Spencer Levin’s last foray into the limelight came in February at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. He began the final round with a 6-shot lead and frittered it all away during the course of the day and ended up 3rd, two strokes behind the winner, Kyle Stanley.
Levin has always had a mercurial side to him and is well known for his vitriolic anger at himself for poor play. But he’s a grown man now and better than he used to be. Now people would probably describe him as intense.
After 54 holes at the Memorial Tournament in Columbus, Ohio, Levin has a one-shot lead over Rory Sabbatini, whom he’ll be playing with on Sunday, three shots over Rickie Fowler and four shots over Tiger.
Obvious question: Last time you had a 54‑hole lead we all know what happened. Do you feel like you’re better positioned, cliché, cliché, what did you learn from that one that will help you get through this time?
People have been asking me that question, and I don’t know yet. I’ll be able to answer that tomorrow when I get done.
I did learn that I still got to play golf, I still got to eat the same stuff, still have the same friends, still have the same family, so nothing really changed. Obviously you want to win when you’re in position, but I’m just going to go out there tomorrow and have fun. Nothing really changed in my life, and I don’t think anything will change that big in my life if I do win. It’s just going out there and try and do my best.
I’m excited. Like I said in the last couple interviews, it’s all the practice and work from being a kid, starting to play golf up until this point, this is what I’ve dreamed of is to be in the lead of a tournament, especially Jack’s tournament, something like this. This is one of the biggest tournaments on the Tour. You couldn’t put yourself in a better position. All those years and all that work and practice is going to come down to tomorrow, and I’m just really fired up about it, I am. I’m really excited.
I’m just curious, some people have said your anger management, you’ve gotten that under control. Was that a long process?
I still get really angry, though. I do. I’m just trying ‑‑ I just do a better job now of not making a scene as much. But inside my head and inside me, I can get ‑‑ yeah, not too happy about some things. But I think ‑‑ I don’t know, I feel like if I do hit a bad shot or make a bogey or whatever, and I do get angry, I think of it as kind of a positive. You don’t want to get angry in the fact where it ruins the rest of your game, but when guys get angry or frustrated it shows you that they care. Some guys are different, some guys don’t show any emotion and they care a ton, too. That’s just kind of the way I am. I want to do well and I want to succeed, so I think it probably shows when I play.
Rory Sabbatini is a bit of a hothead himself and it was just too much of a temptation for the media to ignore. And it sounds like Sabbatini has finally come to grips with the debilitating aspect of his anger too:
Talk about the emotions both you guys have. Is there a fine line between having a “help you” and “hurt you,” and how do you make sure that it’s on the positive side and not on the negative side?
Well, if you hit a bad shot and then you hit yourself in the ankle, that would be a hurt you. (Laughter).
If you hit a bad shot and go and get it up‑and‑down, that’s a help you. That’s as fine as the line gets. It’s ultimately ‑‑ there’s going to be guys that are going to hit shots that are going to get upset, they’re going to go and focus on the next one. If you can let it go and be able to focus on the next shot and still not be thinking of the previous one or shots before or whatever, it’s not going to hinder you. But if you’re still stuck on two shots before, yeah, it’s definitely going to hinder.
When you were not playing well in this previous stretch here, were you keeping your emotions ‑‑ were you able to ‑‑ is that harder to keep your emotions in check?
Well, it’s a constant learning curve. Trust me, I’m far from perfect. I have all my own demons that I have to deal with just like everybody else does. The only thing you can do is try to better yourself and try to learn to just manage the way that you are. That’s just, I think, the goal of everybody in this room, everybody at the golf course, everybody watching this golf today. You ultimately just try to improve yourself.
And then Rickie Fowler, who will be paired with Tiger on Sunday, weighed in with a level of maturity that was surprising given his flamboyant style:
In the last two months I don’t think you’ve been out of the top 10. What’s that about?
Just being patient and kind of staying in the moment and not getting ahead of ourselves and just kind of focusing on each swing and staying really calm and patient out there. I’ve been swinging really well, so that’s obviously helped me stay very calm and collected out there. Very confident with my game and where I’m at mentally, so get ourselves in a good position for tomorrow being a few back, go out and have some fun and see what we can do.
Talk about Spencer Levine’s game. I imagine you must have played with him somewhere along the line.
It’s very simple. He makes it about as simple as possible. He drives it well, which around here you’ve got to play from the fairway, especially when it’s windy. And he’s fiery. I like it. He’s a lot of fun to be around, a lot of fun to play with. He gets himself in a position tomorrow that if he goes out and plays his game, he’s going to be tough to catch. We’re going to have to post a number. Like I said, he has a very simple game.
He had a lead in Phoenix and didn’t hold onto it. You’ve been in that position before. What’s the X factor to get in that winner’s circle?
Well, definitely being there helps, and I definitely believe that he’ll be pulling off of Phoenix and the emotions he had there. What I talked about a little bit with the patience and feeling comfortable out there, that kind of comes from times being in contention and being patient, not thinking too far ahead, and for him staying focused and staying in the moment and focusing on his game plan, because there’s going to be times where he’s going to hit squirrelly shots. We’re all going to do that, and you kind of stay within yourself, keep moving forward.
And, of course, here’s yet another instance of where golf skills intersect with life skills.