NORTON, Mass. – In the hours following Sunday’s showdown between Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth at The Northern Trust, the runner-up sent the champion a text message.
Jordan: Man, congrats, that was a good battle, let's do it again next week.
Dustin: Absolutely. I had a good time. That was my turn. ;-)
To be completely accurate, Johnson didn’t add an emoji to the end of his text, but it would have been awesome if he did. Not that DJ comes across as a “smiley face” guy and he may have considered any light-hearted attempt at humor poor form.
Simply put, it may be too soon.
After all, Spieth had just lost a five-stroke lead with 13 holes to play on Sunday at Glen Oaks. Those types of scars normally need some time to callus over, but then Spieth didn’t exactly sound like a man who needed to be talked off a ledge on Thursday at the Dell Technologies Championship.
“People keep using the word disappointment. It wasn't a disappointment. It was a great week,” he said.
While “great,” might be a bit of a stretch, Spieth certainly appeared to have left his Long Island loss in the rearview mirror as he made his way up Interstate 95 for the season’s second playoff stop.
Part of that is simply the competitive reality of playing professional golf. Even players like Spieth end up on the wrong side of the trophy presentation more times than not, so a bit of Teflon is often the best club in the bag.
We’ve seen this resilience before from Spieth, like in 2016 at the Masters when he lost a lead by depositing two pellets into Rae's Creek en route to a quadruple-bogey 7 on the 12th hole. He bounced back and won at Colonial a few weeks later.
Nothing to see here.
We saw it at the Travelers Championship earlier this summer when he lost a similar Sunday lead only to finish off Daniel Berger with a dramatic hole-out on the first extra hole; and at last month’s Open Championship when he began Sunday with a three-shot lead only to fall behind before a scrambling bogey from the practice range on the 13th hole ignited a late charge that led to his third major victory.
It’s become Spieth’s modus operandi for better or worse. Although he has shown he can dominate a field like any of the game’s best, in his last three Sundays in contention he’s appeared inclined to costly late miscues. At TPC River Highlands and Royal Birkdale, he overcame, which itself carries a weighty significance.
“You didn't see Tiger [Woods] hitting it off the practice ground at an Open Championship and making errors, and then amazing come backs,” said Paul Casey last Saturday at Glen Oaks. “Jordan's got something very special. What he did at the Open Championship was brilliant, absolutely brilliant, after the start. He has something.”
But last week that special something failed to materialize. Although he shot a 1-under 69 to finish 72 holes tied with Johnson, a double bogey-5 at the sixth hole opened the door for the would-be champion.
“What I learned from it? I won the tournament, besides the shot I hit in the water on 6,” reasoned Spieth, now four days removed from his Sunday loss. “The shot I hit in the water on 6, my ball speed was the fastest ball speed clocked in the last 10 groups on that hole. Yet, it went the shortest, which just tells me it was a wind gust. So I didn't do anything wrong.”
Perhaps. Golf is, after all, a game where luck can play a significant role; but he also bogeyed the ninth and failed to birdie any of his last five holes, including the overtime frame.
There’s always a key distinction in these types of situations, and Spieth was clear at Glen Oaks that he felt like Johnson won the event, as opposed to the 24-year-old losing it.
Johnson did close with a bogey-free 66, the second-lowest score of the day, and destroyed the playoff hole (No. 18) with a drive that sailed 341 yards for a flip wedge/birdie walk-off.
“I went up against another guy I consider the best in the world, and we had a good battle. And it went his way,” Spieth said. “I think there's a couple times he's battled against me he wished it went his way and this is one I wish went my way.”
Hindsight can be a patiently unfair benchmark in these situations. Maybe Spieth should have attempted to cut the corner on the first extra hole, like Johnson, but if he doesn’t pull off that shot the second-guessing would be deafening.
Always one of the Tour’s most retrospective types, Spieth seems content to not dig too deeply into what may or may not have been done differently.
“You can learn from wins and losses, and it being a loss, there really isn't much I can take out of that,” he said. “I was correcting mistakes that I had made in other losses. I was correcting tendencies and did a great job of it.”
Like everything else in Spieth’s career, the important thing now is what he does the next time he’s in the hunt.