Jordan Spieth can't wait for 2017 Masters - to end

Jordan Speith Getty Images

Jordan Spieth can't wait for 2017 Masters - to end

PGA Tour

Jordan Spieth can't wait for 2017 Masters - to end

(Note: A version of this story appeared in the March 2017 issue of Golfweek.)

Augusta National giveth, and Augusta National can taketh. Oh, can she taketh. The National, for all her glamor, can be a prom date who refuses to dance. The National can lift a player to never-seen heights, or with one backhanded swipe, send one plummeting into the deepest abyss.

Jordan Spieth may be only 23, but give him this: Already he has experienced about all that there is to sample upon that famous old plant nursery that sits in the hollows off Washington Road.

This year, he’s ready for it to begin – and end.

”No matter what happens at this year’s Masters, whether I can grab the jacket or I miss the cut or I finish 30th, it will be nice having the Masters go by,” Spieth said Monday night during the draw for the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. ”The Masters lives on for a year. It brings a non-golf audience into golf. And it will be nice once this year’s finished from my point of view, to be brutally honest with you.”

Three years ago, he had a chance to win in his Masters debut – a first-timer hadn’t won since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 – but he rinsed a tee shot at No. 12 and experienced a late crash.

Two years ago, Spieth dominated from Thursday on, stepping forth to win the champion’s green jacket at 21. And last spring, attempting to become only the fourth player to win back-to-back at Augusta, Spieth essentially slipped a jacket over the shoulders of Englishman Danny Willett not once, but twice; once on the back nine, and once more in the early evening practice-green ceremony.

Jordan Spieth presents Danny Willett of England with the green jacket after Willett won the final round of the 2016 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club.

Jordan Spieth handed Danny Willett of England the green jacket during and after 2016 Masters. (Getty Images)

Willett took home the trophy, but Spieth owned the buzz. The tournament had been his. He’d sauntered to the 10th tee late Sunday afternoon with a five-shot lead, a man coming off four consecutive birdies and marching toward your basic coronation.

Funny, but Augusta doesn’t always choose to follow the obvious script.

Spieth had been loose with his ballstriking through a good part of the week (he’d made three doubles in his two middle rounds), and Augusta’s back nine exposed him. Bogey at 10. Bogey at 11.

And then the crusher: Quadruple-bogey at the small-but-feisty, 155-yard 12th. Spieth not only watched his greedy, fading tee shot struck with a 9-iron bound short off the front bank and into Rae’s Creek, he then deposited yet another shot, badly chunking a wedge after he dropped some 80 yards out.

There was a collective gasp down at Amen Corner, an aura of complete disbelief. Spieth, Augusta’s boy wonder, had to get up and down from a back bunker to make his 7. Suddenly, shockingly, he trailed by three. Two poor swings would render a considerable price and considerable pain.

“It was really a tough 30 minutes for me that hopefully I never experience again,” Spieth said.

Jordan Spieth

Jordan Spieth’s quadruple-bogey at No. 12 was a crusher.

The young Texan’s three Masters appearances would mark a career body of work for some, a tumultuous high-wire ride for even the most grizzled, game-tested veteran. All that and Spieth is barely old enough to vote.

Will he arrive to Augusta National this April with some sort of score to settle?

Well, if you think that Spieth will be haunted by last year’s brutal finish, when he followed a sizzling front-nine 32 with a can’t-look-away trainwreck 41 on his final nine, then you haven’t spent enough time learning who he is.

Spieth made his way back to Augusta National for an annual visit with friends in December, played two rounds, and promptly went 2-2 at the 12th. He couldn’t wait to get back to Butler Cabin to access his cell phone to tell his caddie and friend, Michael Greller.

Sure, last April’s finish stung. Badly. Yes, last April’s finish hung with him for a while. He wasn’t a factor in the final three majors of 2016 after being there in the high heat of Sunday contention for five consecutive majors, an alarming and impressive run.

But the 2017 Masters for Spieth will not be one dressed in a theme of redemption as much as a week that simply returns him to a course that he loves, and a place where already he has experienced incredible success.

Jordan Spieth has experienced a multitude of emotions at Augusta. (Getty Images)

Spieth has played in three Masters. His finishes: T-2. First. T-2. Heading into Sunday a year ago, he’d led or shared the lead for seven consecutive rounds.

“Ultimately,” Spieth reflected shortly before he turned off the lights on his 2016, “I believe I’ll be in that position again there, and I’ll draw back on the positives and the negatives we’ve had at Augusta, and hopefully put on that green jacket again at some point. That’ll totally redeem it.

“At the same time, I still have that trophy, and when I go home (to Dallas), I can look at it and say that we won it. That’s what I’ll remember. There’s mis-execution on shots all the time, and it just happened to be at the wrong time. But I’ve also had tremendous execution at the right time. It’s just part of the game.”

