One has to wonder if Jordan Spieth forgot to say his prayers before entering Amen Corner at this year’s Masters. This much is certain — either the golf deities weren’t amused if they happened to be ignored or decided not to pay any attention.
Spieth’s final round dilemma at Augusta was entirely different than Greg Norman’s misfortunes of 20 years previously. Everybody wanted Norman to win in 1996, particularly after all he had been through at the Masters (and elsewhere). The elsewhere included blowing a chance to face Jack Nicklaus in a potential playoff in 1986, and then having the tournament stolen from him the following year in a playoff when Larry Mize hit a bold and miraculous chip-in for birdie on # 11, a shot which he probably couldn’t re-create if given a thousand opportunities.
Norman was the overwhelming crowd favorite in 1996. The swashbuckling, incredibly talented, star-crossed, complete sportsman from Down Under was up against England’s dour, humorless, taciturn, robotic and two-time Masters Champion Nick Faldo who, unlike the persona he has managed to create from the broadcast booth, just wasn’t very well-liked as a competitor.
Faldo’s final round score of 67 (the lowest of the day) combined with Norman’s 78 allowed the former to overcome a 6-stroke deficit at the start of play and end up winning by five shots. Even before faltering, Norman appeared very ill at ease and one had the general sense that something bad was going to happen. It was just a matter of time, and when the bleeding started, there was just no way to get it under control. Greg Norman and his legion of fans died a slow death through a thousand cuts in one of the most painful debacles the sporting world has ever witnessed. Even Faldo was moved and won over his share of fans at the end when he warmly bear-hugged Norman and whispered encouraging words into his ear.
At the conclusion of the front nine a week ago Sunday, Jordan Spieth was the 2016 Masters champion. Or at least it seemed that way. The 2015 Masters champ had just fired a front nine score of 32, including four consecutive birdies on the last four holes. He looked great, relaxed, enjoying himself as one of the crowd favorites, as befitting a 22-year-old prodigy who also happens to be a class act.
He entered the back nine 5 strokes ahead of the field, which included Dustin Johnson and Lee Westwood, both of whom are popular but have never won a major, and two-time Masters winner and sentimental pick Bernhard Langer who, at age 58 (12 years older than Nicklaus was during his amazing 1986 victory), was nicely positioned at the end of Round 3 to make a serious run at the championship.
But Spieth had had a technical glitch throughout the entire week: A tendency to push the ball to the right off the tee. It happened again on 11 and 12, and he made bogeys on each. Nonetheless, he was still in the lead and now “all” he had to do was get the ball on the devilish par 3 12th green, specifically in the safe and conservative Jack Nicklaus landing area at left center and get the heck out of there. Two inviting par 5s are right around the corner and then it’s time to slip on another green jacket.
Instead Spieth pushed the ball right again — right into Rae’s Creek — ended up making quadruple bogey, and it was over. No death by a thousand cuts, just a 1-2-3 combination and lights out. Ba-boom!
It was much more shocking than what happened in 1996. People didn’t see this coming.
Don’t worry about Spieth, though. In his 22 short years he has already accomplished way more than most PGA touring pros ever accomplish. We haven’t heard the last of him — I can tell you that.
And it actually could have been so much worse. Remember the baker’s dozen Tom Weiskopf made on the same hole in the 1980 Masters? It might not make Spieth feel better, but don’t we hackers love it?!
Edward M. Gilbreth is a Charleston physician. Reach him at edwardgilbreth@ comcast.net.