Jordan Spieth: The cunning tricks of mental acuity

Jordan Spieth had a dream bounce-back round in the second round of the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head, South Carolina. After a whirlwind of promotional activity after his Masters victory, he arrived in South Carolina at 10 o’clock Tuesday night at the house he was sharing with his caddie, Michael Greller and his wife, and Justin Thomas and his caddie. Just in from New York, it’s unlikely they went straight to bed.

On Wednesday, it was just a relaxing day of maintenance practice; no ardor, no stress, just a tune-up. Famously he chose not to play a practice round — which would have been impossible unless he was in the pro-am — and went into his late round Thursday with not one practice hole. 

Thursday wasn’t a particularly mild day; it was cloudy, breezy and cool and the players were in jackets. Winds were 10 to 15 with gusts to 20 mph. So that was certainly a damper on the field’s scores.

Spieth started out with routine pars until the bogey on 5, the bogey on 11 and the double on 14. He limited the damage with a closing birdie on 15. A 74 was not what the world of golf expected from this Masters champion, even though everyone knew that there is a conventional letdown after any victory. With his extraordinary Masters win, we all knew that this guy was special. But then, would he be able to even make the cut? He was one or two over the best guesses on the cut line.

In a pretty incredible demonstration of the indomitable human spirit, Spieth proved that his Masters win was no fluke. He was off in the Friday morning wave and shot a bogey-free 9-under 62 to vault across a large swath of the leaderboard (86 places) to finish T7. That’s still 6-under to leader, Troy Merritt’s, 12-under who had his own exceptional round of 61.

So all the world wanted to know, what exactly was the difference between these two rounds? Spieth said he discovered a deviation in his ball position:

Yeah, found something in my ball position on the range this morning, and it made a significant difference in my ball‑striking and in my putting.

But then he went on to offer another observation he made that suggested that it was more than just his ball position:

Yesterday was just a weird feeling round the whole day.  It was kind of — I wasn’t hitting it well, but trying to — it was just weird.  It was all kind of weird in my head.  Didn’t feel normal.

And today got off to a good start and I kept my head down.  I wanted to shoot a really low round.  And now I’ve got myself probably some rest tomorrow, which is nice.  I have a later tee time, so probably get a little extra sleep.

That makes some sense given his Tuesday late-night arrival and his Thursday early tee time. He didn’t really feel like he got a good night’s sleep Wednesday:

Not really.  Not as much as the night before.  I was up before 6:00 today and yesterday I slept heavily until 9:30.  No, it wasn’t as good a night of sleep.  But I guess any rest is good rest.  I felt the same today as yesterday, just played better.

But it is also possible that the degradation of his mental acuity was so subtle on Thursday that he was unable to identify if for what it was. Even though he was up at 6am on Friday, it was another night of sleep that helped him identify a ball position variance that he was unable to identify on Thursday.

I have had days like that when there is a subtle shroud over your awareness; you just don’t feel sharp and rested. For Spieth, it involved a little bit more than just his ball position it turns out:

I got here and didn’t get the basics down first when I started hitting balls yesterday, and it transferred to the course.

Today went back to just trying to get posture, ball position, hand position and tempo down and struck the ball quite a bit better, with 15 greens…

That laundry list of swing fundamentals more completely describes a shroud rather than just one fundamental being out of whack.

So if a great player like Spieth was affected oh, so subtlety by disturbed sleep patterns, it points to that risk for everyone. Most of us can’t count the number of times that we coaxed our bodies to endure just another hour…and another hour…of late nights. And didn’t really notice the consequences until the end of the following day.

It’s the cunning tricks of mental acuity. Ya gotta get your sleep boys and girls.

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One Response to Jordan Spieth: The cunning tricks of mental acuity

  1. Guy Ruthmansdorfer says:

    How amazing is this kid. If this whole masters to terrible round to shoot a 62 doesn’t prove that the mind is so powerful then I don’t know what does. Jordan Spieth is going to be the golden child to save sports in my opinion. For those that want to watch and listen, sheer talent will not take you to your ultimate goal. Your brain your mind and ultimately your sheer will, are what makes the difference in sports and any life situation you can think of. If you look at Jordan stats on tour he is no where near the top 10 in any. Especially distance which everyone thinks is what golf is becoming about. Big hitters equal wins. I love that this kid comes in and just HANDLES HIS BUSINESS shot by shot, hole by hole, no bells and whistles. When its all said and done there he is atop or near the top of the leader board. Isn’t that what life is minute to minute, day to day, moment to moment and when you look back you see some really incredible accomplishments. Thank god for Jordan Spieth. He is the anti twitter, Facebook, instant gratification generation. He is simple and unassuming in a world that is about self proclamation. Hopefully he is the NEW world.