Jordan Spieth: Aiming for the Masters

The Valero Texas Open kicks off Thursday at the TPC San Antonio in San Antonio, Texas. And while it may be the gateway to the Texas events, that isn’t why there’s so much attention on it. Our attention is on it because it is two weeks out from the Masters; Houston next week and then the Masters.

And thus it becomes one of the winning strategies for Augusta: get yourself on a roll in San Antonio and Houston and come into Augusta all peaked out. With that kind of running start, you have some time to make mistakes and fine tune the machine. You arrive at the Masters with your competitive chops chompin’. 

There are some who will skip San Antonio to get back in the groove in Houston and still arrive at Augusta with good energy. And then there will be those who will eschew both tournaments for quality practice at Augusta the week before thinking that learning the lines and the green sections and the breaks and being able to work on processing the drama and the history are more important.

Spieth is in the three-week-stretch camp; he actually skipped Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill stop to be able to do it. But even though he’s coming into San Antonio trying to win this tournament, the media drew his attention to his “almost” performance at the Masters last year finishing three strokes back of Bubba Watson, the winner, and T2 with Jonas Blixt who impressed a lot of people.

One of the most useful lessons we can take from Spieth’s reaction to not quite getting there last year is not to take your whole swing apart just because of the few mis-hits that were the difference.

I’m just going to try to go about the same plan that we had going into Augusta last year.  I don’t think there was much I needed to improve on except for a couple of shots that I hit Sunday were just barely mis‑hit.  And so that’s just getting enough repetitions just to strike the ball well.

But not a whole lot I’m working on specifically at this point to change from last year.

And then he had a very interesting exposition on goal setting by certainly taking what the lessons of the past give you, but not looking back so much:

I guess by just setting different goals each year and setting out to accomplish them.  I don’t really look back and — I’m very pleased with how everything has happened.  It certainly happened faster than I could have imagined to get to this point in my career.

But at this point, if I look back, when I was 13 years old and said this is what I accomplished in my career and it was everything up to this point, I’d be disappointed.

And so in order to get to that next level and to really set out to achieve the long‑term goals I set a long time ago, I need to set smaller new ones each year to then attain that overall goal.  And I think that’s what’s kept me going forward, going forward quickly, because I work hard for it.

And in today’s world of professional golf, it’s all about the team:

We’ve got a great team around us, and that’s the goal of the team.  All the people that I’ve brought in to be part of this when I turned professional were people with the same goals and the same mindset that I have.  And that’s why I think we’ve been successful.  So looking back, yeah, I mean I’m extremely happy with where everything is. But still hungry.

And yes, “hungry” means working his way up to the No.1 player in the world. The most interesting part of this aspiration is that it’s not hopeful, it’s rather that “knowing” in your heart that you can do it:

Yeah.  Yeah, I’d like to at some point be the No.1 ranked player in the world, that’s the pinnacle of golf.  I’d like to win at least one Major Championship, try to get one before we look forward from there [that small-steps modality again].

But ultimately I’d like to be one of the best players to ever play the game.  I don’t think that’s a conceited statement, I think it’s just something that I’ve always wanted to be since I was a kid and have a chance to do and I’m really lucky that I do have a chance to do it. [And after what he’s accomplished in such a short time, who could say that he has no chance?]

And things are a little different in this year’s run-up to the Masters, most notably that he won the Valspar in Tampa two weeks ago in a strong performance in a three-way playoff:

Yeah, I feel better going in than I did last year.  Last year at this point I’d actually had a really good season.  I had a couple of chances to close tournaments out early in the year, and even a World Golf Championship. I was playing really well at the match play, and didn’t quite get there.  But I was in a similar position, I think, in the FedExCup and the same kind of momentum.

But this year I feel a little better having closed [Valspar] out.  I also missed the cut in Houston last year, so I went in [to Augusta] with some questions, I guess, right off of an early finish [a euphemism for “missed cut” I hadn’t heard before].

Interesting that making the cut is even in the thoughts of someone of his immense accomplishments, but there it is in the first words out of his mouth in his next comment:

Hopefully this year I can play eight tournament rounds prior to arriving on the grounds [in Augusta].  My swing feels better, putting stroke is getting there.  I putted well the last two weeks.  But that’s just going to be a whole other thing once you get on those slick greens.

So all‑in‑all, very confident about where I’m at going in.

And then he had some comments on the tactical strategy for managing himself on Sunday at the Masters:

It was frustrating at the end because looking back I raced out, which is great, my whole point was let’s get off to a good start Sunday and then we can play the way we want to play from there.

But I just got a little, I think, I just got a little ahead of myself.  And I say that because I just lacked a little bit of patience of looking at the round as a marathon, especially the back nine at Augusta on Sunday.

There’s so many different changes, there’s so many things that can happen, that I think I was trying to race in with pars, instead of really sitting back, enjoying it, understanding that people are going to make birdies in front of you, Bubba is going to make birdies in your group.  You are going to make birdies if you’re giving yourself enough chances, putts will fall.

And that hard-learned lesson actually paid off in winning Tampa, so he knows that he’s on the right track:

I think I got a little bit caught up in wanting them a little too bad in taking that lead.  That’s something I’ve learned since last year that I capitalized on at the end of last year to close those tournaments out and something we’ve worked on and worked really well in Tampa.

Now it’s just about finding my game, playing the course the right way to get in contention, and trying that patience out.

And then there’s the nitty gritty of road testing this stuff in practice rounds at Augusta. He talks about what he’s done so far and how he’s bailing Sunday night after Houston so that he can start by playing 18 on Monday. Thank God for the utility of jets: go where you want when you want:

Yes, I went there in December and then I was there two and a half weeks ago before Doral.  So I was there ‑‑ I played four rounds since.  And then I’ll get there hopefully Sunday night and maybe go 18, nine, nine, for the week, so get two more full rounds.

So there you have it folks, a collage of what it takes to get tuned up for a major. A lot of thought and experience and structure goes into it, you just don’t show up. That’s probably why they call them majors.

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