PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Jordan Spieth has won seven PGA Tour events, including two majors, racking up over $23 million on the course alone at age 22.
At his Wednesday press conference at the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass, where he will be in action for the first time since his wrenching Masters loss four weeks ago, he was asked if he fears water—specifically hitting his ball over it.
“I’ll just tell you that I’m not affected by it,” he said toward the end of his Q&A with the media, when 10 of the 16 questions either directly or indirectly addressed his quadruple-bogey 7 on the 12th hole at Augusta National. “Again, it was the wrong miss at the wrong time. Yeah, I mean, if I hit a good shot and it catches a gust and goes in the water [at TPC Sawgrass this week], it’s not because of the Masters.”
Golf at any level is about failures, and bouncing back from them. Even Tiger Woods lost most of the time. But not all failures are created equal, which is something Spieth knew all too well as soon as he made a mess of the tricky 12th at Augusta, opening the door for winner Danny Willett. Well-wishers, their brow furrowed as if preparing to discuss a death in his family, have reminded Spieth as much in the days since then.
Yes, the green jacket ceremony, in which a shell-shocked Spieth had to stick around to put the jacket on Englishman Willett in front of a worldwide television audience, was excruciating. “I wouldn’t wish it upon any of y’all,” Spieth said Wednesday. And yes, time heals all wounds—or it’s supposed to. “I think people have moved on already,” he said. “At least I thought so until I came in here today.”
His Masters lapse led to a month of reflection. Spieth went home to Dallas and didn’t unpack his clubs for a week as messages of support poured in from people he knew and people he didn’t even know had his number. He hit the gym. He went to the Bahamas with friends Rickie Fowler, Smylie Kaufman and Justin Thomas. He fulfilled obligations with his sponsors, and worked with his coach, Cameron McCormick, to rewire a swing that had begun misfiring long before his stunning 7. The break was a long time coming.
“I needed those four weeks,” he said. “We had a crazy schedule going back to the Presidents Cup.”
Some have Spieth as the co-favorite with Rory McIlroy to win this week. The Texan shot a final-round 74 to tie for fourth in his first Players in 2014, and missed the cut last year, but make no mistake: For Spieth, this Players is less about the harsh angles of the Stadium Course and more about his Masters disaster, and how he’ll react to it.
Asked to recall the best bounce-back tournament of his young career, Spieth described trying to force the issue with a birdie and instead bogeying the 18th hole at the 2015 Northern Trust Open. He missed the playoff by a shot—James Hahn won—but learned from his mistake and promptly won the Valspar Championship two starts later.
“Jordan will be just fine,” said McIlroy, who had his own Masters disaster in 2011 but came back to win the soggy U.S. Open at Congressional just two months later. “He’s very resilient; we’ve seen that over the last number of years.”
The great irony of Spieth’s Masters meltdown is that it happened in part because he is so resilient. He often bounces back from bogeys and double bogeys with a birdie or multiple birdies. Exhibit A: Birdies on nine and 10 at last summer’s British Open to quickly and emphatically erase his double bogey at the par-3 eighth hole. Having bogeyed 10 and 11 at Augusta last month, he likely had similar aspirations as he stood on the 12th tee—aspirations lurking beneath his sensible strategy talk with caddie Michael Greller. That may be why Spieth admittedly couldn’t will himself to aim left of the pin.
He’ll get numerous more opportunities to bounce back at the Players at watery TPC Sawgrass, to aim away from pins or, when necessary and/or prudent, take them on no matter the consequences of a miss. The course will test his nerve as it does anyone’s. The difference this week is how much attention will be paid to one man, Spieth, and how much meaning will be assigned to how he performs around all that water.
“I don’t think I have anything to prove,” he said. “I think I’ve already proven what we’re capable of doing when the pressure is on. We’ve succeeded and been able to succeed in close matches, close finishes, and we’ve succeeded to stretch leads out and win by four to eight shots against some of the best fields in the world, so I don’t think there’s anything that’ll come up where I feel like I need to get revenge.”
That may be so, but when Spieth tees off 10 with Jason Day and Branden Grace at 8:43 ET Thursday, the world will nonetheless be waiting for it.