AUGUSTA — As Jordan Spieth stood on the 12th tee late Sunday afternoon, I said under my breath, “Hit it long.” If you conclude that I was pulling for him, you would be right, which I will explain later.
Everybody who has lost a Masters at the par three 12th hole has lost it owing to a tee shot which was short of the green. There is plenty of trouble behind this short hole, but the back of the hole is less penal that Rae’s Creek in front.
Several years ago, Sam Snead had this to say in a conversation when he was still competing in the tournament. He had begun his remarks talking about the course playing a little longer each year for him and noted that the younger players, even before the technological explosion with equipment came about, “can hit it a fer piece.” Then he added:
“… that little 12th hole takes its toll. It eats a lot of them. It eats their lunches and the bag it came in. I told my nephew (J.C. Snead) that there are two holes that will kill you: 17 and 12. Seventeen looks closer than it is, there are swales you can’t see. I said, play the yardage. Don’t go the way it looks, just play the yardage. Twelve you must play it long. If you miss the green, it must be in the back, not in the front.”
Every golf coach ought to type out Snead’s advisory and hand it to his player when he arrives at the Augusta National Golf Club. Sam noted that the 12th hole did in J.C., his nephew. J.C., in 1973, hit his tee shot in the water at No. 12 and lost the Masters to Tommy Aaron. “If he makes three there,” Sam remembered, “he wins (the tournament) by a shot.”
The J.C. Snead story is not the only one when it comes to losing the Masters by losing a tee shot in the water at No. 12. What had been so intriguing about Spieth’s career coming into the tournament was that he did not make mental mistakes like he made playing the 12th on Sunday.
I was pulling for him because he had represented America so refreshingly well internationally. We find his familial relationships uplifting, especially his doting on his special needs sister. He seems to have gentlemanly qualities of the founder of the Augusta National, Bobby Jones.
He says the right thing. He has manners and a bent for the sportsmanship of golf that dates back to the ole timers. Now that he has broken hearts, including his own, he has an opportunity to show us his Arnold Palmer spirit and courage. If his confidence is not shaken so badly he can’t recover, it is the view here that we will see him win multiple majors, but for the moment he will have to endure commentary about the greatest collapse that has ever taken place at one hole in a major.
It was colossal failure at one hole, not letting it slip away over the course of a round which happened with Greg Norman in 1996. Norman started the final round with a six stroke lead, but finished five back of Faldo when the Australian blew to a disastrous 78 while Faldo was scoring a five under par 67.
There is a side note to Norman’s story. At the 17th hole on Saturday, Faldo was in position to make a birdie. If he made birdie, he knew that by making par at the final hole, he would be paired with Norman. He had seen Norman unravel before and took the longest time sizing up his putt at No. 17. He was grinding for a birdie which he made.
We know the rest of the story and can conclude that if Faldo had not birdied No. 17 and Norman had been paired with someone else, the ending might have been far different.
Spieth’s only competition was himself and his emotions. We never expected him to completely collapse, knocking a second ball in the water like a weekend player with a two-dollar Nassau riding on his round.
At his age, Spieth can win a lot of majors by not letting this overwhelm him. One thing we can appreciate about him on Sunday is that when it was all over, he didn’t get up and stalk out of the media center. He took his bitter pill like a man.
My guess is that, as he handles adversity with class, his resolve will intensify, and we will see him smiling at another major. It could happen this year.
[For 36 years the sideline radio reporter for the Georgia Bulldogs, Loran Smith now covers a bigger sideline of sports personalities and everyday life in his weekly newspaper columns.]