? All of them have been called The Next Big Thing.

Of course, the best bet to fill the Tiger void long has been Rory McIlroy, a brilliant young player with a wonderful personality. He is only 25, he’s the world’s No. 1 player and he has won four major championships. He plays the game with a verve and power that should thrill everyone. But, to be blunt, there’s just something Woods had that McIlroy, through no fault of his own, can’t quite duplicate, at least in America. Maybe it is because McIlroy is from Northern Ireland. Maybe it is that Woods is utterly irreplaceable because he was a social force in addition to a golf force; he was, after all, an African-American dominating a sport that had long been closed off for African-Americans.

Or maybe it is this: No one since Tiger (and few before Tiger) has so willingly and forcefully grabbed that No. 1 spot in the world. It’s a tough job. Sure, there’s good money in it and lots of glory – Late-night talk shows! Magazine covers! Commercials! Parties with celebrities! – but you can get plenty of that stuff being the No. 17 or No. 23 or No. 35 player in the world, too. And that’s easier. At No. 1, you are always the focus. You get the most autograph requests, the most selfie requests, the most interview requests. The other players want to beat you first. Whatever you say makes news. Wherever you go, you carry the game with you.

And, most just don’t want all that. Everybody wants to be James Bond, but nobody wants to get shot at all the time. I will always remember the delightful Nick Price – after he won two major championships in 1994 and was the No. 1 player in the world – coming into the Masters unsure that he even wanted to win the green jacket. He just didn’t want his life to get even crazier.

Tiger’s hunger to be the greatest player ever was so overpowering that he never had any doubts what he wanted: No. 1 was the only place to be. There haven’t been many who have so deeply craved to be on top of the world. Even McIlroy seems to have struggled with it at times as his personal life and various misjudgments have been splayed in stories across the world.

And Spieth? Can he handle how his life is about to change? Beyond that: Does he want – really want – the magnificence and responsibility that comes with being the best? Well, it sure sounds like it.

“The ultimate goal that I have mentioned, I think, each week,” he said, “is to try and become the No. 1 player in the world. … All in all, [winning the Masters] is really cool. This isn’t an honor that’s carried lightly. The members of Augusta National and everyone who partakes in the Masters demands the highest quality on and off the course from their champions. I’m ready to carry that baton.”


On Spieth’s birdie at No. 13: “I hit 3-wood, and got a nice little hook on the ball and a really good bounce to get up there so I could hit a comfortable 5-iron in. I think those shots at 13 were the two biggest shots I’ve ever hit in my life. I was coming off a three-putt, and Justin [Rose] was in a pretty good spot off that tee. I needed to do something. I needed to birdie that hole because otherwise I think I would have dropped.

“So I missed the 5-iron a little. I was trying to go a little left and just kind of hit it straight, kind of hit it a little off the toe. I was yelling, “Get up! Get up!” When it landed, from my angle, I thought it hit short and went in the water. All of a sudden the roar came up. When I walked up I saw the pitch mark was right on that little peninsula. And there was another moment where I thought, ‘This could be destiny.’”

The marvel of Spieth is that he is, at this moment of his life, a blend of wise-beyond-his-years sensibleness and youthful wonder. One minute, under the most intense pressure, he will be sinking an utterly impossible putt on greens that are like Formica. The next minute, he will be talking about the movie “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” One minute, he is charming everyone with his unusual blend of humility and confidence; the next he’s leaving dirty dishes all over his house. As a father, I sometimes will see a young person and wish I could talk to his or her parents just to ask: “How did you do that? How did you raise such a cool kid?”

Spieth says that his grounded nature was forged by the relationship with his younger sister, Ellie, who has a neurological disorder on the autism spectrum. She inspires him. She also reminds him constantly of what’s really important. A week before the Masters, in Houston, he lost in a playoff. He saw it through Ellie’s eyes; at the end of each day she would ask him if he had won. And through her eyes, Spieth realized his week could be summed up in five words: “Not yet. Not yet. No.’”

