If Mother Nature, an invading alien species or President Donald J. Trump ever decided to obliterate every golf course in the country and I — for whatever reason — had the power to save just a single hole, I would choose the 12th at Augusta National without hesitation.
A short par-3 set against the backdrop of those purple Georgia azaleas, the 12th is the postcard hole on a postcard course; it’s the place that puts the “Amen” in Amen Corner; I even made it my background picture on Twitter last year.
After the events that transpired on Sunday, Bloody Sunday at this year’s Masters, however, I’m not sure if my relationship with the 12th will ever recover to its pre-tournament levels. As Jordan Spieth approached the tee box with a two-shot advantage (a lead that had been five strokes just two holes earlier, but still a lead nonetheless) I never thought that anything that would happen next would be capable of crumpling my emotions into a little paper ball for the better part of 24 hours.
Spieth, one of the best wedge players on the planet, chunked a short-iron shot woefully short into Rae’s Creek before reteeing and taking us all into the twilight zone by doing the exact same thing. All told, Spieth spent 50 minutes on the 12th hole before limping away with a quadruple-bogey 7 and the loss of a lead he would never regain, experiencing what has to be the biggest nightmare of his golfing career on the most visible stage in the game.
I should add that I typically don’t empathize with professional golfers. If anything, I savor those moments when the world’s best stumble — it feels oddly reassuring to know that even the game’s elite aren’t immune to the continuous frustration that is golf. I watched Rory’s meltdown at the 2011 Masters with the same sort of fascination for the grotesque that comes from seeing Sharknado 2. Ditto for any Dustin Johnson moment of the last five years. When I’m in need of 10 minutes of entertainment, I routinely reach for old clips of Jean van de Velde’s flamboyant collapse at Carnoustie or Phil Mickelson’s “I’m such an idiot” moment at Winged Foot in 2006. They’re comfort food in pixelated form.
But when Spieth became the latest victim of golf’s dark side, it felt completely different. I can’t explain why, but it was genuinely painful to watch him fall off the top of the hill with one swing of the club. I’m not much of a Spieth fan either, though I do enjoy watching him play.
Eventually, the nightmare round was over, but then the real torment began as Spieth headed to Butler Cabin to answer the flood of interview questions asking him to relive one of the worst moments of his life before having to put his green jacket on Danny Willett, the man who just crushed his dreams.
As I watched the inevitable awkwardness and sheer deflation in the runner-up’s final moments under the glare of the camera, I remembered that Spieth is just four months older than I am, and I’m not sure there’s any way my 22-year-old self would have been able to handle that kind of crushing disappointment the way he did. That, in part, is why Spieth might seem easier for me to relate to than countless other championship golfers I have watched melt down. In rising to the top of the sport, Spieth has shown both the blessings and now the curse of being so good so early on. I’ll be never able to relate to that aspect of Spieth, the fact that 99.9 percent of us will never be as good at anything as he is at golf, but I did feel that I could relate to the fact that publicly failing on the biggest stage in golf is something you ordinarily don’t have to deal with at the ripe old age of 22.
Moreover, we just don’t have too much precedent for the type of meltdown we saw from Spieth on Sunday. This wasn’t a van de Velde-esque disintegration on the 72nd hole or an entirely abhorrent performance that saw him shoot in the 90s. In fact, he played really, really well on the front nine, birdieing his last four holes before disaster struck. And even after all of his worst dreams merged into something beyond the imagination, Spieth managed to string together a couple of birdies afterwards and nearly put himself back into a position to win. He completely collapsed and then picked himself back up and almost made this all a non-story. That’s almost more disheartening.
Through all of this, though, I fully understand that Jordan Spieth is no average human being and certainly not your average 22-year-old. For most of us, these wounds may never heal. On the other hand, I fully expect Spieth to contend at June’s U.S. Open in Oakmont. Until proven otherwise, he should always be the odds-on favorite in any tournament he enters. If he can suffer through the most disastrous stretch of holes in his golfing career and still finish second at a major, the future looks awfully bright.
Vihan Lakshman once got one vaguely critical comment on one of his columns and handled it with poise and maturity, making him confident that if he, too, rises to the pinnacle of golf one day, he’ll be able to handle a collapse as well as Spieth did this weekend. Send Vihan tips on his swing at vihan ‘at’ stanford.edu.