Jordan Spieth successfully managed to execute round one of his plan to win the Masters by successfully parlaying his run-up performances in his last three tournaments: the Valspar Championship in Tampa, P1; the Valero Texas Open in San Antonio, 2; and the Shell Houston Open, P2. Each of those tournaments represented a stride towards his ultimate goal of building to a peak coming into the Masters. Did he ever.
He shot an 8-under 64 that included a bogey on the par-5 15th. That gave him a 3-shot lead over Charlie Hoffman, Justin Rose, Ernie Else and Jason Day. But bogeyng a par-5 is an anathema to a good player and it caused a flash of anger in Spieth:
I was frustrated because I felt like we played it too safe. Felt like we were protecting something. Michael thought that with the side wind, that it was a hybrid. We were feeling a little down, a little side. I had adrenaline. He did exactly what I want him to do. It was also my responsibility to then bet on myself to hit a shot solid. If I hit a 4‑iron solid, it’s a perfect club. I can hit it in the right bunker and it’s an easy up‑and‑down from there. And if it turns over towards the hole, then it’s a perfect club.
Michael was protecting the miss and figured that if I miss the 4‑iron, it may not be enough [and would come down in the fronting pond]. I think it may still have been. Obviously hindsight thinking is easy there. But the wind was flipping, a little down, a little into, a little down, a little into. I needed to bet on myself to hit a good, solid shot there, and I didn’t. A little mud on the right side of the ball kept that hybrid from cutting.
And I would have been fine over the green there. I would have been just fine. But that one tree has that one branch that comes down, I couldn’t go up in the air. Had I had room to do that, I could have just lofted it up in the air and just trickled on the green and worst I would have made was par. But that’s what you get. It wasn’t a great shot.
What this little soliloquy demonstrates is his maturity as a player. He accepted full responsibility for the bogey by taking his caddie off the hook for a wrong club. He said that Michael was doing exactly what he wanted him to do, club conservatively. He reserved the right to be the final arbiter of their fate and he chose not to “bet on himself” by hitting the lesser club flush.
The other interesting thing about this mini-episode was his attitude in handling a blot on his round. His anger dissolved into the certainty that he had three holes left to get the bogey back, which he did on 18. He successfully dealt with his flare-up by just acknowledging it and moving on:
Can’t have it ever lead into the next shot.
And when he was done for the day, he had a dream round in his pocket that came out of tempering the adrenaline from the run-up tournaments:
I was very pleased. It’s one of the better rounds I’ve ever played. Carried a lot of momentum into this week and really I was working hard with Cameron and Michael ahead of time just to find the fine line between resting and solid, good practice.
And I think that was the trickiest thing leading into here to keep the momentum going, not wear myself out. I played less holes than I did last year prior to the tournament, and spent less time on the driving range and more chipping and putting.
It helped today. I didn’t drive the ball particularly well. Didn’t strike the ball great. Got some good breaks and capitalized on some really good breaks today.
This from a 21 year old who had only played in the Masters for the first time last year.
Another instance of this emotional balance came on the par-3 12th when he thought he’d blown a birdie putt on the iconic hole:
The putt I pushed out there on that left‑to‑righter and it somehow held straight and caught the lip of the hole. I started walking after I hit it just because I was upset, it’s kind of the coolest par 3 in golf and I had a chance to make a two and didn’t hit a great putt but got away with it.
And then avoided falling into the fatalistic pall of, “I shoulda been dead.”
Yeah, I mean, when you’re getting good breaks, just the hardest thing to do is to just be okay with them, kind of laugh them off — the easiest thing to do is just to be okay and laugh them off. The hardest thing to do is grind and try and take advantage of them and pick that next shot or that next putt that’s going to take advantage and turn that into a birdie. That’s what we did a really good job of today.
And then there’s the matter of managing his jacked-up expectations, not just his energy expenditures in the run-up tournaments.
I think I certainly thought about what I’m expecting coming in. Obviously everyone wants to win this golf tournament. It leaves your name in history and a legacy, and the hardest thing to do is to put that behind you when you start on the first hole, I think.
Having only played it once, it’s still tough to do. It’s tough to sleep on a lead here and I saw that last year. But at the same time, I’m a lot more confident in the way that I can handle certain situations, and the patience level I can have, having closed a couple of events out since and seeing some putts go in obviously today.
It is tough to kind of bring expectations down and just kind of have a free flow out there. But we did a good job of it today. I was just going to try to take the same mental attitude into the next couple days.
And here he talks about being so deeply engaged in the moment, he had no idea of how he stood on his scorecard or the leaderboard:
I wasn’t. I was asked by Tom Rinaldi if I knew that 2‑under on the last four were ‑‑ he asked the same question. I said, are you talking about the course record? I wasn’t aware what the course record was here, let alone that it actually would have been the lowest round in major championship history. So that’s a little frustrating, because I took a hybrid instead of a 4‑iron out on 15.
But I’m certainly okay with the day (laughter). At that time after 14, I wasn’t really sure. It was kind of one of those moments where I wasn’t really sure where I was at. I just wanted to play the last four 1‑under, given that 15 was a birdie hole today. Obviously if I had birdied it, then I would have been 10.
After I played 14, I said, let’s try and get one here and maybe get to 10. That would be the lowest round that I’ve ever shot in a tournament round, so that’s why I wanted to do that. Just got a little‑‑ just a tough number there on 15, in between and needed to hit a good, flush 4‑iron. But I didn’t want to gamble. I wanted to try and hit it just over the green and pitch it back. Just got it too far over.
And then there’s the matter of not letting accolades from peers like Billy Horschel, with whom he was paired with on Thursday, go to his head:
Yeah, he said, to quote him, he said, “I need a tape recorder that just plays, nice hole, Jordan, on each tee box.” (Laughter).
Billy’s fun to play with. We mess with each other. We respect each other’s games; Henrik [Stenson], as well. We had a lot of fun out there. I was excited about the pairing this week. Henrik has been under the weather significantly, so he battled it out today. But all in all really happy with the pairing that we got, and the crowds were the way you expect them to be, which is top‑notch. We just had a really good time today.
And then there’s his humility in acknowledging the help he got from Ben Crenshaw when they played nine holes on Wednesday:
Honestly, it was just a real cool experience to be part of his last Masters. I enjoyed the nine holes that we played yesterday. I enjoyed talking with him outside of that.
Our focus was just when we were playing, the advice I got from him was just to hit a couple putts here and here, from this spot to this hole, just to get a feel for the speed and the influence of the creek. It helped me today on a few putts, definitely getting the right speed down, and a couple cases with the line.
The sum total of all of these balanced views in his round is a young player who plays with the wisdom of someone much more experienced. You get the sense that even if he’s unable to “back up” Thursday’s 64 on Friday, he will have a levelheaded way of dealing with that too.
Everyone will certainly be paying attention, but because he’s in a good place mentally, there’s also this sense of inevitability:
I’m just trying to play the best golf I can play in each round, and obviously I’m trying to compete to win this tournament. I don’t care about — necessarily care about having to do it at a certain time. When I’m given the opportunity, I like to close it out.
But at the same time, a student of the history of Augusta, and this place is the most special place in golf, and it’s my favorite place in the world. So it’s cool being here. It’s cool being a part of this tournament. It’s early right now, and try not to think about anything other than getting back on No. 1 tomorrow and trying to shoot a good score.