Noise. That’s the polite way Jordan Spieth characterized the chorus of doubters who speculated how damaged the 22-year-old was by one bad hole at the Masters. Many who write and talk about golf latched onto the theme of a wounded psyche, ignoring the mental strength Spieth showed a year ago in managing the pressure of consecutive majors and taking the final two of the year to the back nine.
Then Spieth fed the doubt when he missed the cut at The Players and played an erratic final round while in contention at the Byron Nelson. He knew what others were saying or thinking. He heard it in the interview rooms and from the galleries. “I wasn’t sure how long it would take to get over the hurdle of having to come in to every single interview room, having to listen to crowds only talk about what happened a month ago, and it’s very difficult, and I’m 22. It’s not like I hadn’t won — and we’ve won two majors. It’s very difficult to stay present, stay positive when that’s happening, when those are the only questions.”
He answered on Sunday in his native Texas at the Dean & DeLuca Invitational. He answered in the fashion that marked his success a year ago. He answered with a succession of par-saving putts and six birdies on the final nine, including three in a row to cap the round. Watching Spieth putt is like watching Steph Curry shoot threes. He puts them in from everywhere.
Afterwards, Spieth admitted he felt the external pressure early in Sunday’s round. The Players, the Nelson and yes, the Masters had weakened his confidence, his ability to stay positive. “But the nerves hit me more than I think they should have or normally would just from the start of the round one today, and that’s probably it.”
The win sets the stage for this week at the Memorial with world #1, Jason Day, coming off a commanding performance in winning The Players, with world #3, Rory McIlroy, coming off a win at the Irish Open and with Spieth, at #2, restoring the Big Three to the lead story.
What may be lost in the magic of Spieth’s win is the only thing that really changed is the “W” and the return of his magical putting. Spieth still has the same swing issues he’s had through much of the 2016 season. He continues to tack back and forth down the fairways. The miss right that flashed on the 12th on Sunday at Augusta is still a mistake he has not fully resolved, despite the win.
Spieth came into Colonial averaging only 62% fairways hit for the year. For his four days at Colonial, the percentage dropped to just over 50%. And for his pair of 65s on the weekend, he played from the short grass only 12 of 28 times.
For the year, he has ranked outside the top 100 on Tour in Greens in Regulation at just below 65%. At Colonial he was slightly above 70%, but on the weekend, he matched his stats for the year with a 23 out of 36 total — 64%. Those numbers very much line up with his 2015 numbers.
Jordan Spieth competes and wins in a fashion unlike that of any other player on Tour in recent memory. He scores his ball better than anyone else. His season average for converting birdies ranked number one on Tour before Colonial, where he also tied for first in birdies. He has ranked at the top in putting throughout the year, and in Texas last week he was second in the field.
Spieth will never match Day or McIlroy’s power, or that of most of the world’s top players for that matter. But it would be interesting to see if Spieth could refine his swing mechanics enough to improve his accuracy both off the tee and from the fairway and how much he could overpower a golf course with just the putter. In the meantime, he’ll enjoy absence of “noise” from the experts, now silenced by his win.
Dan Reardon has covered golf for radio station KMOX in St. Louis for 32 years. In that time, he has covered more than 100 events, including majors and other PGA, LPGA and Champions Tour tournaments. During his broadcast career, Reardon conducted one-on-one interviews with three dozen members of the World Golf of Fame. He has contributed to many publications over the years and co-authored the book Golf’s Greatest Eighteen from Random House. Reardon served as Director of Media relations for LPGA events in both St. Louis and Chicago for 10 years.