Pressure Gets to Everyone
By now, everyone who follows professional golf knows what happened Sunday in the 2016 Masters. A tournament featuring high winds, the yips, and slow play warnings emitted a touch of anxiety above and beyond the normal bar of tangling with Augusta. We watched Ernie Els tailspin into the yips in a one-hole disaster. Be certain of this – Ernie didn’t buckle under the pressure. The putting disaster was the yips, nothing more. Ernie has played this game well for a long time, and this was not the real Ernie. Jordan Spieth came into this year’s grand event as the defending champion. Respect for that has already been earned, and it appeared that he was ready to take care of business again – that is, until he suffered an Ernie, one of those totally unexpected nightmares that take away the day, giving the glory to someone else.
Leading by 5 with only the back nine to go, it was all proceeding swimmingly. Of course, what holes remained to be played are iconic for golfer trouble, and have bullied the greats through the decades. A quadruple bogey on one of them put the lead in peril, and an opportunistic Danny Willett took over the tournament and stole away the green jacket, cutting short a Tiger-like repeat. Some say that Spieth got caught at last by some fundamental swing flaw, while some say he developed an instantaneous form of PTSD, causing him to crumble when it counted.
It is true that, for whatever reason, Spieth collapsed. The mechanics experts can pull apart his swing at their leisure, although several are already saying that it was always off, and that great putting saved the day on multiple occasions. We’ve always known that great putting is one of the most coveted ways to recover from errant shots. I can only add a perception of my own that the Spieth brain was different this year. It would be perfectly understandable that he is exhausted from playing at such a level for so long with so few breaks.I remember him as playing with a wisdom and an extraordinary sense of judgment beyond his years. He was the alternative to the ever-ready-to-boil-over Woods, a similar talent within a cool, sober demeanor.
This year, when the wind came up, Spieth handled it well, but a toll was probably taken. By the time he was put on a slow play alert, he had begun to fray, and by the halfway point on Sunday, he was a dead duck. That’s when we piled on. Articles with titles describing him as as “testy” began to appear, some describing his walk off of the 18th green. Do we need a story so badly that we must repaint Spieth as Woods? Wasn’t his comment something like “Gentlemen please, not in my face?” If that is even close to the real quote, I would give it an A plus – an outstanding, classy response.
Perhaps Spieth needs to do some swing tweaking. Golf pros I have spoken with today are already on the project, and the suggestions are interesting. I would think that some rest is in order as well. It would be great to see the unflappable, confident, and strategic mind of the astonishing 22-year old again. No one should burn out at 22, and none of us should help by raising alarms over nothing. Everyone who has ever played the game knows that collapse is an imminent possibility, and no player has entirely avoided a letdown to at least some degree.
Incidentally, as an added point, it is worth mentioning that Danny Willett, the man who surpassed Spieth on Sunday, is no chump. He is highly ranked, and has already experienced victory on major tours. Spieth and Willett will return. Both will live the ups and downs of international competition. That’s interesting enough without us writing stories about them that have no basis in reality.