When a player then ranked No. 2 in the world (he’s now fifth) stands on the game’s biggest global stage and records a 7 on the shortest hole on the course, it is sure to be remembered. Spieth’s 2016 Masters also should be remembered for the perseverance and fight he displayed after that, as well as the short-game wizardry he had shown to build a lead in the first place. Following his quad at 12, there was a deft downhill chip to set up birdie at 13; a wedge stuffed to 5 feet for birdie at 15; and a clutch tee shot right over the flagstick at the par-3 16th. He failed to convert the sliding left-to-right 8-footer at 16, and when a poor tee shot led to bogey a hole later, Spieth would not catch Willett.

Jordan Spieth and caddie Michael Greller hug after the 2016 Masters.

Jordan Spieth and caddie Michael Greller hug after the 2016 Masters.

But it certainly wasn’t for a lack of grit.

“He said it, (No.) 12 … it is what it is,” said Greller, who has been on the bag for each of Spieth’s nine PGA Tour victories.

“But what he did the last six holes shows his stubbornness and his will. That’s the best course of the year for him. Last year doesn’t change that. He’s got second-first-second there. I’m sure there will be just the normal Masters’ nerves, and the questions (about 2016) will come up again, but he’s not going to bed every night thinking about that.”

Nobody was better at the biggest tournaments than Jack Nicklaus, who collected 18 majors, a record likely to never be caught. But at the recent Honda Classic in South Florida, Nicklaus, now 77, began to reel off a tall list of the many big trophies he failed to land.

He points to the 1963 British Open at Royal Lytham, where he thought he needed par on 18 to win and bogey to get into a playoff. (He made bogey and lost by one.) There was Muirfield in 1972, where Nicklaus finished 4-5-4 and lost the Open to Lee Trevino by a shot. The triple he made at 15 at Augusta trying to close the 1971 Masters still leaves him shaking his head. Mental error.

And of course, the 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills, where a young Nicklaus, playing alongside Ben Hogan, faltered by taking 39 strokes on his final nine. Arnold Palmer would shoot 65 and win.

Nicklaus chuckles when he says that for a guy considered to be mentally strong, he threw away his share. The setbacks, he said, made him stronger. Spieth’s 2016 Masters finish likely will do the same.

“It was the best thing that ever happened to me, I think,” Nicklaus said of that 1960 U.S. Open. “I think if I would have won that, I would have been scratching my ears out here (he extended his hands six inches from each ear, indicating how big his head would have been).

“It made me work harder. I got a great lesson from that.”

Jordan Spieth reacts to his tee shot on the seventh hole during the third round of the 2016 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club.

Jordan Spieth has used his 2016 journey at Augusta as a learning experience. (Getty Images)

If nothing else, 2016 was a year in which Spieth didn’t lack for learning. For starters, he was trying to perform an encore to one of the best seasons compiled in the modern game: Victories at the Masters and U.S. Open, a bid at The Open that he took to the 72nd hole at St. Andrews, and a runner-up finish to a record-setting Jason Day at the PGA at Whistling Straits.

Spieth capped 2015 by winning the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup. The reality was that he was set up for an inevitable letdown in 2016. He won twice on the PGA Tour, played on a winning Ryder Cup team and captured his second Australian Open in November. A solid campaign, for sure, but it wasn’t 2015. It’s kind of like heading down to karaoke night at the local pub and being asked to follow Frank Sinatra.

Spieth has been rock-solid to start 2017. He already counts a victory (AT&T Pebble Beach), has shored up his ballstriking with instructor Cam McCormick (Spieth entered the WGC-Mexico event No. 1 in greens in regulation, up from 145th a year ago), putted well at Pebble and vows to be more rested this April when he rolls down Magnolia Lane.

Spieth is an old head on young shoulders, as they say.

“He’s going to be really hard to beat for a lot of years,” said his good friend and frequent golf partner, country singer Jake Owen. “It’s not just his golf swing. It’s what’s between his ears. He does not stop.”

You experience, you absorb, you learn, you grow. Spieth admits he was relieved to flip the calendar and put 2016 behind him. He welcomes the fresh start. He cannot wait to get to the year’s first major championship.

“Overall, recognizing that if last year is a ‘down’ year for us,” Spieth said, “we’re in really good shape long-term when you start compiling those numbers. It makes me think a lot more positive about last season and my career going forward, just looking at it from a more elongated perspective.”

Yes, Spieth is in this for the long haul. The probability is that Augusta National may have more heartbreak reserved for him at some point over, say, the next two decades. But given what already he has shown, there could be plenty more green in his future, too.

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