SOUTHPORT, England – Greatest bogey ever?
Consider what went into Jordan Spieth’s incredible 13th-hole 5 Sunday in the final round of the 146th British Open from a lucky eyewitness.
Spieth’s tee shot was horrendous. He put his head in his hands. The press had been held back on the highest dune just behind the 499-yard, par-4’s tee. Reporters could immediately see it was a slicing balloon that started down the right rough. Atop the dune, a spectator appeared to fall from being struck. Spieth had no idea, because when he reached the landing area, he was shocked to have the friendly gallery insist the ball had flown over the dune.
A marshal on the spot radioed the brand and number to another security official who relayed the information to Spieth. It really was his ball, a Titleist and the correct number. Time to climb the second-highest dune at Royal Birkdale.
Spieth was already leaking oil, tied with Matt Kuchar atop the leaderboard after leading by three shots to start the day. They were two holes behind the Brooks Koepka-Austin Connelly pairing. It was sprinkling enough to be annoying, making dune climbing a sprained ankle waiting to happen.
Spieth’s tee shot landing location turned out to be the backside of the second-highest and steepest dune on the course. As soon as Spieth identified the ball buried in thick fescue and a fern-like ground cover, he begged the crowd to stand still and not try to take cell phone photos for fear of slipping over his ball. To the surprise of many who wanted a Seve Ballesteros-like hack-out, Spieth had the clarity to take an unplayable lie and one-stroke penalty. This led to five minutes of asking the gallery to move so he could ponder possible drop locations. Once the sea of fans parted, Spieth saw his best option was to go back to Birkdale’s driving range where the tour vans remained from their early-week position.
Spieth hollered above the crowd buzz for a rules official atop the dune to give him the line between the ball and the hole so that he could determine his drop spot. About 30 yards apart, Spieth and the official concurred the line was two cameras atop a tower and in the middle of the TaylorMade van.
Considering the chaos, the raindrops and the general madness of playing from Birkdale’s range, the level-headedness was astounding. His heart had to be racing from the dune climbing alone. Spieth knew by going backwards he’d be able to get Temporary Movable Obstruction relief from the trucks and onto a beautiful tight fescue turf lie.
With the option now clear, the mob scene moved to the range, with cameramen shifting behind Spieth like a swarm of blackbirds tracing him as he looked at options with the walking referee. Eventually the back-nine roving official, John Paramor, arrived and signed off on an unplayable lie drop between the Callaway and TaylorMade trucks.
Spieth took a ceremonial drop onto the plastic material placed to protect then ground, then marked the ball and begin to take the “TMO” relief options. Paramor directed him to a spot just right of the trucks, on the range turf and a long distance from the green.
All the while caddie Michael Greller was scrambling frantically, reporting to Spieth a 230-yard number back to the 13th green. That allowed Spieth to grab his 3-wood and his recently-added Titleist 718 T-MB driving iron. Then he sent Greller to the dune top to provide an approximate yardage and line.
“Just give me a round number,” Spieth yelled. While Greller moved atop the hill, Spieth started taking practice swings, muttering to himself, “stay through it, stay through it.” When Greller reached the top of the dune, he yelled back a number and Spieth reminded him, “And you can’t stay there, you have to move, you have to … ” trailing off knowing that his bagman was aware he could not become an aiming point or there would be another penalty.
The sight of Greller frantically balancing the tour bag, wet grass and moving away from the line he’d shown Spieth caused the crowd to burst into laughter, but Spieth was ready to go. He held his hand up to his mouth asking for quiet.
With photographers behind and the boisterous crowd around loving the spectacle, Spieth hit the shot quickly and immediately hated the flight that appeared well right. He picked up the 3-wood laying nearby and darted up the dune for at least the third time during the madness.
Upon reaching the green, Spieth apologized to Kuchar for the hold up and then moved to his ball. He faced a hanging lie over the bunker, with a quick downslope, followed by a wave-like tier. The hole was cut cruelly just on the other side. He clipped the shot perfectly up the tier and it fell gently down the slope. From there Spieth drained the 8-foot bogey putt.
As he walked off the back of the putting surface, Spieth ever-so-briefly flashed Greller a mischievous grin while handing him his trusty Scotty Cameron. He knew he’d just made an epic bogey.
Given that he went on to win the British Open, it might have been the greatest bogey in major championship history.
Royal Birkdale, order up a Spieth plaque.