On April 10, 2016, at around 5:30 p.m. ET, Jordan Spieth made history at August National. He put two Pro V1x golf balls into the bottom of Rae’s Creek and effectively cloaked Englishman Danny Willett in the green jacket. But it was what happened immediately following those infamous two strokes that piqued my intrigue in Boy Wonder.
He followed that quad on No. 12 with a birdie at No. 13 and another at No. 15. Two back with three to go. How can he even play golf right now after that meltdown? A near-ace at the 16th had everyone dreaming of the greatest six-hole comeback in golf history. But after a missed birdie putt there and a bogey at No. 17, it was over.
All of this rolled through my mind as I watched Spieth get pummeled by Royal Birkdale early on Sunday as an Augusta relapse (and thousands of insufferable columns about how he’s not really a closer) appeared imminent. He started with three bogeys in his first four holes and could not have appeared less confident than if the R&A had made him play left-handed.
Then came the 13th and a genuine “history is hanging in the balance” gut check. Spieth pushed one so far right off the tee Breitbart wasn’t even able to compose a blog post about it. As he stood on top of a sand dune and posed for the enduring image of this week, Spieth decided to take an unplayable.
“After I hit that tee ball, I was thinking, ‘I’m making six,'” Spieth told Golf Channel.
He wandered his way backwards to the driving range that (sort of) runs parallel to the 13th, weaved around some temporary structures, found himself between a Titleist truck and a Wilson truck and played his third.
Other than Phil Mickelson, who finally hit his “a Chinese golfer will finish in the top five and the 54-hole leader will play over an equipment truck” parlay, it was not a position in which anybody wanted to see Spieth. But here he was anyway. It was a landmark moment in a major season full of them. Twitter exploded as Spieth took 20 minutes to play his next shot next to the Titleist truck, over that small mountain where his caddie Michael Greller furiously tried to get a yardage for him and right up next to the green.
Somehow, Spieth made five and trailed playing partner Matt Kuchar by just one going to the 14th.
“Took my time to figure out where the best location was when I very easily could have just gone back and re-teed,” Spieth told Golf Channel. I felt really bad about the amount of time that took. I went up and apologized. … That five was massive. I would have been staring six or seven in the throat and out of the tournament.”
What unfolded coming home following that hole was nearly the same as what went down at Augusta last year, except this time Spieth limited the damage to a bogey and not a quad. That save was improbable; what happened next felt impossible.
Except that this is Jordan Spieth, and this is what Jordan Spieth does.
After near-ace at the 14th (seen that before!) to get the stroke back with a birdie, Spieth started feeling the moment a little bit. He pumped a drive on the par-5 15th and hit his second to the edge of the green. He was tied with Kuchar, and Kuchar was in tight with a birdie putt. So Spieth stepped on his soul and put a 50-foot eagle into the earth.
“Go get that,” he yelled at Greller. He was talking about the same Pro V1x he hit into Rae’s Creek just 15 months ago. He could have been talking about the 145-year-old Claret Jug awarded to the Champion Golfer of the Year.
“[I] told him pick the ball up out of the hole,” said Spieth. “It was kind of like an old-school move, when the caddies used to get it out of the hole when guys holed a chip. When you’re here, the TVs are always playing old Open Championships, and especially at that venue. I don’t know, I saw it, and for whatever reason, I didn’t really know what I was doing at that point.”
There were three holes left, but Kuchar was staggered. Spieth finished him with a snarling 1-2 birdie-birdie blow at 16 and 17, and he rolled down 18 with major No. 3 in the bag. Poor Kuchar played lights out for most of the day and got run over by history. Spieth played the final five holes in 5 under.
“Once [the putts] started to go, the roof was off and the can was huge,” Spieth told Golf Channel. “After I made the eagle, I thought to myself, ‘Hit the green in regulation on the next hole; they might go in from anywhere now.'”
Spieth took a circuitous Sunday route, but he eventually closed with a 1-under 69 and became the first golfer ever at Royal Birkdale to shoot all four rounds in the 60s. His four-day total was 268 to Kuchar’s 271.
“It’s hard to explain,” said Kuchar, who also shot 69. “It’s crushing. It hurts. And it’s an excitement and a thrill to have played well, put up a battle, put up a fight. You work so hard to get to this position … I can only control what I do, how I play. Jordan is a great champion and certainly played that way in the finishing stretch today. 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.”
Royal Birkdale is a crowner of kings. Its nine champions share 37 major championships (with likely more to come). The 23-year-old Spieth is already a living legend having joined Jack Nicklaus as the only golfers to touch three bases of the career Grand Slam before their 24th birthdays.
Takes about his game were bandied about the way the wine in the Claret Jug in Camp Spieth will be tonight. He’s not a great iron player. No, he is a great iron player. He’s a great long putter. He’s a bad short putter. He’s lucky.
Those arguments are fine and fun, but the one that cannot be argued is that Spieth is as willful as any golfer we’ve seen in recent years. He is able to remain in the calm of the eye of the storm as all around him is whipped into a frenzy. He’s a PGA Championship from the Grand Slam because he is able to compartmentalize the heightened madness of a major Sunday better than most.
“[I] showed some resiliency and give a lot of credit to my guy on the bag for that,” said Spieth. “Because as you can imagine, thoughts come in from my last scenario when I was leading a major on Sunday. And [we] never mentioned it, but 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.”
After a breezy three days in which Spieth shot 65-69-65, we were reminded that nothing is tougher than shutting down the 54-hole lead at a major. No matter who is chasing nor how big the lead, going wire to wire is a heavy ask.
“I wasn’t questioning myself as a closer, but I was questioning why I couldn’t just perform the shots that I was before,” said Spieth.
“I felt 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. And it’s just kind of powering through that. 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, play the right shots. And that was a difficult thing to do today because it was just so up and down.
“Today took as much out of me as any day that I’ve ever played golf.”
A lot of golfers can hit the shots Jordan Spieth hits. Most drive it as well — or better — than him. Some even have his short game. But so very few in this sport have wrapped all of that around a mindfulness that borders on the absurd. We saw this at Augusta, but he was too far back to bring it home.
This time it added up to a chaotic victory on Sunday as Spieth looked into the dark heart of another second nine collapse at a major and drove a birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie stake into it.
On July 23, 2017, at around 2 p.m. ET, Jordan Spieth made history again at Birkdale. This time, it was a history he won’t mind reliving for the rest of his time as a professional golfer.
“What an incredible venue,” he said. “What an incredible Open.”