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August 20, 2017

Golfing traveller

Friday, July 28, 2017

Jordan Spieth’s mental mastery gets it done

Jordan Spieth reacts after holing his birdie putt on the 16th green during the final round if the 146th Open Championship at Royal Birkdale.
By David Mackintosh / Golfing Traveller

British Open winner earns US$1.84 million for his performance at Royal Birkdale

Sure, we were all wondering. After all, he’d thrown a couple of leads in majors to this point in his career and even if you’re only 23, that sort of thing will haunt you. Maybe forever.

Especially inside your own head, as Jordan Spieth willingly revealed, as he sat smiling next to the Claret Jug last Sunday, after joining Jack Nicklaus as the only players to own three majors before their 24th birthday.

Three jumpy bogeys in his opening four holes set the mind-bells jangling.

“As you can imagine, thoughts come in from my last scenario when I was leading a major on Sunday. All of a sudden it creeps into your head. I was so confident and all of a sudden, the wheels have kind of come off everything,” he said.

By the ninth hole at Royal Birkdale he’d given up his entire overnight lead, three-putting three times, four if you include a flat-stick approach at the third from the fringe. Plus there was this horrible, nagging thought about the 2016 Masters his brain wouldn’t discard.

“All of a sudden it was in my own head, ‘How could I not close out a five-stroke lead with nine to play?’ You just don’t know really what your mind is going to do to you sometimes. You can control it to an extent but certain situations are going to bring more tension and you have to kind of channel that the right way. And that was a difficult thing to do.

“Once I lost my lead completely and we were tied, I actually felt the nerves go away for a few holes, until I got the lead again. And then they were back.”

Which takes us to the 13th tee, Spieth’s incredibly wildly-sliced drive and the long delay which included a frantic search for his ball, the decision on where to drop under penalty, well back in the practice area, obtain line of sight relief from on-grounds vehicles and finally, fire a blind three­iron short of the green.

From Matt Kuchar’s viewpoint, playing in his first-ever Sunday final-group pairing at a major, this was his moment to step in and take control.

“We knew Jordan was in a great deal of trouble on 13,” he said. “The delay was not anything I was ever going to be upset with. It’s a very difficult situation. Once we started playing again, I had a great shot at birdie and thought my putt was going in but although it didn’t, I didn’t lose any momentum.

“I now have a one-shot lead after that hole in the British Open with five to go. I’m playing really well. Hitting a lot of good shots. I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing. And he just — well, he really turned it up.”

Special magic

Which is that special magic Spieth can bring to golf. His birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie-par finish — draining two monster putts in the process — will forever be recalled as one of the most remarkable finishes in championship golf.

Spieth was quick to credit caddie Michael Greller with turning around his mental attitude midway through the round, and for swing coach Cameron McCormick’s constant support. But in the end, it is the player who hits the shots. And the putts. And finds the way.

“Those putts at seven, eight, 11, and 12, weren’t easy. Those three-footers were looking like 10-footers to me. And then all of a sudden the lid came off. And the 30-footers were two-footers to me.”

At 39 and still without a major title, a disappointed Kuchar put it succinctly.

“It was impressive stuff. When a guy does something like that, all you can really do is sit back, tip your cap and say, ‘Well done.’ And it was certainly a show that he put on.”

Spieth and Kuchar both carded 69s.

“Seventeen pars and a birdie would have been fine, too,” the newly-crowned champion said. “But there’s a lot of roads to get there. I don’t know why I can’t make it a little more boring sometimes.”

Now the road leads to Charlotte, North Carolina, where, if Spieth can win the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow GC next month, he will be the youngest ever to complete the Grand Slam.

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