Jonah Karzmer: Spieth didn’t out-think himself at Augusta
Two weeks ago we were witnesses to one of the greatest golfing performances in modern history. We all know the story of Jordan Spieth winning the Masters. We know he’s 21. And we know he tied Tiger Woods’ record-setting performance as a 21-year-old in 1997. So I don’t want to spend too much time going over the “facts” we already know.
Rather, I want to use my space to talk about one of the more overlooked aspects of his victory; the mental fortitude Spieth displayed in his victory.
In 2014, Spieth was winning the Masters with 11 holes to play. But some missed opportunities and a big lefthander known as Bubba Watson prevented Spieth from winning his first green jacket at 20.
It was, in his words, “crushing.”
And in golf, a close call loss like that can be devastating to a career. Just ask Bob May. Or Kenny Perry. Different points in their careers, I know. But their close-call losses in majors had an obvious impact on their careers moving forward.
Even the great Arnold Palmer never quite recovered from his devastating loss in the 1966 U.S. Open at The Olympic Club.
Follow Spieth’s 2014 Masters loss up with a couple other close calls throughout that year and, at 20, the media was already talking about his inability to close the deal and win big tournaments.
Now fast forward to the tournament we watched two weeks ago. His game was obviously on point; he had one victory and two second-place finishes in his previous three starts. And coming into the event Vegas odds had him behind only world No. 1 Rory McIlroy as their favorite to win.
And after three phenomenal days, Spieth once again found himself in the lead, this time up three, with 11 holes to play.
Can you even imagine what kind of thoughts had to be going through his mind at that point?
“Can I close the deal?”
“Just don’t do what you did last year!”
“Remember those tournaments I lost?”
“What will the press say if I lose this one?”
“How will I look in a green jacket?”
“I wonder how many millions of people are watching?”
“What will this mean for my career?”
The possibilities of what can go through someone’s mind at that point are endless. And with each thought comes a potential physical effect on the next shot.
And that’s one of the overlooked beauties of golf. In front of thousands of people in person and millions of people at homes across the world, Jordan Spieth, at the ripe old age of 21, had to withstand the mental onslaught that is “the back nine on Sunday” at the Masters. Just a kid and his thoughts.
In 1971, Johnny Miller led The Masters by two shots with four holes to play. His post-tournament quote; “On the 15th hole I started thinking how I’d look in the green jacket, the next thing I know, they’re giving it to Charley Coody.”
In 1986 an announcer asked Tom Weiskpof what Jack Nicklaus was thinking as he stormed from behind to win his sixth green jacket. His reply was beautiful; “If I knew what was going through Jack Nicklaus’s head I would have won the Masters.”
And that just may be true.
People way smarter than I am can explain the scientific connection between the mind and the physical reactions that follow. But as a golfer, I can tell you the thoughts you have on the course matter. And at some point, the ability to control those thoughts becomes an indefinable difference maker.
I don’t know what Jordan Spieth’s thoughts were on that back nine two weeks ago. But I wish I did, because that was one beautiful display of golf.
Jonah Karzmer is a former golf professional who writes a Sunday golf column for The Vindicator. In his spare time he sells commercial insurance and loves getting feedback on his weekly columns via email at Jonah@thekarzmerinsurance.com.