PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — His Saturday morning consisted of 15 golf shots over three-and-a-half holes, one too many for purposes of the cut. But more importantly for the health of his golf game, Jordan Spieth and his re-start of his second round in The Players Championship provided a chance to exhale and absorb even more perspective.
Yes, a second-round 71 to finish 36 holes at 1-under 143 meant a second straight missed cut in this flagship event, but to know Spieth is to know brilliant honesty. He seized ownership of the early exit, conceded that he didn’t meet his lofty expectations and didn’t deny that he had immediately targeted some fixes.
First and foremost, his on-course demeanor.
“I just think that, you know, I’m beating myself up a little bit too much on the golf course and it’s affecting me and I realize that now,” Spieth said after 72-71 produced his second missed cut in 10 tournaments this season.
Surely, that’s hardly a stat that should get you reaching for the panic button, and Spieth is not. But he is 22 and constantly learning and sometimes re-learning. What he was taking with him for a stretch of three consecutive tournaments is the need to go easy on himself.
“Just need to be a little bit more positive with myself on the course and maybe kind of lower my expectations a little bit and just kind of free myself up,” Spieth said. “It just seems I’m so tense and I just need to get back to the way I enjoy playing golf and I’m not far off.”
Spieth did not deny that you could go back to his 18th hole Thursday, the par-5 ninth, to understand what he was talking about. He was hole high and in a greenside bunker in two shots and eight out of 10 times you’d expect him to get that up-and-down for birdie. But he barely got the ball out of the bunker, then needed four more shots, as ugly a double-bogey as you’ll see him make.
“If I didn’t make that mistake I made on 9 (Thursday), it would be a different story right now and I would have a chance to shoot up the board.”
Spieth’s play for two rounds here was in stark contrast to what his playing competitor, Jason Day, did. They may be ranked 1 (Day) and 2 (Spieth) in the Official World Golf Ranking, but their scorecards were not even close. Day returned to finish his second round and immediately birdied the 15th, then finished par-par-par to sign for 66. At 15-under 129, he not only set a 36-hole scoring mark for this tournament, but he sits four clear of Shane Lowry (65-68).
Spieth’s story was far different. Returning to the course at 1 under and knowing he needed to go one deeper to make the cut, Spieth began with a recovery shot from beneath a tree right of the fairway at No. 15. Trying for the heroic shot, he compounded his troubles and made bogey.
Trying to cut that shot onto the green was “just a mental mistake,” Spieth said. “I should have just taken my medicine” and played front left of the green and gotten it up-and-down for par.
The par-5 16th and par-3 17th offered reasonable birdie tries, he knew, but he would miss chances from 10 feet at 16 and 17 feet at 17. The birdie at 18 was too little, too late, but to think that Spieth was kicking and screaming on the way down PGA Tour Boulevard was to miss what makes this kid go.
He was in re-group mode and had taken stock of how he can improve. His putting had let him down for two rounds at the Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, but it’s understandable how that won’t faze Spieth; his putting stroke is fine.
What stood out for 36 holes is the running commentary he offered to himself, so much of it negative. He beat himself up and that is what he vowed would change.
Take it to the bank, it will, too.
One would be foolhardy to promise that Spieth will go on a tear like he did after missing the cut at The Players Championship last year. Seasons like 2015 just don’t come every year. But it’s worth remembering that some folks were tossing caution signs about Spieth when he shot 75-72 here a year ago, after which the kid did this in eight of the next 14 weeks: Two wins, including the U.S. Open, two seconds, a third, a fourth, and seven top 10s in all.
That stretch began with back-to-back weeks in his hometown area and it’s where he’s headed next — the Nelson followed by the Colonial.
Maybe it’s why there was a hint of a smile on his face. Or, maybe his self-evaluation had already set in.
“I just need to do a little bit better job of being positive with myself and smiling a bit more, having a bit more fun,” Spieth said.