By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.com
You want to tap the brakes and avoid getting swept up in the moment. Your mind says not to give in, not to make knee-jerk declarations of greatness, despite what you’ve witnessed the past four days. Leave the overhype to others. You’d rather sell perspective, not headlines.
But damn, it’s difficult.
Jordan Spieth just won the Masters at age 21, and that’s merely scratching the surface of this story. His wire-to-wire victory fueled a revision of various parts of the record books, the most head-rattling being this: He became the first player to ever reach 19 under at Augusta National after his birdie at the 15th hole Sunday.
Tiger never got there. Neither did Jack nor Arnie nor Hogan nor Player. The fact that Spieth didn’t finish there – a meaningless bogey at the final hole dropped him to 18 under; he wasn’t even aware of the record – doesn’t really matter. Thanks to his record 28 birdies this week, Spieth climbed to heights previously unimaginable here. He found another foot of snow atop Mt. Everest.
But it’s not just the win of historic proportions, in only his second Masters start. It’s not just his age; only Tiger was younger when he won the Masters. It’s not just the way he completely sucked the drama out of Sunday’s final round, maintaining a comfortable lead by answering every challenge from Phil Mickelson and Justin Rose, his only true threats.
The reasons you want to drive the Spieth bandwagon, and the reasons he could drive the future of American golf, involve the intangibles.
The incredible poise he exhibits, a trait we first saw five years ago when Spieth was 16 and burst on the scene as an amateur in his hometown PGA TOUR event in Dallas. His maturity, which could be seen on the putting green late Sunday evening when he addressed the crowd after slipping on the green jacket. He made sure to touch everybody’s heart.
“There’s something innate with him,” said another Masters champ, Zach Johnson, who waited outside the scoring area to give Spieth a warm embrace before the winning scorecard was signed. “Something intangible that probably a lot of athletes occasionally touch but rarely maintain.”
And then there’s his approach to the game. He’s a skilled player who relies on feel, much like Bubba Watson does, only Spieth doesn’t have Bubba’s length. But he does know that sometimes you must reject conventional wisdom and go with instincts. He did it many times this week.
Evidently, his decisions were the proper ones.
“He’s got just a vision of things, a feel,” said his caddie, Michael Greller. “We talked about it this week, trusting your instincts.”
On Sunday morning, Spieth received a text message from Ben Crenshaw. No player adores and appreciates Augusta National as much as Crenshaw, a two-time Masters winner. He has a special connection with Spieth, and not just because both attended the University of Texas some 40 years apart.
Crenshaw, playing in his last Masters, was essentially passing the baton to Spieth, and he wanted to make sure the younger version of himself got the job done. Having offered encouragement and tidbits of advice all week, he sent a final text, telling Spieth to stay patient, that this was his time.
“Just keep your head down and stay focused, I think is what it said,” Spieth recalled.
Meanwhile, Spieth already had his own focus. He woke up too early Sunday morning – about 7 a.m., nearly eight hours before his tee time. But it gave him time to think about his gameplan for the most important day of his life.
So he fired off his own text message, this time to Greller. He told his caddie he wanted to get to 20 under by the end of the day. That would require a round of 4-under 68. It would also require him to post the lowest score under par that any player has done at any major.
But once he got to the course and started his round and saw how things were unfolding – Mickelson was not going berserk, and Spieth was matching Rose though the first three holes – the gameplan was adjusted.
Spieth would now take a match-play approach against his closest competitor, telling himself that he was 1 down to Rose. It was his own little mind game, something to keep the enormity of the situation at arm’s length.
“That kept my head off of anything else that was going on,” Spieth said.
In reality, though, this Masters win did not have its origins with a couple of text messages on Sunday morning. Nor did it start earlier this week when Spieth opened with a tone-setting 8-under 64, one short of matching the all-time low for a single round at a major.
Instead, there was the buildup to this moment. The lessons learned a year ago when Spieth shared the 54-hole Masters lead with Watson, but failed to keep pace. Then the Ryder Cup, when he lost to Graeme McDowell in singles in a tough environment.
The late November win at the Australian Open, when Spieth blew away the world-class field, winning by six shots with a final-round 63, took him to another plateau.
Until that point, Spieth had struggled to finish off tournaments. In Australia, he unlocked the secret. “We had not found the solution as a team,” Spieth said, “and we found the solution in Australia.”
Since then, he’s been near unbeatable. Last month in Florida, he won the Valspar Championship in a playoff. He followed with runner-up finishes in San Antonio and Houston. He was feeling the heat of battle each time out. He wasn’t developing scar tissue, but determination.
“He was able to draw on that this week,” Greller said.
It served him well in Augusta.
Of course, he’s also been able to draw on his family, a particularly important element given his age. He spent the week living with his father, mother, brother and grandfather; dad Shawn, incidentally, wore a green golf shirt Sunday, so give him credit for embracing the premonition. That group – Team Spieth if you will – has provided stability and support.
The one person who wasn’t in Augusta this week was his sister Ellie, seven years younger than Jordan. She has a neurological disorder that places her on the autism spectrum, and Spieth calls her the best thing that’s ever happened to the family.
In previous years when Spieth would travel to tournaments, he used to bring back key chains for Ellie. He always wanted to give her something whenever he returned home.
Last week in Houston, she was with the family, and with her brother in contention, Ellie would ask him the same question when he returned to the family’s rental house after each round.
“Jordan, did you win?” she wanted to know on Thursday. “Not yet,” he replied, tied for 28th after the first round.
“Jordan, did you win?” she wanted to know on Friday. “Not yet,” he replied, tied for sixth after the second round.
“Jordan, did you win?” she wanted to know on Saturday. “Not yet,” he replied, although now he led by a stroke after the third round
“Jordan, did you win?” she wanted to know on Sunday. “No,” he replied, hoping to mask the disappointment after being eliminated on the first playoff hole.
When he gets home from Augusta National, he expects to hear the same question again from Ellie.
“Jordan, did you win?”
Imagine the smile on her face – and perhaps the tears running down Jordan’s cheeks – when he gives her the answer this time.