Spieth learns valuable lessons in defeat

By Joe PosnanskiApril 14, 2014, 1:04 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – A couple of years ago, Jack Nicklaus was talking about how young golfers have to “learn how to win.” That’s a common quote from golfers – that whole bit about learning how to win – but few explain what they actually mean by it. Nicklaus, though, has a way of piercing through clichés and making them meaningful. 

Here were five things he said about learning how to win: 

1. You have to learn how your body will respond under intense pressure.

2. You have to make certain mistakes so you can learn how to overcome them and how to avoid them later.

3. You have to then learn how to shrink your mistakes (you will always make mistakes), how to make them small enough they won’t cost you the tournament.

4. You have to learn the rhythms and pacing of golf so that you won’t try risky shots when you don’t need them.

5. You have to learn that golf tournaments are not usually won by making the heroic shot but, instead, by not making the disastrous ones. 

Nicklaus said a few other things, but that was at the heart of it … there are simply things that a 20-year-old kid, no matter how talented, no matter how mature, no matter how astute and intuitive, will not know. And no one can teach him; you have to learn it yourself. 


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Sunday, Jordan Spieth went into the eighth hole with a two-shot lead at the Masters and everything – EVERYTHING – pointed his way. He had already made four birdies, one of them a miraculous shot from the bunker at No. 4 and another a heart-stopping 10-foot curler at No. 7 that was a bit like putting on marble. He had dazzled everyone all week with his sense of himself. He was only 20! It was his first Masters! The word on him: Jordan Spieth was born old. 

Born old or not, this is still the Masters, those greens are still remorseless, and the Sunday pressure will still crush the spirit. On the par-5 eighth, Spieth hit his second shot to the right of the green and had a delicate but promising shot to set up for birdie. When he hit it, even though he could not see the ball land, he knew it was just about perfect. He expected that the ball would roll to within 3 or 4 feet of the cup. 

Trouble was: He didn’t hear the crowd roar. In fact he didn’t hear the crowd do anything at all. That was bad. He ran up to the green to see what had gone wrong. 

And he saw that his ball – impossibly – had just stopped, as if it had run out of gas. There was still a crazy 25-foot downhill luge course between the ball and the hole. 

“I was baffled by it, I really was,” he would say. “I thought it was a really good shot.” 

He left his first putt a little bit short. And he missed the next putt. Bogey. Bubba Watson made birdie and the two-shot lead was gone. 

On the ninth hole, Spieth faced that classic Masters second shot into a green so severe that television simply cannot capture it. Basically, you are hitting into a green shaped like the Transamerica Pyramid Center in San Francisco. The thing you cannot do – CANNOT DO – is hit it short and have the ball roll back off the green. Jordan Spieth hit it short and the ball rolled back off the green. 

“I hit it very solid … I saw it hit the bank, thought it would climb up,” Spieth would say. “I was kind of surprised to see it come back down.” 

He followed with a nice chip and a superb putt that did not fall in. Bogey. Bubba Watson made birdie and, like that, impossibly fast, Spieth was two shots back. He would never be in the lead again. 

But you notice the surprise Spieth felt on each of those shots? That’s a 20-year-old. People who have played in the major championships a lot learn: Bad breaks should NEVER surprise you. 

Spieth did cut the margin to one shot on the next hole. But then, finally, there was the 12th hole. Golden Bell. The most famous golf hole in the world. It’s just a harmless looking little par 3 that somehow messes with the minds of the greatest golfers who ever lived. Spieth knew all about the mind games of this hole. He’s been following the Masters since he was a kid. He’d studied the way the greats – Nicklaus, Gary Player, Ben Crenshaw – played it. He’d parred the hole each of the first three days. 

It’s different on Sunday. 

Spieth felt no wind at all. You never feel the right wind at No. 12. He hit his 9-iron and thought he’d hit it well. As he looked into the sky, he saw that his ball seemed to be fighting a little something, as if it was trying to break a tackle. What was that? Wind? “Go,” he said softly. The ball hit the front of the green, seemed to briefly take in the scenery, and then regretfully rolled back into the water. 

After that, Spieth was never really a threat to Bubba Watson. Nobody was. Nobody made any run at all. Watson hit a 366-yard drive on the 13th hole, made birdie, and breezed uncontested to a three-shot victory. 

So what’s the takeaway? Jordan Spieth is unquestionably sensible beyond his years. But 20 years old is still 20 years old. And no 20-year-old has ever won the Masters. It was tempting all week to think that he would be immune to that but, realistically, no one is immune. 

The last time I wrote about Spieth, I quoted the movie “Big” … today it’s “The Matrix.” Remember the scene where Neo is about to try the jump across buildings? 

“What if he makes it?” one of the crew asks. 

“No one’s ever made their first jump,” says another. 

That’s what this was for Jordan Spieth: His first jump. He’s a brilliant player. He has a genius for the short game, a great iron game and a unique ability to visualize the shot that he needs to hit before hitting it. 

