OAKMONT, Pa. – Jordan Spieth, America’s Sweetheart, had been done wrong. His little shot into the 17th green was so good. By everything that is just and right, the shot should have rolled up by the flagstick, a tap-in birdie. But no.
Instead, the wedge shot collided with the Earth at the exact spot where, by Spieth’s account, the green’s elevation changed “0.3 percent.” So the ball skipped forward, took a bite, and backed off the green into a bunker.
Shortly after, Spieth thought to express his dismay by kicking at his golf bag. That is a very un-America’s Sweetheart thing to do. It is the kind of thing that causes a golf correspondent to ask a neighbor, “For Jordan, which do you think, ‘petulant’ or ‘pouty’?”
Of course, Jordan Spieth is neither. He’s a golfer. Only 22 years old, he is a two-time major champion. He is the defending champion in this U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club. All golfers, and maybe the great ones more than the rest, know they are what Bobby Jones said they are: “Dogged victims of inexorable fate.” Bad things happen to them all because they have chosen to play a game that makes bad things happen to sweethearts and blackguards alike.
In fact, it is an essential element of Spieth’s persona that even when pouty he is charming at it. The more he explained of that dismaying moment at the 17th, the more a listener came to share the dismay. Here’s what he said of the little wedge shot into the 313-yard par-4:
“I think if I hit that exact same shot five more times, it’s a birdie look. I think I just got a tough break with the exact spot of where it landed. When I fixed the pitch mark, it’s right where the slope goes an extra 0.3 percent, enough that can make the thing just skid just a little bit and rip back. I thought that was a good shot.”
Only to have it rip back into a bunker.
Not to mention the mitigating circumstance of a thunderstorm arriving about the moment he addressed the wedge shot:
“As I was behind the ball, visualizing the shot, there was a crack of lightning and thunder that was not very far from us. And I kind of looked over and got the signal that we’re still playing on. And then I hit the shot, and I got a really tough break.”
Even as he stepped onto the green, play was suspended. Had the suspension came when Spieth first “looked over,” he’d have been saved that “really tough break.”
So he aimed a kick at his golf bag.
Yeah, petulance trending to pouting.
But who would have done less? Many a man and many a woman would have done more, not limited to a cursing of the gods of golf who seduced them into the game to begin with.
And here we find another layer of Spieth’s charm, for, as is his endearing habit, he went on to tell the whole truth, which was that it all worked out well for him. The suspension of play, followed by Thursday’s thunderstorm of an ark-building nature, turned out to be “a really good break.” He explained:
“Where I was in that bunker, if I had hit the shot then, I would have had to hit a great shot just to get it on the green, even on the back of the green. (A bogey, probably.) And we got a delay and I got to go back out there. (Leaving two tees to mark his ball’s spot.) All that sand was matted down (by rain), and I could just place (the ball) on top of the sand on the firm base and I could spin it. (Up and down for par.)”
After completing his first round Friday morning, Spieth spoke to a handful of the literati gathered for this 116th Open. He said his two-over-par 72 kept him in contention in a tournament on a course where five-over won it all in 2007. As nice as the 72 was, he went on to say, “I felt like I didn’t quite get rewarded with my score for how I felt like I played.”
Well. OK. Yes. A touch pouty there.
As if Old Tom Morris didn’t say it to the scribes at St. Andrews two centuries ago.