Jordan Speith’s victory at the Open Championship becomes even more remarkable as we reviewed the tape of his round on Sunday. Speith had a three stroke lead as he teed it up on Sunday and he crushed his drive down the par 4, 448 yard first hole. He was astonished to discover that the ball did not clear the rough on the left and he was left with a terrible second shot. He complained and was unhappy with the hand that the gods of golf had dealt here and the stroke of bad luck got to him. He ended up missing a putt for par and started the round with a bogey with his lead reduced to 2 shots. The bad luck on the tee shot seemed to linger and disrupted his tempo as he approached the rest of the round. The putter went to sleep as there seemed to be a cover over the holes as Jordan missed three short putts in 5 holes as his lead disappeared. This scenario often happens to the 3rd round leader on the PGA Tour particularly for a player who hasn’t had the experience of being in this position. Speith seemed rattled and his swing seemed tentative at times. He made a birdie and another bogey as he approached the 13th hole even with Matt Kuchar. While it seemed that Speith was not falling apart, his game was simply eroding bit by bit just hanging in there with Kuchar who has playing consistently well. Then comes the 13th hole–Kuchar spanks a drive boringly into the fairway and Speith steps into the tee box. Speith’s tee shot careens over 100 yards to the right in the side of a hill in grass that could serve as a mattress. The ball is well down and it is fortunate that it was found. The ball is unplayable and the only question now is where to take line of sight relief with penalty. There was an option to go back to the tee and put it in the fairway. The option was never really considered especially after what just what happened. For the next 20 minutes, a decision had to be made as to where to take the drop. The player has to take this drop two club lengths no closer to the hole but has the option of going back as far as the player wants in the line of sight of the drop. Speith inquired about whether the driving range was in or out of bounds and told that it was in bounds, he decided to go all the way back some 235 yards from the hole for his third shot. The decision took a long time and Kuchar put his second shot on the green and started some stretching exercises as he awaited Speith to hit his third shot. This is the Open Championship and not your local club championship or even a PGA tour event. This third shot was the whole ball game-most of us would have hit an 8 or 9 iron back into the fairway and try to make 6. This was not an option in an Open Championship especially having led it for the first 66 holes of the tournament. The focus and execution required for this shot would have to be almost flawless. Memories of Jean van de Velde collapse on the 18th at Carnoustie in 1999 were evoked as he failed to execute the difficult shot and lost the championship in a playoff. Van de Velde’s horrible experience can be summarized by poor decision making and the circumstances of the event. After Van de Velde hit his second shot poorly and in more trouble, the game sped up where concentration and skills are almost destroyed. Speith’s shot was blind and had to carry the knoll in the line of sight and carry the rough on the right. The time lapse of deciding what shot to hit slowed the proceedings down and enabled Speith to concentrate and focus only at the task that had to be executed. Speith was thinking 3 wood for this shot but caddy, Michael Greller, disagreed stating that it was too much club. Any shot over this green would make it very difficult, if not impossible, to get up and down. Greller recommended a 3 iron and Speith agreed with that decision. The only good news that with a background of the Titleist and Taylor Made trailers on the driving range, Speith had a flat and good lie to go at it. He grimaced as he did the shot as perhaps he caught a bit heavy but the gods of golf were smiling-the torque of the 3 iron kept the ball moving through the right rough and landed just in front of the green side bunker. Mission accomplished but there was much more work to do. The pitch shot was very difficult as it had to be pitched past the bunker (no issue) but the green sloped heavily from right to left-any pitch within 10-12 ft. would be excellent-the touch required to execute this shot was very difficult. Given the circumstances, the difficulty of the shot rose exponentially. Speith flipped the wedge with precision and the ball came to rest about 8 ft. from the hole. Speith proceeded to hole the putt for the best bogey 5 that he has ever made. A six would have been a great score in these circumstances-a bogey 5 was essentially equivalent to a birdie. Speith then went over to Kuchar and apologized for the time it took to get through all of this in a gesture of great sportsmanship. This experience seemed to ignite all of Speith’s capabilities. He was now a stroke behind but it could have been a lot worse. The mental toughness and determination exhibited here encouraged Speith where lesser types would have been overcome by the experience. Unlike his collapse at the 12th hole of the Masters in 2016, he actually created the momentum needed to compete in the rest of the round. All of his skills returned-tee shots, irons and putting all returned to a championship caliber. He went 5 under par from 14 on in with an array of great shots and long putts, Kuchar could only watch this as he continued to play well but not well enough to overcome this barrage. He was supremely disappointed but he did not lose this tournament. Speith and Kuchar both shot 69 in the final round in a very different way.
I have only seen Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods play with this degree of confidence to execute and focus. Speith is only 23 and has a lot of golf ahead of him. If he can maintain this degree of focus and concentration, he could be the dominant player and Woods’ successor on Tour.