But as the day progressed, and the realization of what was happening hit him, Spieth began to get a bit emotional. He looked as if he was going to slam his club after one bad shot. He wildly flapped his hands in an effort to stop a putt he’d hit too hard. He shouted “Dad-gonnit, golly!” after hitting his shot short at No 16, which is kind of a fun thing to say – you have to like the G-rated version of the golfer’s wail – but it still reflected that his mind was running in a hundred different directions at once. 

He looked defeated at times, frustrated at others, overly excited at other times. That easy pace that had guided him all week was just a little bit off. 

“I wasn’t quite as patient today as I was the first three rounds and holding emotions as well,” he would say. “I was very close. It was still the best I’ve ever done on a Sunday, and I know that it can only improve from there.” 

Spieth dreamed this dream many times in his young life. He imagined himself in the lead of the Masters again and again. But there are only so many things you can simulate about being in the lead at the Masters on Sunday. There is no way really to know how it will feel to be in that position, how you will respond to bad breaks and, conversely, how you will deal with the standing ovations on the some of the most famous holes in the world – not until you go through it.

And it is only when you go through it all that you can learn those Nicklaus lessons. Let’s say this, though: A perceptive and brilliant young player can learn those lessons pretty quickly. Nicklaus won the sixth major championship he entered. Tiger Woods won his fifth. A couple of years ago the young Rory McIlroy had the lead at Augusta going into the back nine on Sunday and then blew up. A few weeks later, he won the U.S. Open. 

“I feel like I’m ready to win,” Spieth would say. “I just want to get back out there.” 

See, he’s learned one big lesson already. There will be other chances.

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Woods, Leishman, Fleetwood grouped at Northern Trust

By Will GrayAugust 20, 2018, 10:55 pm

While 125 players qualified for The Northern Trust this week, only 120 have decided to tee it up at Ridgewood Country Club in New Jersey. Here's a look at a few of the marquee, early-round tee times where players are grouped via FedExCup standing and Tiger Woods makes his first start since a runner-up performance at the PGA Championship (all times ET):

7:54 a.m. Thursday, 12:55 p.m. Friday: Tiger Woods, Marc Leishman, Tommy Fleetwood

Woods starts the postseason at No. 20 in the points race, with a great chance to advance to the season-ending Tour Championship for the first time since 2013. He'll look to pad his point total this week in the Garden State, making his return to competition after a week off following a strong showing at Bellerive. He'll play the first two rounds with Leishman, who has two runner-up finishes this season, and Fleetwood, who nearly caught Brooks Koepka at the U.S. Open.


8:05 a.m. Thursday, 1:06 p.m. Friday: Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka

There should be no shortage of eye-popping drives from this trio, who comprise the top three in the season-long points race heading into the playoffs. Johnson holds the No. 1 spot in both the world rankings and the FedExCup, having won three times since January, while Thomas will look to become the first player to go back-to-back in the playoffs and Koepka hopes to add to a career year that already includes two majors.


8:16 a.m. Thursday, 1:17 p.m. Friday: Webb Simpson, Francesco Molinari, Bryson DeChambeau

Simpson got back into the winner's circle in impressive fashion at The Players Championship, and he heads into the playoffs off a T-2 finish last week at the Wyndham Championship. Molinari cruised to victory at the Quicken Loans National before his major triumph at Carnoustie, while DeChambeau's win at the Memorial highlighted his season that brought him to the cusp of a Ryder Cup berth.


12:44 p.m. Thursday, 7:43 a.m. Friday: Jordan Spieth, Beau Hossler, Byeong-Hun An

Normally featured among the points leaders at this point in the season, Spieth heads into the playoffs at No. 43 in the standings, sandwiched between a pair of players whose best results came in playoff losses. Hossler has had a quietly strong season that was highlighted by a runner-up to Ian Poulter in overtime at the Houston Open, while An lost a playoff to DeChambeau at the Memorial.


12:55 p.m. Thursday, 7:54 a.m. Friday: Patrick Reed, Phil Mickelson, Tony Finau

There will be four green jackets among this group, as the reigning Masters champ is joined by a pair of Ryder Cup hopefuls in Mickelson and Finau. Lefty broke a lengthy victory drought with his WGC-Mexico win in March but has largely slowed this summer, while Finau notched top-10 finishes in each of the first three majors to enter the discussion for possible picks for Paris.

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Randall's Rant: Too much Tiger for his own good?

By Randall MellAugust 20, 2018, 10:00 pm

We could be getting a dose of way too much Tiger Woods.

Yeah, that’s difficult to fathom, given how good his return to the game has been on so many levels, but the man might be too close to winning for his own good right now.

I’m not a doctor, I don’t play one on TV, and I didn’t sleep at a Holiday Inn Express last night, but a reasonable person has to wonder how playing the next three weeks in a row – five of the next six weeks – will affect Woods’ surgically fused spine.

That isn’t to say Woods is actually going to end up playing that much, but it looms as a real possibility.

In fact, dating back to the WGC Bridgestone, it’s possible he could be amid a run of playing seven times in the last nine weeks.

My sacroiliac joint is throbbing at the thought.

