Jordan Spieth: On being “clutch”…and “choking”

Jordan Spieth traveled cross town from his home in Dallas to the Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, home of the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial. Interestingly, this swing on the Tour normally begins in Dallas with the Byron Nelson and then moves to Fort Worth and home of the other local Hall of Famer, Ben Hogan.

In any event, Spieth was in the media center and was asked by one of the media guys if he could talk about his sense of the word, “clutch” for a story he was writing and did he think that he was clutch? It was a very engaging couple of minutes.

It began with Spieth opining that people who were offering that as a description probably weren’t the best ones to judge:  

I think that — try not to pay attention to that, because that’s all relative.  That’s all based on whoever is saying it.  And sometimes people who know what [it means] come from experience.  Sometimes people that say that come from experience, and most of the time they don’t as far as having experience on the golf course in big professional events, or whatever it is, big amateur events, junior events.

That said, he began to explore what that description meant:

Think that clutch is an interesting word that I think might be overused.  I think that  for me, what the word means is, personally, is when I get out on the course and I’m feeling pressure, do I have a positive reinforcement, a positive memory to look back on where I felt that pressure and succeeded.  That’s what I would think of when I think of clutch.

Now, you know, can I look back on a putt at the Masters, if I have the same style of putt and I’m feeling pressure, can I look back on a putt that I made there on what I felt like the biggest stage in golf, or the Ryder Cup or whatever it is, that’s what I think of.

And then he sort of extended his definition into a much more informed set of circumstances. A player coming down the home stretch who falters is not disqualified from still being a clutch player. In golf, anything can happen and it’s not always personal to the player in question:

When you see a person who is coming down the stretch and they maybe make a bogey on the last three holes and they don’t win the tournament because of that, it doesn’t mean they’re not clutch.  It means that in that setting it wasn’t their day.  There’s just so much that has to go right to win a golf tournament.

And that lead nicely into a dissertation of the antonym of clutch, the pejorative, “choke.”

So I think that it’s tricky.  When you use the word clutch and choke, kind of on opposite ends, a person is either going to be clutch or choke, I think that’s wrong.

As we have discussed here before, calling someone a choker is just another derivative “attack thought” of the ego. (See, “Running Other People Down.) Pointing to the Schadenfreude of some other poor soul and delightfully turning it into their character flaw is nothing other than a preemptive and self-aggrandizing attack. Oh, to feel so luxuriantly superior to another human being. It’s delicious. We’ve all done it. We probably didn’t know why we did it and its significance. It is a defensive act of separation, not an effort of community.

In fact, Spieth not only doesn’t think a player’s misfortune is a bad thing, from another player’s perspective, he thinks it can be a positive learning experience:

I think that it’s positive experience, if it doesn’t work out.  I certainly had plenty of times last year where I was told or I saw or I heard, “he can’t close it out.  He’s not clutch.  He can’t finish.  He’s not going to be able to win this tournament because he’s in the lead.”

I mean all of it was a positive experience for them. When I’m in the experience next time, I’m a little more comfortable and I was able to close them out.  And that’s just what it is for everybody.

And he took a minute to put a ribbon on his player’s perspective of this reflexive use of the word “choking:”

You get a lot of guys that it’s tough to start to win and to feel like you know how to win out here.  I still don’t feel like I know how to win on a consistent basis.  My last six months have been — with four wins, that’s great.  But still, it’s still not a comfortable position.  I don’t know if it’s comfortable for just about anybody.

But I think it’s a word that might be a little overused.

And perhaps with knowledge by the labelers of what use of the word says about them, a world where it quickly falls into disuse…and we begin to see each other as kindred spirits, fellow travelers making our way as best we can.

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