While Bubba Watson’s steely final round in Augusta – as well as his slightly deranged second shot on 15 – will be remembered most prominently, it was the impressive play of runner-up Jordan Spieth that captivated many.
Only 20 years-old, Spieth is a Dallas-born second-year pro who is no stranger to success. He and Tiger are the only two-time U.S. Junior Amateur winners. Spieth also led the Texas Longhorns to an NCAA championship his freshman year, was the low amateur at Olympic in 2012, and then won the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year in 2013. In 35 events as a pro, he already has one tourney win (2013 John Deere Classic), 14 Top 10s (including 5 second-places), and over $6 million in winnings.
There’s no doubt the kid has game, maybe even some of that precious mojo the pundits call ‘moxie.’ But how much?
One shot to rule them all
Well, there he was in his first Masters, playing himself into a position that every pro to ever play the game imagines, yet one only a few ever come close to experiencing: the final round pairing in a major against one of the game’s biggest names.
And what’s more, for all his physics-defying drives and course dramatics, Bubba has a bit of a reputation for being a squirrely leader, a risk-taker who can post green numbers just as easily as red ones. Spieth could taste his dream realized, feel it in his bones, especially when his bunker shot on 4 slipped into the hole for birdie to maintain his sudden and stunning two-shot lead.
But Augusta has no skin in these games; it doesn’t cross fingers or hold breath for magical storylines. All it does is challenge players on every shot, at every turn, applying pressure that only gets more and more suffocating with Sunday spotlights and that seizes on any lack of experience or waver.
For all his moxie, Spieth blinked. He fought a slippery block in his swing on the back nine and started berating himself, wilting ever-so-slightly under the pressure. His split-second decision to go at the hole on 12 put him in Ray’s Creek, and though he hung tough and avoided any Van-de-Veldean meltdowns, by the time they reached the homestretch, Bubba’s second jacket was as good as fitted.
Into the great wide open
But still, here we are now, yet another bona-fide young phenom emerging to add to our list of heir-apparents. The first word out of Spieth’s mouth after his loss was “hungry,” his jaw set in a way that belied the bitterness of knowing just how close he’d come, how furiously he will work to get another chance, as many chances as humanly possible, just to be in major contention again, and soon.
And that’s where the larger challenge comes in, where so many who’ve come before him have stumbled. Sergio, Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Henrik Stenson, Jason Day, Luke Donald, Hunter Mahan, Ian Poulter, all of these once-young players fell just short on the major stage, the headlines assuring their contention for years to come, the question of major championships quickly becoming ‘when’ and ‘how many’ instead of ‘if.’ And yet still they wait.
Patience is a virtue
It’s going to be important for the media and fans to remember just how difficult it is to maintain a golf game that bests that of the best in the world on the world’s hardest courses.
Jordan Spieth is a great player, a promising player, with a steady and well-rounded game that looks like it can hold up well on Tour. And maybe even more importantly, despite his visible frustrations at the Masters, it looked like he had the stomach for it, the razor-focus, the fire-in-the-belly to get back into contention and seize championships that are within his grasp.
Maybe this was the first of many times we’ll see Spieth vying for major titles on prime time. Maybe he will get lost in the swirl of promising, instantly rich, yet consistently inconsistent next-ups.
What’s most clear though, is that the golf world is as hungry as ever for high drama, a good story, and the next big thing in the sport. Is Spieth what we’ve all been waiting for? History indicates that we should wait on that.
And why hurry? I mean, let’s be honest — the wee lad doesn’t even have a nickname yet, does he?