Martin Vousden at the 2017 Open

Jul 24 2017

Thought for the Day
It’s better to be alone than to be in bad company

Back from the dead
I was about to make a comparison between Jordan Spieth’s astonishing turnaround during the last nine holes of the Open Championship and Lazarus famously rising from the dead – but of course, every journalist in the country is probably doing exactly the same thing. The problem for we scribes is that Lazarus is the only well-known historical example of someone coming back from the deceased to which we can compare – Jon Snow’s unlikely revivication in last season’s Game of Thrones doesn’t really cut it.

jordan speith

But a resurrection it certainly was, almost without parallel in modern golf and it underlines what Paul McGinley said about Spieth being the fiercest competitor in modern golf. The difference between him and Tiger Woods is that Jordan manages to keep that competitive fire burning red-hot in his belly while never forgetting the ethos and spirit of the game. After his appalling drive on the 13th and the seemingly endless to-ing and fro-ing before he took his penalty shot, he eventually reached the green and made a point of apologising to his playing partner and only serious rival, Matt Kuchar. It was also noticeable that even at the height of their struggle for supremacy, they were able to chat and treat each other with both courtesy and good will.

When Jordan won his first major, the 2015 Masters, Jack Nicklaus said: ‘Congratulations to an exceptionally talented young man. That was an incredible performance. Jordan is so beyond his years. I like everything about him. He’s polite. He’s humble, he handles himself so well off and on the golf course. And he’s obviously a wonderful player and now a Masters champion.’

Nicklaus was not alone and almost every golfer, journalist or official quoted on Jordan emphasised his personality as much as his golf. It made me wonder if Tiger Woods’ surliness, 1,000 yard stare, club-throwing, swearing and general demeanour were finally being seen for what they were – graceless, charmless and sapping much of the fun out of watching pro golf. It certainly seemed that putting as much emphasis on Jordan Spieth’s personal qualities as his playing ability was evidence of a welcome return to those values that have always been important in golf – courtesy, chivalry, good manners and civility.

But of course, all the charm in world – demonstrated once again in his gracious acceptance speech – would mean nothing if he couldn’t play a bit. The thing is, everyone in the field last week can knock the ball around a golf course with an assurance and level of skill that causes people like us to pour out in our tens of thousands to watch them do it. They can all play a bit. What separates the champion from the wannabe is an almost indefinable mental strength, a determination or bloody-mindedness to not even countenance the possibility of defeat until the last putt has dropped and the last hope of victory been snatched away.

It helps if you are the best putter in the world and can rely on a stroke so routinely efficient that 20 footers are virtual gimmes but after missing several on the front nine that he would normally make in his sleep, including a three-foot effort that you and I would hole more often than not, Jordan might be forgiven for thinking that Open Sunday was just not going to be his day. When the most reliable part of your game heads south even the strongest of competitors must harbour some dark thoughts. And then came that drive on 13, so wide that he was extraordinarily lucky to find it, and so deeply buried that it wouldn’t be shifted with dynamite, let alone a golf club.

And that was where Jordan’s other ability, the one he shares with Jack Nicklaus, came into its own – the capacity to think clearly when his game was collapsing like a jerry-built house in a hurricane. To coolly calculate that his best option after declaring his ball unplayable was to go back as far as he liked, and then get relief from the temporary immoveable obstruction of a three-ton truck, showed a man whose brain was in anything but freefall.

You know the rest. An iron shot on the 14th that damned near went in for an ace, followed by two superb putts on the next two greens to complete a run of birdie, eagle, birdie and in the space of three holes get back off the canvas at the count of nine to knock his opponent out, and quite possibly break his heart. And a thought for that opponent, one of the most likeable gentlemen and gentle men in the game who, at the age of 39 probably knows that this was his one real chance of joining the roll call of the game’s greats by lifting a major. He shouldn’t beat himself up, and seven career wins and more than $40 million in prize money will hopefully, eventually, offer a little balm to wounds that today must be raw.

It was just his bad luck to run up against a force of nature in Jordan Spieth who was not going to be denied.

So that’s two great Opens in a row. This 2017 edition came nowhere near last year’s championship in terms of final day scoring and sheer shot-making brilliance but I think it surpassed it for drama.

Quote of the Week
Heaven is absolutely golf free. This game tortures souls who foolishly conclude that one day they may truly excel at it. Isn’t that what hell’s supposed to be? An endless series of pains and frustrations? And doesn’t that pretty much sum up what golf’s all about?
Jesper Parnevik

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