He took those five words with him to Augusta and did all sorts of remarkable things – youngest player to lead after the first round, lowest 36-hole score ever at a major championship, lowest 54-hole score ever at the Masters, most birdies at the Masters (28) – but the most impressive feat of all might not have been an actual record. He became the first player in almost 40 years to lead the tournament wire-to-wire. The last was Raymond Floyd in 1976 and before that it was Jack Nicklaus in 1972 and before that it was Arnold Palmer in 1960.

But even those three would concede that going wire-to-wire now is a much different deal. The intense pressure that comes from leading the Masters in today’s 24-hour news frenzy simply does not compare to years ago. Spieth said he slept pretty well the first night he had the lead. He slept considerably worse the second night. He hardly slept at all the third. He kept promising himself that he would not look at leaderboards; but he could not help but sneak a few peeks. He kept telling himself not to let the roars of the crowd distract him, but it is not easy to turn off your hearing, especially when you are as alert and present as Spieth.

Still, he endured. More than that, he dominated. His golf game is a symphony of small things done well. He does not hit it very far, he does not always hit it straight, he will occasionally falter in shots around the green. But he has a genius for hitting the right shot at the right time, which is what Nicklaus says professional golf is all about. And nobody putts like this guy.

“He has no weaknesses,” said Phil Mickelson, who could not quite find a way to rattle the kid on Sunday. “He doesn’t overpower the golf course, but he plays the course strategically well. He plays all the shots properly. And he has the ability to focus and see things clearly when the pressure is on and perform at his best … that’s something you really can’t teach.”


Spieth on No. 18: “My driver wasn’t what I wanted it to be today. … But I got it over in the pine straw, and I knew I could get a 5-iron at least to into the bunker. If it gets into the bunker, then I can blast it out on to the green. … It curved to a perfect spot and at that point I knew I had won the tournament.

“After I got that 5-iron out, I knew. I had kept my head down before that. I was enjoying the right and intensity of the round because that’s what we played for. But it didn’t creep into my mind that I had won the tournament until I hit that second shot on 18 and walked up there. And I said to Michael, ‘Mike, I think we just did it.’ He says, ‘No, you haven’t. Don’t say that. Just go up there and hit the chip.’ That was perfect. That’s what he should say there.

“I’ll never forget watching the front of the hole as the last tap-in went in the front edge. There was no need for crazy celebrations. At that point, I was just really, really pleased with the whole week, being on top, being able to stay on top, being able to conquer my favorite tournament in the world.”

Jordan Spieth took 2,593 words to go over his round. To give you a comparison, the Gettysburg Address is 272 words. Spieth’s round review was a few more words than Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Tell-Tale Heart” and only about 40 words less than Mark Twain’s famous “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.”

Spieth’s short story was every bit as enjoyable. You sensed that he never wanted to stop talking about it. And isn’t that the most human thing? Don’t we all want to talk and talk about our best dreams?

In the end, Mickeson got it right: Spieth just has this knack for seeing things clearly. How can someone so young have that ability? How far can it take him? How much fun will it be to watch him and McIlroy and all those prodigies and perhaps even a revitalized Woods play for that spot on top of the world? How good can this kid be?

These are open questions. But when the Masters ended - and Jordan hugged his father Shawn, then his mother Chris, then his brother Steven, then his high school sweetheart Annie Verret, and then walked back onto the green to applaud the crowd that was applauding him – I’m willing to wager that across America my wife Margo wasn’t the only person crying.

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Na: I can admit, 'I went through the yips'

By Rex HoggardJuly 17, 2018, 3:35 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following his victory two weeks ago at A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier, Kevin Na said his second triumph on the PGA Tour was the most rewarding of his career.

Although he declined to go into details as to why the victory was so gratifying at The Greenbrier, as he completed his practice round on Tuesday at the Open Championship, Na shed some light on how difficult the last few years have been.

