Culture / Sporting Life

Inside Jordan Spieth’s Nightmare — Three Putting Last Hole to Miss Cut by One at Houston Open Just Continues the Pain

Not the Masters Tuneup Spieth Was Looking For — and Golf Fans Desperately Wanted

BY // 11.06.20

You can see Jordan Spieth talking to himself after even the good shots now. The winner of three Majors before the age of 24 looks absolutely lost at age 27. Spieth never seems comfortable during the second round at the Houston Open. Even after putting the ball on the green in position for a decent birdie try on the par 3 seventh, he is muttering to himself.

In fact, Spieth can be seen grumbling to himself after almost every shot. Until the last one that knocks him out of the tournament.

When he misses a four feet putt for par on No. 9 (his 18th hole of a postcard perfect weather Friday) that would have allowed him to make the weekend cut on the number, Spieth does not say anything. He simply taps in to complete the three-putt bogey that ends his run in Houston after two days and hands his caddie his latest club of self destruction.

With that Spieth is gone from another tournament. In many ways, he’s a ghost that is only haunting himself.

Spieth does not talk to any reporters after this latest disappointment. The PGA Tour limits direct access to its players to a few golf writers in these COVID-19 times, and the few that are there at Memorial Park are back in the media center by the time Spieth putts out a little before 5 pm, already writing their stories and thinking of where they’re going to eat dinner in one of America’s underrated food cities.

Meanwhile, the most fascinating story in golf quietly leaves town. Outside of Tiger Woods, there is no more compelling figure in the game today than Jordan Spieth. Not even controversial mad scientist bomber Bryson DeChambeau. Spieth’s remarkable — and still hard to explain — fall would be the stuff of epic novels in another time.

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He’s the star who suddenly forgot how to be a star. From a comet of a three-time Major winner and the world’s No. 1 ranked golfer to 75th in the world now. From a guy who won everything early to a player who has not won a tournament (any tournament) in more than three years.

You cannot help but hear the fans longing for his return all over Memorial Park. They follow their guy everywhere, call out to him in hope that they can somehow help conjure up the old Spieth. The 21 to 24-year-old Spieth. Twenty-four-year-old Sam Burns may be leading this tournament by two shots over Jason Day and Mexico’s Carlos Ortiz at seven under. And there may be a number of big names still lurking in contention, including Adam Scott (3 under), Dustin Johnson (2 under) and Tony Finau (two under).

But none of those guys get close to the same gallery size as the crowd following Spieth, four-time Major winner Brooks Koepka and Lanto Griffin around this beautiful muni. And it’s pretty clear who is the headliner draw of this trio, too.

“Jordy! Jordy!” a group of bros with beers in hand call out. “Captain America!” another twentysomething counters.

Following Spieth during a round — which I did on Friday — does not just offer a case study of a man fighting himself. It also becomes an unmistakable lesson in just how desperately golf fans want the Jordan Spieth they love back.

Spieth is cheered for with an urgency that no other golfer besides Tiger Woods triggers.

“Hook ’em baby!” one fan screams. “You’re from Texas!” another shouts — as if Spieth could somehow forget. The youngest U.S. Open winner since the legendary Bobby Jones has always loved to play in his home state. But the Dallas kid does not seem to be having any fun in Houston. Though Spieth does make Koepka crack up a few times with his comments after shots.

“It’s one of those courses where you can walk off kind of shaking your head even though you play some good golf,” Day says after his own round. “I was chatting to Phil (Mickelson) about that on the second hole today because he went out there and hit a nice 9-iron, pulled up short, rolled away off the green. . . and you’ve got a 60-footer putting back up that hill.

“It’s one of those golf courses where it can be a little bit frustrating at times, so you’ve just got to kind of be smart about it.”

Of course, there is shaking your head — and then there’s muttering to yourself after almost every shot. Day may have been shaking his head at times even on a good day. But Spieth is doing — and experiencing — something else.

First round action at the 2020 Vivint Houston Open
Jordan Spieth still reaches out to connect to his fans. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

Spieth wears a stripped aqua blue golf shirt, off white pants and a white hat on this day. More fitting attire might be a suit dotted with question marks. Spieth still tries to connect with his fans, reaching out to exchange fist bumps with spectators on more than one occasion, something some of the pros are hesitant to do in these coronavirus times.

This is still one of the real good guys in golf, someone who does not take out any frustrations on fans or officials.

But Spieth is still searching for something. He’s chasing the immense shadow of his younger self in many ways. Which is no way for a 27-year-0ld to have fun. Spieth is now a curiosity as much as a champion to golf fans — and it’s impossible not to hear that in this round.

Jordan Spieth’s Stumbling Close

Spieth is not the only one in his power grouping who flirts with missing the cut. But he is the only who actually misses it. Koepka birdies the par 5 eighth (his 17th hole) to safety get himself to 2 over with the cutline sitting at 3 over. And that’s where he’ll start his Saturday. Griffin, the defending Houston Open champion, actually comes down the stretch in more dire straits than Spieth. But Griffin follows a double bogey on the 6th with clutch birdie putts on No. 7 and No. 8 — and hits an arguably even harder par putt on his last hole to finish just inside the cutline at 3 over.

“Obviously I’m not the biggest name in golf playing with Brooks and Jordan,” Griffin says afterwards. “But it felt like (the fans) had my back out there and it felt like — I know we have limited fans this week — but it felt like a normal tournament. Really good fans. It was fun, it had some electricity.

“Without fans, if I had doubled six coming in and I was two off the cut line, it would have been tough to have energy, but there was enough people kind of rooting us on, cheering us up and I think it helped.”

Spieth has even more of those fans pulling and pleading for him to make it. But unlike Griffin, Spieth plays his worst when it matters most. He misses makable birdie putts that could have given him a cushion on No. 7 and No. 8 — and absolutely makes a mess of the ninth green after getting on it in one.

Jordan Spieth does just enough to not get what he wants. Again. With the three putt on nine, Spieth finishes at 4 over, just one shot from making the cut.

This is how he will go into next week’s special November Masters. As much of an enigma and a fascination as ever. But seemingly no closer to finding his old game.

“Get ’em next week, Jordy!” a lone bro, who is only holding two empty beer cans, calls out as Spieth walks away into the shadows off the ninth green with the golden sun beginning to go down at Memorial.

If only it was that easy.

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