Spieth’s triumph and grit at the Open at Royal Birkdale excited golf fans all around the world.
It happened again. Just like it did at Augusta.
Jordan Spieth began the final round of the 2017 Open leading by three strokes over Matt Kuchar. A win would give the 23-year-old his third major title. But Spieth started his round with bogeys on three of his first four holes and his lead disappeared.
That’s when the whispering started. In the crowd and the millions watching, they were all asking the same question: is Jordan Spieth about to meltdown again?
He should have been hunting for his fourth major that Sunday at Royal Birkdale in England but the back nine at the 2016 Masters got in the way. Spieth had an epic meltdown over those final nine holes. The kind of meltdown that is splashed all over any media outlet on which a story can be told. The loss of that second green jacket was one that haunted Spieth. You can’t shake losses like that—they stay with you forever.
On that fateful day at Augusta in mid-April of 2016, Spieth made the turn leading by five strokes. Then he bogeyed the 10th, then the 11th and when he desperately needed to right the ship he quadruple-bogeyed the 12th. His lead was gone for good and the tournament was lost.
You don’t remove the scars from losses like that. They heal, you move on and when the situation presents itself again you make sure it doesn’t happen again. So Spieth didn’t.
Fighting for his third major
Over the next nine holes he battled with Kuchar at Royal Birkdale, trading punches and strokes until Spieth went on the type of run that secures majors. After saving bogey on the 13th hole, where his drive went so far offline that he had to take a drop on the adjacent driving range, Spieth birdied the par 3 14th. On the next hole, a par-5, Spieth lined up a 35-foot putt for eagle and calmly put it in the center of the cup. It was the putt of his young life. Birdies followed on 16 and 17 and Spieth outlasted Kuchar for a three-stroke win.
The whispering after the lead had vanished was based solely on how we view Spieth after the ’16 Masters. Perhaps the whole thing was unfair for Jordan Spieth. The adoration, the fawning, the comparison to Tiger Woods after his first two majors. The kid isn’t a robot like Woods, he wasn’t raised to be a machine. Needless to say he carried the weight of that Masters loss with him that final day at Royal Birkdale. He used it as a lesson.
“I thought I have a reputation as being able to close, but I was hesitant in saying “majors”, to myself,” he said to the press after his win. “I put a lot of pressure on myself unfortunately—and not on purpose—before the round today, just thinking this is the best opportunity that I’ve had since the 2016 Masters. And if it weren’t to go my way today, then all I’m going to be questioned about and thought about and murmured about is in comparison to that, and that adds a lot of pressure to me. Closing today was extremely important for the way I look at myself.”
Returning a champion
With the tournament in England, Spieth didn’t return to his native Dallas until 5 a.m. the following morning. Waiting for him on the runway at Love Field was family and friends. These were the same people that picked him up after his toughest loss. They were the same ones who brought champagne to shower Spieth because they knew majors should be celebrated, regardless of where the arms of a clock rested. After greeting him they passed around green cups, filled them and took turns posing with Jordan and the Claret Jug. In every posted picture, Spieth is grinning wildly from ear to ear.
Jordan Spieth can never remove the pain of giving away the major at Augusta but now he remembers what it feels like to win. For a professional golfer that feeling is everything.
See also: Royal Birkdale Key Holes