“I went through the yips. The whole world saw that. I told people, 'I can’t take the club back,'” Na said on Tuesday at Carnoustie. “People talked about it, 'He’s a slow player. Look at his routine.' I was admitting to the yips. I didn’t use the word ‘yip’ at the time. Nobody wants to use that word, but I’m over it now so I can use it. The whole world saw it.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Na, who made headlines for his struggles to begin his backswing when he found himself in the lead at the 2012 Players Championship, said he asked other players who had gone through similar bouts with the game’s most dreaded ailment how they were able to get through it.

“It took time,” he said. “I forced myself a lot. I tried breathing. I tried a trigger. Some guys will have a forward press or the kick of the right knee. That was hard and the crap I got for it was not easy.”

The payoff, however, has steadily arrived this season. Na said he’d been confident with his game this season following a runner-up showing at the Genesis Open and a fourth-place finish at the Fort Worth Invitational, and he felt he was close to a breakthrough. But being able to finish a tournament like he did at The Greenbrier, where he won by five strokes, was particularly rewarding.

“All good now,” he smiled. “I knew I was good enough to win again, but until you do it sometimes you question yourself. It’s just the honest truth.”

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Koepka still has chip on his chiseled shoulder

By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2018, 3:06 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Brooks Koepka prepared more for this Open than last year's.

He picked up his clubs three times.

That’s three more than last summer, when the only shots he hit between the summer Opens was during a commercial shoot for Michelob Ultra at TPC Sawgrass. He still tied for sixth at The Open a month later.

This time, Koepka kept his commitment to play the Travelers, then hit balls three times between the final round in Hartford and this past Sunday, when he first arrived here at Carnoustie.

Not that he was concerned, of course.

Koepka’s been playing golf for nearly 20 years. He wasn’t about to forget to how to swing a club after a few weeks off.

“It was pretty much the same thing,” he said Tuesday, during his pre-tournament news conference. “I shared it with one of my best friends, my family, and it was pretty much the same routine. It was fun. We enjoyed it. But I’m excited to get back inside the ropes and start playing again. I think you need to enjoy it any time you win and really embrace it and think about what you’ve done.”

At Shinnecock Hills, Koepka became the first player in nearly 30 years to repeat as U.S. Open champion – a major title that helped him shed his undeserved reputation as just another 20-something talent who relies solely on his awesome power. In fact, he takes immense pride in his improved short game and putting inside 8 feet.

“I can take advantage of long golf courses,” he said, “but I enjoy plotting my way around probably - more than the bombers’ golf courses - where you’ve got to think, be cautious sometimes, and fire at the center of the greens. You’ve got to be very disciplined, and that’s the kind of golf I enjoy.”

Which is why Koepka once again fancies his chances here on the type of links that helped launch his career.

Koepka was out of options domestically after he failed to reach the final stage of Q-School in 2012. So he packed his bags and headed overseas, going on a tear on the European Challenge Tour (Europe’s equivalent of the Web.com circuit) and earning four titles, including one here in Scotland. That experience was the most fun and beneficial part of his career, when he learned to win, be self-sufficient and play in different conditions.

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“There’s certain steps, and I embraced it,” Koepka said. “I think that’s where a lot of guys go wrong. You are where you are, and you have to make the best of it instead of just putting your head down and being like, 'Well, I should be on the PGA Tour.' Well, guess what? You’re not. So you’ve got to suck it up wherever you are, make the best of it, and keep plugging away and trying to win everything you can because, eventually, if you’re good enough, you will get out here.”

Koepka has proved that he’s plenty good enough, of course: He’s a combined 20 under in the majors since the beginning of 2017, the best of any player during that span. But he still searches long and hard for a chip to put on his chiseled shoulder.

In his presser after winning at Shinnecock, Koepka said that he sometimes feels disrespected and forgotten, at least compared to his more-ballyhooed peers. It didn’t necessarily bother him – he prefers to stay out of the spotlight anyway, eschewing a media tour after each of his Open titles – but it clearly tweaked him enough for him to admit it publicly.

