Jordan Spieth has learned he can handle adversity as he prepares to defend title at British Open
The scenes were nothing alike and wildly memorable.
Both started with a tee shot that sailed some 60 yards to the right during the final round of the British Open, and that’s where the similarities end.
Seve Ballesteros didn’t have to take a penalty drop from near the front tire of a black car in a parking lot at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. He had a two-shot lead, and once he dropped his ball away from the cars, he had a short iron onto the green. The great Spaniard went on to capture his first major championship in 1979, and he was jokingly referred to as the “Car Park Champion.”
He became the “Driving Range Champion” at Royal Birkdale, and it was no joke.
Spieth already had lost his three-shot lead in the final round last year when his drive on the 13th hole flew well to the right toward the dunes, hit a spectator in the head and wound up in a bush. Spieth had no shot, and really no place to drop that improved his chances. His best option was to go back to the tee and play his third shot.
“Is the range out of bounds?” Spieth asked.
The rest was a blur, until he arrived home in Dallas with the claret jug and watched replays for the first time.
“I could help but turn on the final round, and actually fast-forward until the tee shot on 13. I didn’t watch the first 12 holes,” Spieth said. “For me, it went by pretty quickly because it was, `OK, decision here, decision here, now I need to drop here.’ But with the coverage, with the commercials, and then they come back and it seems like we haven’t even moved, it was like, `Man, that really did take a long time.’ That was kind of tough to watch.”
The ending was remarkable.
Once it was determined the range was in play, Spieth hit 3-iron over the dunes toward a green he couldn’t see, coming up just short. He pitched that delicately over a pot bunker and made the putt for a bogey.
And then it was pure Spieth after that.
He nearly holed his tee shot on the par-3 14th with a 6-iron for birdie. He made a 50-foot eagle putt on the 15th, a 30-foot birdie putt on the 16th, an 8-foot birdie putt on the 17th and just like that, he was three legs home to a career Grand Slam.
“After the 13th hole, everything went slower to me than what’s on TV,” he said. “So it’s kind of this flip based on what I was watching and how I was feeling. For me, it was this whole regrouping and re-motivating and resetting a goal. And all that kind of took place pretty quickly in real time.”
Spieth rarely makes it easy on himself.
Of his three majors, only his wire-to-wire, four-shot victory at the 2015 Masters lacked any real drama. His U.S. Open title that summer at Chambers Bay featured a signature, 25-foot birdie putt on the 16th, a three-putt double bogey on the 17th and help from Dustin Johnson, who three-putted from 12 feet for par on the final hole.
Spieth had a five-shot lead on the back nine at the 2016 Masters, made quadruple-bogey 7 with two shots into Rae’s Creek, and never recovered. He couldn’t put away the Travelers Championship last year until he was forced into a playoff, and then holed a bunker shot.
Still only 24 for another few weeks, Spieth is looking at the big picture of his career, the British Open is a big part of it.
“I’ve kind of had a career’s worth of experience in four years, which is I think advantageous going forward, the way I look at it,” he said. “Having a positive experience off of losing a lead and being able to regain it within a major championship Sunday is one that not many people have. I wasn’t trying to do it. But I can certainly look back on that as, `Man, positives can come out of what really seems like a day that’s not going my way.“’
And that’s why he’s not overly concerned now.
The Open was his last victory, and lately, he hasn’t been particularly close. He was nine shots back in the final round of the Masters when he nearly produced the biggest rally in Augusta National history, closing with a 64 — with a bogey on the final hole — to finish two back of Patrick Reed.
Since then, he has played seven events and missed the cut in three of them. In the other four, he has not finished closer than 12 shots of the lead.
“I have no doubt in my ability to come back and defend whether form is on, off or anything indifferent,” he said. “I’ve proven to myself that I can go from two missed cuts to potentially winning. That’s not anything that throws me off.”
If nothing else, he learned that from last year’s British Open.
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