It’s impossible to walk away from watching golf for seven and a half hours virtually non-stop without having some strong feelings. That’s especially the case when a major championship is on the line and when the final round turns out to be as wild a ride as Sunday’s British Open.
Consider this. Matt Kuchar, with a one-shot lead going to the 14th hole, played the next four holes in two-under par and found himself losing three shots to eventual winner Jordan Spieth. He played the same four-hole stretch in five-under par. This after nearly falling off the mountaintop, literally and figuratively, at the par-4 13th hole, when Jordan was forced to recover from one of the wildest tee shots anyone has seen down the final stretch of a major.
They ought to put plaque out there on the driving range to the right of the 13th hole from which Spieth hit after taking an unplayable and then getting relief. That was one of the great bogeys in all of championship golf. And just as it looked like he was done, he came firing back with a near ace on the par-3 14th that began his comeback.
I’ve been watching tournament golf for 50 years. I root for good golf. I don’t want to see the rulebook at center stage, as it was, say at the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits when Dustin Johnson grounded his club in a bunker on the 72nd hole. I don’t want to wait two hours for a ruling on whether a ball moved on the green, as we had to at last year’s U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club
This was all about the game’s wacky rhythms. About an unheralded 21-year old pro golfer from China, Haotong Li, vaulting into contention with an early 63 under ideal conditions and having to sit and wait in the clubhouse for three-plus hours.
It was about Spieth looking nervous early and fidgeting even more than normal while putting uncharacteristically badly from inside ten feet. All the while, Kuchar played a very steady game, while Spieth variously faltered, regained himself, momentarily fell apart on that 13th hole and then found the kind of inner strength that makes him such a threat to keep winning forever.
We all do it in our own way during a round. Falter, find ourselves, collapse, regain form, hit the occasional stretch of pure shot making that convinces us we can really play, only to fall back onto our own version of regular play. That is normal in golf – the ebb and flow, slightly manic-depressive mood swing quality of play, that all golfers at all levels ultimately experience in their own way. The difference is that Tour-quality pros still shoot around par while doing so. Or in Spieth’s case, one-under par on a day when it looked like he could easily have shot five-over and lost the British Open altogether.
I was worried halfway into the final round that the day might prove boring. I’m glad to say it proved to be worthwhile theater. What we saw in Spieth’s win was the true rhythm of the game asserting itself. It made a morning (and early afternoon) in front of the tube time well spent.