Beginning with The Northern Trust this week, Woods is committed to the first three legs of the FedExCup Playoffs, and it’s difficult to imagine he wouldn’t play the final leg at the Tour Championship if he qualifies.

It’s impossible to imagine he won’t be among Jim Furyk’s four captain’s picks to play the Ryder Cup.

So if Woods continues this streak of strong play, what’s going to give?

We hope it isn’t his back.

Or his neck.

Or his knees.

Only Woods and his doctors really know how much the 42-year-old can take physically, but there is more to lose than to gain by overdoing it now.

Yeah, the FedExCup Playoffs are great fun, more meaningful with each passing year, but it’s all about the major championships now for Woods.

Competitively, it’s all that matters.

Nobody but the most anal Tiger fans are going to remember how many FedExCups he won, but we’re all going to remember how many majors he won.

We’re all going to remember him resuming his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus, if that’s where his summer tease is taking us, with Woods’ T-6 at The Open last month and his second-place finish at the PGA Championship two weeks ago.

Whether you are a Woods fan or not, how can you not want to see a historic chase of Jack as Tiger’s last chapter?

The game soars to yet another level with that.

A legion of young, new fans come pouring into the game even if Tiger only gets to 17 major championship titles.

So while the FedExCup Playoffs give us a postseason in golf, make Player of the Year chases more interesting and Ryder Cup captain’s picks more intriguing, they are a mere prelude for Tiger.

The playoffs give him another chance to get ready for next year’s Masters.

They give him a chance to win something before heading to Augusta National.

They give him another chance to rebuild his closing skills.

Woods doesn’t have to win the overall FedExCup to do that.

And he doesn’t have to play every event he commits to playing. He’s 20th in FedExCup points right now. He can get to the Tour Championship without playing all three of the legs leading there.

The tough spot for Woods is withdrawing from a FedExCup event. It’s trickier for him. With all the extra tickets sold when he commits, with all the excitement his anticipated arrival creates, it feels like a broken promise when he backs out.

Yeah, other players WD before big events for reasons beyond injury, but they don’t create the massive disappointment Woods creates.

For somebody invested in wanting to see Tiger vs. Jack reprised, it’s a lot easier to live with seeing Woods pull out of a FedExCup Playoff event to rest than to see him WD from one with an injury.

There’s more excitement in the prospect of seeing a lot of Woods in the majors next year than seeing too much of him now.

Here’s hoping somebody helps Tiger gets his FedExCup Playoff dosage right. His pain could be golf’s pain.

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Watch: Marshawn Lynch's golf game could use some work

By Grill Room TeamAugust 20, 2018, 8:15 pm

NFL star running back Marshawn Lynch is pretty great at driving golf carts, but from the looks of a video that surfaced this weekend, his golf prowess starts and ends there.

"Beast Mode" was in attendance at Klay Thompson's charity event in San Francisco on Sunday, and luckily the Golden State Warriors shooting guard caught Lynch's swing on camera - because it is a sight to behold.

Dressed in a traditional golf hoodie, the former Super Bowl champion who has been thrilling fans with his raw athleticism and power on the gridiron for more than a decade showed off a swing that would make Charles Barkley blush.

Lynch was not questioned about the swing by members of media afterwards, although there's a pretty good chance you already know how he would've answered.

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Stenson (elbow) withdraws from playoff opener

By Will GrayAugust 20, 2018, 5:41 pm

Former FedExCup champ Henrik Stenson will start his postseason on the sideline, as he withdrew on Monday from The Northern Trust because of an elbow injury.

Stenson captured the season-long title back in 2013, when he won two of the four playoff events. At 50th in the current points standings, he's assured of a spot next week at the 100-man Dell Technologies Championship and likely to make the field at the 70-man BMW Championship the following week.

A PGA Tour official confirmed that Stenson cited the elbow injury as the reason for his withdrawal. He was bothered by an injured elbow last month that led him to withdraw from the Scottish Open and limited his prep for The Open, where he tied for 35th.

The 42-year-old defended his title last week at the Wyndham Championship, tying for 20th place after shooting a 6-under 64 in the final round.

"It's fine, I can practice and I can play without any problems as of now, but I can't really go after it in the gym fully," Stenson told reporters last week in Greensboro. "The main thing that we can play and practice without having any problems there, so it's getting better."

The intrigue around Stenson's decision grows when the context of the Ryder Cup is taken into consideration. The Swede has represented Europe in the biennial matches four times, but he's currently 16th in both the European Points and World Points lists with only two weeks remaining in the qualification window.

Even before skipping this week's event in New Jersey, Stenson appeared likely to need a pick from captain Thomas Bjorn, who will round out his 12-man roster with four selections on Sept. 5. Other notable players who are not currently in position to qualify include Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, Paul Casey, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Russell Knox, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Thomas Pieters.

Stenson becomes the fifth player to withdraw from this week's field, which does not feature alternates and is now down to 120 players. Rory McIlroy opted to rest up this week, while Patrick Rodgers is skipping the tournament to attend a wedding. Both Rickie Fowler (oblique) and Bud Cauley (June car accident) withdrew because of injury.