British Open
July 20, 2015

How the Slam was lost

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland  -- The sequence that first convinced me Jordan Spieth would win the British Open began on the 7th green. By then, the early insurgent wave had been forgotten. The wind and rain had arrived as promised, but not to obliterating effect, and the Old Course yielded birdie after birdie to the real contenders. They attacked in a bold, fearless way that, as Spieth himself would later note, felt very unlike the final round of a major.

He yanked his drive on 18, made the fatal error of spinning his wedge into the Valley of Sin, and missed the uphill putt. When he finished, he applauded the fans, and he told us afterward that he hadn't considered the history of the moment while he was on the course. Knowing his ability to filter out unwelcome thoughts, I believed him. Aside from a few bad putts, he had played a courageous round in the pit of a cauldron, and that doesn't happen to someone who walks the fairways lost in a dream of surpassing his heroes.

The omens that Zach Johnson sent from ahead turned out to be true -- he won in a four-hole playoff over Oosthuizen and Leishman after a brilliant 66, and Spieth's near-miss will eventually become a footnote, just as Nicklaus and Palmer's near-misses in '60 and '72 are footnotes today. But even if he didn't have history in his head, we had it in ours, and it won't be easy to forget the gift he gave us, of a dazzling and heartbreaking mirage.