As Jordan Spieth stood amid the trucks on the edge of the driving range Sunday, looking up at a hill that seemed about a thousand feet tall, the rest of us mere mortals had to wonder this:
What would I have done from that predicament?
We’ve all had to hit shots like that – shots that are so ridiculously impossible, you almost have to laugh. Of course, we weren’t tied for the lead in The Open Championship at the time. This was no laughing matter.
But Spieth’s recovery to make bogey on that 13th hole at Royal Birkdale was so amazing, it was his springboard to the birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie-par finish that gave him the Claret Jug and the third leg of the career Grand Slam.
As entertaining as the Henrik Stenson-Phil Mickelson duel at Troon was last year, this was far better. We can’t relate to the perfect golf those two were playing. But hitting the ball 100 yards off line and then needing 20 minutes to figure out what to do? Now that’s in our wheelhouse.
Watching this agonizing turn of events, I started thinking of all the things I would have done on that over-the-hill shot.
Most likely, I would have hit my next shot right into the bank and would’ve had an even worse lie. Good thing I don’t play in front of spectators. They would have been in serious danger.
Or I would have over-corrected and hit one left, sending it across the fairway into more trouble on the other side.
Or I would have caught it pure but left it to the right, which would put it in the gorse.
And even if I had found a way to get it back to the fairway, as Spieth did, there is no way I would have gotten up-and-down for bogey, as Spieth did. By not losing the tournament, he won the tournament.
That’s what made this whole thing so interesting – the decisions he had to make.
Johnny Miller was saying on TV that he should go back to the tee and reload, but Spieth said afterward, correctly, that going that route would give him, at best, a double bogey or worse. He had to take the unplayable lie and try to make bogey.
I was a little surprised at first that he didn’t try to hit it out of where it was originally, but NBC never was able to show us just how bad the lie was. And even if it was hittable from the side of that hill, the stance was awful. So, from all indications, he did the only thing he could have done.
What a long list of lessons for all of us.
It starts with never giving up. One of the things I love about our great game is that even if you hit a horrible drive or a wayward second shot or a really bad chip or putt, there usually is still a chance to make par or at least minimize the damage.
There’s also the matter of compartmentalizing every hole and putting a bad one behind you as quickly as possible. Spieth nearly jarred his tee ball on the next hole, a par-3. Now that’s how you respond.
And then that eagle putt. And then two more birdies to clinch it. That right there is why we’re gingerly starting to put this guy in the same realm as the game’s greats. While it’s good to treat each hole separately, you also want to use your momentum when you can feel it surging.
But what makes us root for Spieth is not his incredible skill. It’s the fact that he sometimes looks just like us.
He’s not perfect.
I don’t know about you, but every time I watch Spieth hit driver, I almost cringe. It feels as if it’s part of his swing to signal left or right, indicating a wayward shot. He won yet another tournament when he constantly was missing the fairway.
I can identify with that. Because of my wandering drives, I often have had to find a way to score from one fairway over. It’s almost as if it’s a more comfortable position than down the middle.
But finding a way to get it done when you’ve hit it to the top of a mini-mountain? Now that’s Spieth-ian.
His career might include more meltdowns like the one at the Masters last year, but I guarantee it will include far more memories like the one he created Sunday. He’s nowhere near the top of his game … or fame.