News & Opinion

Spieth taps into positive vibes at Masters

Jordan Spieth was with family in his rental house playing cards Monday night when a replay of the 2015 Masters that he won aired on a TV in the background

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Jordan Spieth was with family in his rental house playing cards Monday night when a replay of the 2015 Masters that he won aired on a TV in the background. His dad asked him if it was OK to leave it on, or whether he wanted to change the channel. The dutiful son told his father that it was fine. Leave it on.

Soon, Spieth would be doing color commentary to his team assembled in the room, taking them through shots and course thoughts and big putts that he holed on that magical April afternoon four years ago.

“It was very memorable,” said Spieth, a three-time major winner, “because it was the highest of highs I've had in this sport.”

Jordan Spieth, practicing at Augusta National’s 6th hole, has led in 9 of his 20 career rounds at the Masters.

Jordan Spieth, practicing at Augusta National’s 6th hole, has led in 9 of his 20 career rounds at the Masters.

Augusta has given him everything. More emotions than Baskin-Robbins has flavors. High highs, really low lows, and about everything in between. Spieth likes to say that, in five Masters starts, he has received “a career’s worth of golf.” A runner-up finish to Bubba Watson in Spieth’s first Masters, in 2014; victory by tying the Masters’ scoring record a year later, at age 21; a shocking collapse in 2016, when he started the back nine with a five-shot cushion but ended up slipping the jacket onto Danny Willett’s shoulders a few hours later. A great Sunday charge last April, when he shot 64 despite a bogey on the final hole. He finished third.

Five starts, four top-3 finishes, and a giant dose of heartache in the year when he lost to Willett. That’s a lot for a guy who doesn’t even turn 26 until the summer.

This week, Spieth comes in showing very little form (tee times). The former World No. 1 has slid all the way to 33rd in the Official World Golf Ranking, and he hasn’t won since the 2017 British Open at Royal Birkdale. In seven stroke-play tournaments in 2019, Spieth has finished no better than a tie for 30th, at last week’s Valero Texas Open. He has fixed the poor putting that hindered him during much of 2017-18, and now his ball-striking has gone awry. Spieth has started tournaments well and finished them poorly (he ranks 205th in third-round scoring, and 208th in final-round scoring). Golfers at times can be the Dutchman trying to plug too many holes in the dike.

Spieth doesn’t believe he is in poor form. He thinks he’s close to playing good golf. That’s something a golfer often will say when he’s busily trying to climb out of a valley. Close. But he is encouraged with everything he is working on, and best part yet, he’s here at Augusta National Golf Club. His happy place. This is a place where many a script gets a heavy rewrite by the golf gods. Where destiny intervenes. Spieth’s current form, truthfully, may not matter in the least. Not here.

“It’s my favorite tournament in the whole world,” Spieth said. “I've said that in here quite a few times. ... It was kind of a big reason why I fell in love with the game of golf.”

He wasn’t yet a teen when he watched Tiger Woods make his famous chip-in for birdie at Augusta National’s par-3 16th in 2005, the ball taking one last peek at the huge crowds before tumbling over the edge of the cup. It was on that same green one decade later where Spieth faced a pivotal moment. He was scrambling to make par, and Justin Rose, his pursuer, had a great birdie look. Rose missed; Spieth poured in his 8-footer. That was that. Even with a missed putt at the last, Spieth tied Woods’ Masters scoring record of 18-under 270.

Spieth has played 20 rounds at Augusta, and has held the tournament lead after nine of them. Think about that. That in itself is an amazing run. His "worst" Masters finish is a tie for 11th two years ago. He and Augusta get along like milk and cookies.

“I feel really good about my game, where it’s at, heading into this week,” he said. “It’s just a matter of trust in the stuff that I’m working on. I don’t feel like I have to play well. I don’t feel there’s any added pressure this week. I feel kind of ‘under the radar,’ which is really nice. That changes day-to-day out here, though.”

At 25, Spieth is mature enough to know that his golf career should be a long one, and there will be peaks and valleys to endure. He has learned to practice more on his better days, to reinforce the good swings that he is making, and put the clubs away and drive home on the bad ones. He’d rather regroup mentally, think about the fixes, and get back to work the next day.

Here’s the thing about Jordan Spieth: His top form will come and go. But inside him churns a good deal of fire, and he has learned that he can get plenty done on grit. Fellow Texan Ben Crenshaw, a two-time Masters champion, has likened Spieth to Western gunslinger Wyatt Earp. “He’s a scorer,” Crenshaw said of Spieth. “He gets the ball in the hole.”

As poorly as he performed overall a year ago, Spieth did nudge his way into the hunt at not one, but two majors (Masters and British Open). Now that he’s back at Augusta, don’t forget Spieth. Don't overlook him. The numbers might indicate one thing, but he feels good about his game. Really, that’s all that matters.

Jeff Babineau is a former president of the Golf Writers Association of America who has covered golf since 1994, writing for such publications as The Orlando Sentinel, Golfweek and Golf World. Email: Twitter: @jeffbabz62