Jordan Spieth left his golf game somewhere on the 12th hole at Augusta National. In between there and the first tee tomorrow at the 116th U.S. Open, one can only wonder how much of it he’ll find.
And how much of it will stay lost.
Curious? You should be, at least after Spieth absolutely imploded on the 12th hole of the Masters, hitting two balls into the water like some hack at the local muni who cut out of work early to sneak in a few holes before dusk. What a train wreck. Spieth’s second shot of that sequence was as bad as it gets in professional golf. It was the kind of chunk rarely seen from the most steely-nerved players in the world, let alone a man who was ripping through the majors like a young Tiger Woods.
Spieth has won since then, at the Colonial. But don’t kid yourself, he’s not entirely over it. He may never be. And earlier this week, the brief exchange of questions about his meltdown at Augusta evoked a defiant tone that proves it.
Augusta left a mark, and we all know it.
Q: You talked about dissecting, and we dissect things. How did you dissect, or have you dissected No. 12 at Augusta?
SPIETH: I’ve said it many, many times, that it was just a mis-hit. I wasn’t trying to hit it at the hole. I was trying to hit it left of the hole, and I hit it a little thin off the heel, which was my miss that week. You can miss it short right on 16 of the 18 holes at the Masters, and 12 and 13 are the two that you can’t. Just happened to be that one swing there that my body started a little before my hands.
From there, I probably should have gone to the drop zone, but I wanted to get a full wedge and made full contact. So two badly timed swings.
Q. From there, how do you move on?
SPIETH: I just made two poor timed swings. It happens.
Q. I mean now?
SPIETH: I did move on. I moved on. We went and won, and I think that was really big for us to actually win a tournament. Not just contend, but to actually close one out, and so now I can draw back on those last few holes, the pressure that I felt and the speed control and kind of the control of the ball to the most minute detail, which comes down to short game that we had at the end there. So honestly, I think it’s out of our heads now just from that one experience at Colonial.
Sure it is.
Read those words again: Just happened to be that one swing there that my body started a little before my hands.
Um, no, Jordan. First off, it wasn’t one swing. It was two. Maybe even three. Second, it clearly isn’t “out of our heads,” though it’s warming to hear you use “we” instead of “I,” the rare kind of collective thinking that a golfer can share with his caddy.
Look, I’m a Spieth guy. It may not sound like it at the moment, but I am. Golf has a collection of fabulous, intriguing talents at the moment, from Jason Day to Rory McIlroy to Spieth and beyond. But we are all looking for the next truly great one, the next Tiger. And Spieth seemed well on his way before that complete breakdown on the 12th hole at Augusta in April.
At that moment, Spieth was heading to his third major championship in five starts. Last year, starting with the Masters, he went first, first, fourth and second in the majors. He won last year’s U.S. Open at Chambers Bay when Dustin Johnson — who knows all about breakdowns — three-putted the 18th green after reaching the par-5 in two. The other guy collapsed. But not Spieth, he was different.
Or so we thought.
Has Spieth recovered? Impossible to say. It seems unlikely. Golfers can talk all they want about tournaments like the Colonial, but we all know that the majors are the only ones that matter. One month after his Masters collapse, Spieth played in The Players Championship, the alleged “fifth major’ and his first tournament since. He missed the cut. Another month has since passed, and Spieth is facing another major.
We all know that golf is about being able to perform under psychological and emotional duress. The bigger the moment, the greater the pressure.
Earlier this week, even Spieth remarked that he doesn’t necessarily feel like the defending champion of the U.S. Open, annually a grueling, often stupid test of patience and nerves. Oakmont is, quite simply, a beast, most recognizable from the bunker known as the “Church Pews” on the third and fourth holes. Independent of the course, the U.S. Open is hardly the place for a golfer in any kind of confidence crisis.
Does Spieth qualify? Only heaven knows. But the last time the world was paying attention — truly paying attention — Spieth broke apart on the 12th hole at Augusta. He claims he has put the pieces back together.
But how strong is the glue?
Tony Massarotti is an avid Boston sports fan and has covered sports in Boston for more than 15 years for both the Boston Herald and Boston Globe. He now serves as a co-host on afternoon drive on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston. He was a two-time Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year as voted by his peers and has written four books, including “Big Papi,” the New York Times-bestselling memoirs of David Ortiz. You can follow Tony @tonymassarotti.