May 11, 2016
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – For Jordan Spieth it’s ancient history – a moment to be digested and dismissed, not mourned – even if the rest of us aren’t there yet.
The tragic hero from this year’s Masters took to the stage on Wednesday at The Players, but there were precious few questions regarding TPC Sawgrass and the PGA Tour’s flagship event.
This was, after all, the first time Spieth had taken to an open forum since he built a five-shot lead heading to the second nine of last month’s Masters only to finish three shots behind eventual champion Danny Willett.
In the four weeks since last we saw the world No. 2 he enjoyed a bro-cation with Rickie Fowler, Smylie Kaufman and Justin Thomas in the Bahamas; spent a good amount of time in the gym trying to regain the strength and energy he’d lost during a grueling early-season stretch; and worked with swing coach Cameron McCormick to re-tool an action that he admits wasn’t 100 percent at Augusta National.
What he hasn’t done since depositing two golf balls into Rae’s Creek on Augusta National’s 12th hole is spend much time lamenting his poor play, or poor fortune depending on one’s point of view.
He’s focused on the road ahead, although the assembled media can’t say the same thing.
“I think people have moved on already, at least I thought so until I came in here today,” he laughed.
That’s right, he laughed.
It really shouldn’t be a huge surprise that the same guy who handles success so well has proven himself equally adept at dealing with defeat.
Make no mistake, there were lessons to be learned.
The weak miss to the right that had crept into his game when he arrived at the Masters needed to be dealt with.
“I happened to have my miss that week at the wrong time, which also happened to be when I was in the lead on Sunday,” Spieth said. “I put in a lot of good hard work. On the driving range it’s there right now. It’s just a matter of being able to trust it on the golf course with trouble around. Which may not happen right away, but it’s getting closer.”
The technical nuances of the current state of his swing aside, know that Spieth didn’t spend his month away from the game searching for answers to deep esoteric questions.
While it may make interesting water cooler talk, Spieth’s ability as a closer has not been tarnished by his Masters meltdown. You don’t win back-to-back majors, like he did last year, with the Sunday shakes.
For Spieth, those epiphanies were made in 2014 and early ’15 when he was learning how to connect the Sunday dots. He’ll tell you it was at last year’s Northern Trust Open when he bogeyed the 72nd hole thinking he needed a birdie to force a playoff that he began to understand what it took to win.
“I made a couple crucial mistakes on Sunday that cost me the event, even though that maybe didn’t make big news,” said Spieth, who missed earning a spot in the playoff last year at Riviera by a stroke.
Just two starts later at the Valspar Championship, Spieth used the experience gained from that missed opportunity to force a playoff that he eventually won.
Consider it a bounce-back event, but even then there were no dark moments, no internal demons that had to be wrestled with before he could move on.
At least not publically, that wouldn’t be his style.
Instead, he clung to what has worked so well for him in his young career, focusing on the process and talking about the need for his team to improve and grow.
That’s not to say things were easy.
One of the coolest ceremonies in all of golf – placing the green jacket on the new champion’s shoulders – was particularly cruel for Spieth at the Masters just moments after drop kicking his title chances into a creek.
“I don’t wish it upon any of y’all,” he conceded before quickly adding, “The questions have been asked to [Willett], do you think this will go down as you winning or him losing? That’s absolute bull, because he won and he earned it.”
There will be plenty of more pressure moments for Spieth in his career, perhaps even this week at an event that he considers golf’s “fifth major,” and in signature style he figured he may or may not prevail.
The island-green 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass looms for everyone in this week’s field, but no more so for Spieth just because of his performance on Augusta National’s 12th hole on Masters Sunday.
“If I hit a good shot and it catches a gust and goes in the water, it’s not because of the Masters. It’s not something that was in my head,” said Spieth, who finished tied for fourth place in his first start at The Players in 2014.
Spieth’s finish at this year’s Masters will forever hold a place in Augusta National lore, but that doesn’t mean he has to dwell on it.