That feeling didn’t subside after he went back to back at the Open, either. On U.S. Open Sunday, ESPN’s Instagram page didn’t showcase a victorious Koepka, but rather a video of New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. dunking a basketball.

“He’s like 6-foot-2. He’s got hops – we all know that – and he’s got hands. So what’s impressive about that?” Koepka said. “But I always try to find something where I feel like I’m the underdog and put that little chip on my shoulder. Even if you’re No. 1, you’ve got to find a way to keep going and keep that little chip on.

“I think I’ve done a good job of that. I need to continue doing that, because once you’re satisfied, you’re only going to go downhill. You try to find something to get better and better, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Now 28, Koepka has a goal of how many majors he’d like to win before his career is over, but he wasn’t about to share it.

Still, he was adamant about one thing: “Right now I’m focused on winning. That’s the only thing I’ve got in my mind. Second place just isn’t good enough. I finished second a lot, and I’m just tired of it. Once you win, it kind of propels you. You have this mindset where you just want to keep winning. It breeds confidence, but you want to have that feeling of gratification: I finally did this. How cool is this?”

So cool that Koepka can’t wait to win another one.

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Despite results, Thomas loves links golf

By Jay CoffinJuly 17, 2018, 2:48 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Despite poor results in two previous Open Championships, Justin Thomas contends that he has what it takes to be a good links player. In fact, he believes that he is a good links player.

Two years ago at Royal Troon, Thomas shot 77 in the second round to tie for 53rd place. He was on the wrong side of the draw that week that essentially eliminated anyone from contention who played late Friday afternoon.

Last year at Royal Birkdale, Thomas made a quintuple-bogey 9 on the par-4 sixth hole in the second round and missed the cut by two shots.

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I feel like I’ve played more than two Opens, but I haven’t had any success here,” Thomas said Tuesday at Carnoustie. “I feel like I am a good links player, although I don’t really have the results to show.”

Although he didn’t mention it as a reason for success this week, Thomas is a much different player now than he was two years ago, having ascended to the No. 1 position in the world for a few weeks and now resting comfortably in the second spot.

He also believes a high golf IQ, and the ability to shape different shots into and with the wind are something that will help him in The Open over the next 20 years.

“I truly enjoy the creativity,” Thomas said. “It presents a lot of different strategies, how you want to play it, if you want to be aggressive, if you want to be conservative, if you want to attack some holes, wait on certain winds, whatever it might be. It definitely causes you to think.

“With it being as firm as it is, it definitely adds a whole other variable to it.”

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Reed's major record now a highlight, not hindrance

By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2018, 2:46 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The narrative surrounding Patrick Reed used to be that he could play well in the Ryder Cup but not the majors.

So much for that.

Reed didn’t record a top-10 in his first 15 starts in a major, but he took the next step in his career by tying for second at the 2017 PGA Championship. He followed that up with a breakthrough victory at the Masters, then finished fourth at the U.S. Open after a closing 68.

He’s the only player with three consecutive top-4s in the majors.

What’s the difference now?

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“The biggest thing is I treat them like they’re normal events,” he said Tuesday at Carnoustie. “I’ve always gone into majors and put too much pressure on myself, having to go play well, having to do this or that. Now I go in there and try to play golf and keep in the mindset of, Hey, it’s just another day on the golf course. Let’s just go play.

“I’ve been able to stay in that mindset the past three, and I’ve played pretty well in all three of them.”

Reed’s record in the year’s third major has been hit or miss – a pair of top-20s and two missed cuts – but he says he’s a better links player now than when he began his career. It took the native Texan a while to embrace the creativity required here and also to comprehend the absurd distances he can hit the ball with the proper wind, conditions and bounce.

“I’m sort of accepting it,” he said. “I’ve gotten a little more comfortable with doing it. It’s come a little bit easier, especially down the stretch in tournament play.”