RIDGEDALE, Mo. — Jack Nicklaus has won more majors than anyone. But he’s also finished second another 19 times So who better to ask about Jordan Spieth’s Masters meltdown?
“In many ways I’m not sure that it isn’t a good thing for him,” Nicklaus said during a press conference ahead of the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf. “What I mean by that is that he’s 22 years old. To win a Masters twice at 22 years old, that puts him right at the top of everything. He’s got a long future in front of him. He’s a very talented young man, he’s a nice young man, he’s very focused. Winning it twice might take away some of that focus is exactly what I said to you about if I had won the U.S. Open when I was an amateur in 1960, I might not have continued to work because I felt like I’d be scratching my head out here (spreading his arms far apart to signal he’d get a big head).”
Noting that his heart went out to Spieth, Nicklaus continued, “I know that he knows he should never have hit the ball to the right of the bunker. I don’t care what kind of swing you put on it on 12, it just can’t happen. But I think that there will be some good that comes out of all bad and I think he will ‑‑ although I know he would have liked to have won obviously and a lot of people would have liked to have seen him win, I don’t think in the long run that it’ll ever hurt him; it will only make his resolve stronger.”
That’s when Gary Player, himself a nine-time major champion, chimed in and said of Spieth, “He didn’t play well, that’s the reason that he didn’t win the last day. As he said himself, he said, ‘I had my B game going.’ If you analyze his round shot for shot, he didn’t play really the type of golf that you play to win Augusta.
But the thing that’s so remarkable, which I admire about him, he’s the best putter in the world and I’ve always said ‑‑ Jack always said golf should be called ‘patience.’ I say golf should be called ‘putting’ because it’s putting that wins the golf tournament. Rory McIlroy and Jason Day, who have a far better swing than Jordan Spieth, he beat him and they played fantastic golf and he came with his B game, which he admitted, and he beat them. So it just shows you the emphasis on putting. He’s got a little hitch, in my opinion, in his backswing that I don’t quite like. When he gets that right, which he will get right, I’ll tell you one thing, this guy’s going to set all kinds of records. He’s so talented, it’s frightening.”
Nicklaus added one more fascinating nugget when he and Player continued their conversation about what they called Spieth’s “tactical error.”
“The first year I played (the Masters) in 1959 I went in the water in the second round,” Nicklaus said, “and I don’t think I’ve been in since.”
Everyone seems to have an opinion on Spieth, including a couple of major champions who have lived through their share of heartbreak. Said David Graham: “If Jordan hadn’t already won a major, it would’ve been devastating. But when you’ve already won two you can say ‘I’m going to win more and I’m probably going to lose more.’ You just put it in a column over there and move on.”
U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III talked to Spieth two days after the Masters ahead of scheduled Ryder Cup press conference. “I said to him, ‘They’re going to ask me if I talked to you so now I can say I did!’ He sounded pretty good,” Love said. “I told him I had a 15-footer to win the 1996 U.S. Open and a 3-footer to get in a playoff and I didn’t get in a playoff. We all do it. We all have that moment we think we’ll never get over but we move on and I won a major a year later and have gone on to a pretty good career. I think Jordan sees it the same way. I told him the same thing I said to Greg Norman (in 1996). If you’re going to run in the front all the time, you’re going to have some big crashes.”
Peter Jacobsen recalled the time he airmailed the 72nd green and made double bogey to lose the 1988 Western Open. A few days later he received a hand-written letter from Arnold Palmer listing all the times he and other greats of the game had blown championships. “His message was simple: welcome to the club,” said Jacobsen, who emailed Spieth and attached a copy of a Rick Reilly story on all the previous disasters at the 12th hole.