Column: A win by Spieth that will live long in golf lore
SOUTHPORT, England (AP) — Someday, perhaps very soon, there will be a plaque at Royal Birkdale for Jordan Spieth, much like the one off the 16th hole that celebrates Arnold Palmer and the 6-iron he slashed out of the rough in 1961 to usher in a new era of golf.
The only question will be where to put it.
On the side of the towering sand dune where his drive ended up on 13 after hitting a fan in the head? On the driving range by the Titleist semi where he took relief from an unplayable lie and somehow found a way to get back in play?
Maybe on the next tee, where he almost made a hole-in-one. Or on the hole after that when he rolled a 50-foot eagle putt into the center of the cup, then pointed to his caddie and said — in his best old school fashion — “Go get it.”
Take your pick. They’re all in play after one of the most remarkable stretches of golf anyone will ever see gave Spieth a British Open title, and a place that will long live in golf lore.
In the wind and rain at Royal Birkdale he somehow found a way to shake his self-doubt and reach inside for something only the greats can ever find. By the time he tapped in for a routine par on the 18th hole, people were already shaking their heads at what had just transpired, trying to convince themselves it really did happen the way it did.
And Spieth was left trying to process it himself, as a dazed Matt Kuchar walked off into the embrace of his tearful family.
“This is as much of a high as I’ve ever experienced in my golfing life,” Spieth said. “And I’m going to enjoy it more than I’ve enjoyed anything that I’ve accomplished in the past.”
It was his first British Open title, but there will surely be more. The way Spieth won this there may be many more, until people start talking about him in the same breath as Tiger Woods and, yes, Jack Nicklaus.
He’s that good, but more importantly he’s that strong. Mentally strong, because this is a game that can break your will, and for a time on Sunday it looked like that’s just what was going to happen.
The drives were going sideways, and the putts going nowhere. Amid thousands of people, the golf course was suddenly a very lonely place.
“I wasn’t questioning myself as a closer, but I was questioning why I couldn’t just perform the shots that I was before,” Spieth said.
This wasn’t just a win, it was a coronation. There’s a new king in golf, one the King himself would have surely approved.
What unfolded on the back nine of one of golf’s most venerable layouts was as astonishing as it was brilliant. This was the 146th Open, and in the 145 that came before it, no one had ever won like this.
Yes, there are other players who might have made bogey from the driving range like Spieth did on 13, though not many. But name one — and include Woods in this — who could rebound from losing the lead to Kuchar to go birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie to hoist the most coveted trophy in golf.
Johnny Miller called it the “greatest finish I have seen in championship golf,” and for once this wasn’t television hyperbole.
In a place that celebrates golf history, Spieth made the kind you’ll have to read over and over again because it almost can’t be believed.
Spieth could have gone down as a choker, the player who coughed up a five-shot lead on the back nine in the Masters last year, and a three-shot lead here. As he spent 20 minutes deciding what to do on 13, many on Twitter were already writing him off as just that.
Instead he’ll be celebrated for one of the most clutch performances ever.
“He’s hurt a lot since that ’16 Masters. And I’m sure somewhere in there some doubts had crept in,” caddie Michael Greller said. “He just said, you know what, I know how to do this.”
Tens of thousands were here to witness it, massive crowds — but only a fraction of the people who will one day claim to have seen it. They watched as skies darkened along with Spieth’s mood as he coughed up a three-shot lead only to be talked back into the tournament by Greller.
He reminded Spieth he was special, just like Michael Phelps, Michael Jordan and the other top athletes he had vacationed with down in Cabo the previous week. He told Spieth to believe in himself, even as Kuchar drew even and it all seemed to be slipping away.
And he gave Spieth a spot-on yardage from the spot on the driving range from where he was somehow able to make a bogey that felt like a par.
Then Spieth took care of the rest. One down on the 14th tee, he turned from being the hunted into being the hunter and ran off a string of holes unrivaled in major championship history.
If it was exhilarating to watch, it was just as exhausting to play. Spieth said it took more out of him than any day he has ever played golf.
There will be plenty of time to rest. He’s only 23 — only Nicklaus and Gene Sarazen were younger when they won three majors — and if Spieth can win the PGA Championship next month, he will be the youngest ever to win the career Grand Slam.
He’s a closer, not a choker.
And he’s got his name on the claret jug to prove it.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg