Jordan Spieth: Letting my ball striking and putting happen

Jordan Spieth has had two quite amazing days at the Masters shooting 14-under 130 (64, 66) to set a new 36-hole record. He bested Ray Floyd’s 39-year-old record by one shot. He also tied the 36-hole record for a Major (U.S. and British Open).

The thing that was most impressive about Friday’s round was that he was trying to “back up” a 64 in the first round, an effort that fails more often than not. But he was 2-under by 5 and made the turn at 3-under as easily as you could imagine. And then he “gets” the improbable 10th to go to 4-under. The rest was just patience as he added the final two birdies. He birdied all four par-5s. 

Last year he was the 54-hole leader but left standing at the alter at the end. He finished T2 with Jonas Blixt when Bubba Watson clipped them by three shots to win his second Masters. He’s said in the past that what was most disappointing was that the difference was just a couple of shots that he didn’t hit as well as he wanted to. So close and yet so far. But there was a big learning payoff in that loss that appears to have made all the difference this year:

Just like I’ve said each time every day, what I learned was patience.  What I learned was that the weekend of a Major, those rounds can often seem like two rounds in kind of the mental stuff that’s running through your head; the stress levels, and sometimes they are higher.

The hardest thing to do is put aside wanting to win so bad, and just kind of going through the motion and letting whatever — letting my ball striking and putting happen.

I got off to a great start and had a chance to win last year on Sunday.  I’d like to have that same opportunity this year.  Again, this is only the halfway point and I’m aware of that.  Not going to get ahead of myself and I’m going to try and stay in the moment and very patient these last two days and understand it’s going to feel like a whole ‘nother tournament.

If it weren’t for Jordan Spieth’s soaring achievement, Charley Hoffman would be garnering high praise for his steady play to get to 9-under (67, 68). He in turn has a 2-shot lead over Justin Rose, Dustin Johnson and Paul Casey. (Johnson eagled three of the par-5s, a new record that has never been accomplished in any of the Majors.)

So now Spieth will be paired with Hoffman in the final round, a man who appears to put his entire body into pounding one heavy ball after another. Spieth thinks that could be a good thing and keep his mind from wandering — you know, when the devil is just right there…

Yeah, I think it might.  I think it might.  It’s certainly a good thing.  I think at the same time, I still need to not be focused on anybody else, no scoreboard watching, set a goal and understand that the course is going to be harder and have that affect my goal going in, and then just try to strike the ball the same way I have.

I know where to hit it to the best pin positions and I know where the best leaves are, and I really need to pinpoint those spots and work on my speed control on the greens.  But yeah, I think it will be helpful.

Helpful in getting him through the whole ‘nother tournament the last two rounds have created in his mind. Which is a good thing because at least he knows that the pressure will be steadily mounting:

Each round on the weekend of a Major in contention can a lot of times feel like you’re playing almost two rounds in one, just given whatever.

It just feels like it’s a long day and you just can’t get too up or down at the beginning of the day, the first nine holes, with whatever’s going on, and understand that at a place like Augusta National and a tournament like this that there’s a lot of stuff that can happen, a lot of lead changes can happen. Holes can lend birdies and they can lend double‑bogeys.

So you just have to really be patient, not try and force anything, and allow the angles to play themselves out.  When I say that, I mean, allow myself to hit these shots on the par 5s, like I have been the last couple days, in the right spot to have the right angle into to the green to have a really easy pitch where the worst I’m going to make is par.

You can get ahead of yourself and it can feel like it’s two rounds in one.

For many, sleeping on the lead can be very unsettling, but he is feeling comfortable this week and isn’t particularly worried about it:

Well, yesterday, by the time I got home, I was going to bed an hour later to get up [for my early tee time].  Now, I think they are late tee times — if I remember, it was after two o’clock on the weekend here last year.

I feel comfortable this week.  I haven’t really felt very nervous.  I’ve felt in a good place.  Certain shots, certain putts; you get on 12 tee, you’re always going to have your blood running.

I felt good.  I slept well last night.  Going to be just hanging with friends and family and taking it easy and hopefully just acting like nothing’s going on (laughter) and just get ready for tomorrow, understanding that this is just the halfway point.

Anybody in this field that’s playing well is capable of possibly shooting 14‑under the last two rounds, and I’ve got to be able to counter that with better than how they are doing right now.

Augusta National is famous for the long learning curves necessary to really learn how to play the course and that until you learn these lessons from years of play or others willing to tell you, you are just an apprentice putting in your obligatory time. That doesn’t seem to hold true for Spieth in either of his first two appearances. Does he have any idea why?

I don’t know.  Seems like there’s been quite a few guys that have had success at a young age here.  I think Seve won it when he was 23, and Tiger at 21.  And obviously I’m not comparing myself to those guys in any way; but I’m saying, it’s only taken them a time or two to figure it out to get into contention and to close out the tournament.

It means that it can be done.  Why for me?  Maybe, I would just go back to, I got the awe factor out over six months before I even played the first time here.  I got here and obviously the awe factor is always there at the Masters.

But to get here and to play rounds ahead of time; to play the golf course that I grew up watching and admired; and after getting into contention last year and seeing what Sunday in the final group was like, now it feels more like a regular event.  I think just having the experience of playing it a few times was all I needed to feel that way.

Spieth had a chance on 18 from fairly short range to set the 36-hole record for everything, period. But the putt just slipped by because his read wasn’t right. But it was a good putt and, given that, he’s okay with mis-reads:

I was surprised just on that specific putt.  I wasn’t trying to make a statement or reach a certain point.  Didn’t know what any of these scores meant in history or anything like that.  I just knew I had a good look at birdie and had a good read on it, and it was just like 9, barely off.  It’s a tricky pin there.  It’s kind of a little valley effect.

Henrik’s ball breaks off to the right pretty good and from down the hill, mine should break right some.  I just put it on the edge and it never left it.  Still hit a good putt.  I’m okay with mis‑reads.

Finally an amusing answer to one of his misguided habits that hasn’t been addressed yet, talking to his ball:

I don’t try to.  Sure, sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t.  I don’t really try to.  I mean, I guess it’s just the competitor in me, just wanting it sometimes.

The less I do, the better off I am, of just hitting it.  I’m not going to be able to control it.  It’s just a will, a desire I guess.  I’d like to think I don’t do it the most of anybody, but if that’s the case, then maybe I should dial it down a little bit.

On the other hand, he thinks, maybe this “talking” is just a distraction from the concept of placidly watching…and then accepting…what the ball is going to do. Expect the best and take what you get

Yeah, at the same time, though, just go through the motions, hit the shots, hit it to my spots and whatever it’s going to do, it’s going to do.

We all know the ball doesn’t actually listen anyway, right? But I must admit I keep trying to draw closer to mine. A little encouragement to a poor little ball you end up beating to death or losing couldn’t hurt, right? And, in fact, perhaps that total absorption in what the ball’s doing in the air could be a back door to the zone.

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