Augusta, Ga. – “Get down. … Land soft. … Just an ounce right. … Be enough. … Oh my gosh! … Be good.”
All week at the Masters, Jordan Spieth spoke to his golf ball as if it were a beloved pet that had escaped the leash. What differentiates him from hackers all over the world is that his Titleists perform as if trained.
The first-person oral history of Spieth’s historic victory will be easy to access, and worth saving. At 21, Spieth on Sunday became the second-youngest player ever to win the Masters, tying Tiger Woods’ record of 18 under par with a rope-a-dope final round during which he replaced the usual Augusta National roars with yawns, winning by four strokes over Phil Mickelson and Justin Rose.
Spieth shot a 70, setting the tournament record with 27 birdies but losing a chance at holding the record outright with an 18th-hole bogey that didn’t keep him from hugging a dozen family members and friends who waited by the green.
His sister, Ellie, is a 14-year-old with special needs, whom Spieth has credited with keeping him “grounded.” She watched him lose in a playoff in Houston last week but didn’t travel to Augusta. “After each round in Houston, she asked, ‘Jordan, did you win?’ ” Spieth said. “I said, ‘Not yet, not yet, and no.’ I can tell her I won now.”
He did so despite challenges that didn’t face Woods when he shot 18 under in 1997. Augusta National is longer and tougher now, featuring gradations of rough that didn’t exist then, and Woods’ stardom spawned a generation of physically fit, fearless golfers who may soon call Spieth their leader.
“He’s going to fly the flag for golf for quite a while,” Rose said.
Spieth starred in a home video when he was 14, saying he planned to win the Masters, so it shouldn’t have been surprising that his speeches were flawless. He thanked the fans during the green jacket ceremony, using the club-preferred pronoun “patrons,” saying, “The roars at Augusta, you create them.”
He thanked his caddie, his family and even his chiropractor, and paid homage to fellow Texas Longhorn Ben Crenshaw, who played his last competitive round at the Masters this weekend. Spieth won the Masters after finishing second the previous year. That last player to do that: Crenshaw in 1984, so it was fitting that fans near the clubhouse shouted, “Hook ’em, ’Horns,” as Spieth walked past.
“He’s a tremendous shot-maker,” Mickelson said. “Great putter, great short game. He has no weaknesses.”
Certainly not on a podium. Spieth used the phrase made famous by CBS announcer Jim Nantz — “unlike any other” — as he accepted his jacket and said: “This isn’t an honor that’s carried lightly. Everyone who is part of the Masters demands highest quality on and off course. I feel ready.”
He felt ready Sunday morning, waking at 7 out of excitement, then texting his caddie, Michael Greller, to say that he wanted to reach 20 under par. He went for it, too, attacking all four par 5s, making three birdies. “Jordan just wanted to go for it,” Greller said.
Greller, who regularly beats Spieth at poker, told him he had “pocket aces” going into the last round, but the Spieth contingent looked nervous around the first hole. Spieth’s father, Shawn, handed out fist-bumps when Spieth birdied the first.
“He wanted so badly to come back right away after last year,” Shawn said. “We all believed he could do this. Just the way he approaches everything. You see it in his eyes.”
Crenshaw looked into his eyes and saw “Wyatt Earp,” and Spieth handled his four-shot lead entering the day more like a gunslinger than a caretaker. “Laying up, in the situations we were in, would not have been playing the course the right way,” Greller said. “We wanted to go for it.”
All young major winners wind up with uncomfortable comparisons to Woods, but this is telling: In Woods’ first two Masters, he shot a cumulative 21 under, winning once and tying for eighth. In Spieth’s first two Masters, on a more difficult course, he shot a cumulative 23 under, winning once and finishing tied for second.
Woods didn’t win his second major until more than two years after his Masters triumph — the PGA Championship in 1999. Spieth plans to beat the pace. He wants to usurp Rory McIlroy as the top-ranked player in the world.
“I’m still chasing that goal,” he said. “It’s going to be very difficult, but to be a large step closer is huge.
“When you’re a Masters champion, it’s a different legacy.”