PGA Championship

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Jordan Spieth says his cliff shot at Pebble could have been worse ... but not for the reason you think

February 01, 2023

Kent Horner

PEBBLE BEACH — He is most comfortable when he’s uncomfortable. Jordan Spieth’s words, not ours, about himself and his game, although the man took that motto to the extreme in Monterey last season. For those who missed it—and if you have, we direct you to the video—Spieth defied science and gravity and mortality in hitting an approach off a bluff at Pebble Beach’s eighth hole, a sentence that may be wild to the uninitiated, yet perfectly encapsulates the experience of watching Spieth play golf.

Spieth seemed to have genuine remorse for his daredevil ways, expressing afterwards, “I wish I hadn’t done it.” One year later that remorse remains, as Spieth spoke of that shot Wednesday ahead of this week’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

“I think it was a stroke. I think I saved a stroke,” Spieth said of his did-you-see-that? par. “Does the reward outweigh the risk? Not if you think the risk was dying. But I felt I could whack it over the water with a 7-iron and get it up near the green. And I thought up near the green would be easier than hitting a 7-iron from 10 yards back. And, yeah, I think now knowing my son a lot better, he was really young at the time, I may not have hit that shot.”

Spieth said it with a laugh, and there’s no doubting the amusement now inherent to the moment in hindsight. Conversely, it’s hard to overstate the danger. Pebble has gone so far as to alter its eighth hole to prevent copycats from plunging to their demise, and the rough has been grown in the area in question to hopefully prevent similar incidents.

However—hide your eyes, tour officials—Spieth seems to think the problem may remain.

“[The grass is] grown up, up by the edge there. Which would make a ball not go as far. But it also stops the balls that may have gone through before,” Spieth noted. “So there's no win here. I think I really messed things up by hitting that because I don't really know the solution. Other than shave it all the way so that, no matter what, it goes right in and it has less of a chance of stopping short. I don't really know. Because you can't put a fence there because your second shot will hit the fence.”

“Yeah, it's not advised.”

Spieth went on to say last year's shot was a “bad decision,” but noted things could have been really grim.

No, not regarding his safety; his score.

“I’m glad I ended up making a 4,” he said. “Because if I made a 5 it would have been one of the worst decisions I’ve ever made.”

Instead his shot has now become part of his lore and added another chapter to the storied tapestry of this event. Spieth enters this week as the overwhelming favorite, a nod to his current standing and his track record at Pebble. He explained one of the reasons for his success is that it feels like a mini-Open Championship, particularly the parallels in fickle weather conditions. It raised the question, why does Spieth seem to play his best when things are at their worst? According to Spieth, he’s not sure why, only to note that’s how it’s always been, and he likes it that way.

“I actually kind of root for some of the tougher conditions because I feel like it gives me just a little bit of an advantage with the stuff I have on, the equipment I'm playing. So that was, that was a plug. I wasn't intending it,” Spieth said. “But in general it's, there's just kind of, whether it's experience or just finding like, hey, you know, when it gets tough the ones with more experience and the ones that grew up in a lot of wind and some cold windy conditions. So trying to embrace them and look at it positively. I mean, mentally, if you can have an edge when it gets tough, that's three quarters of the battle.”

This week, let’s hope one of those battles isn’t with a cliff.