Learning from the Masters

Published 6:00 am Sunday, April 24, 2016

By Steve Stricker

After winning the 2015 Masters with a 2-under 70 for a four-shot victory over Phil Mickelson and Justin Rose, and leading this year from Thursday to Sunday afternoon, everyone at Augusta and watching on TV (like me) figured Jordan Spieth, who led after seven-straight rounds at the Masters, had a second Green Jacket to add to his closet.

But, as it’s been said, the Masters begins on Sunday at the back 9.

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Jordan posted a 7-under par at 9 while the closest competitor, Danny Willett from England, was 2-under. Then, like an ugly bolt of cruel lightning, Jordan’s 5-shot lead evaporated like drops of sweat on a hot MGB manifold as he bogeyed 10, 11, and came completely unraveled with a quadruple bogey on the12th at Amen Corner.

Although Spieth fought back valiantly, Augusta National claimed another victim and retained its reputation of being a tough and totally unpredictable golf course as Willett held on to win his first PGA event (has five wins on the European Tour) with a 5-under 67 and no bogeys.

Shortly after in Butler Cabin, Jordan looked shell-shocked as he helped 28-year-old and new dad Willett in only his second Masters, into his first Green Jacket and first Englishman to win the Masters since Nick Faldo in 1996. Not only was Spieth disappointed, but also the golfing world was shocked that this good guy and extraordinary golfer couldn’t finish it as he so often has. Even Willett expressed remorse about the unfortunate meltdown of Spieth after playing so well.

Although Jordan is only 22, he possesses the maturity of a much older person and he’ll bounce back and will no doubt win the Masters again, perhaps several times. Plus — it’s the Masters. No one wants this legendary course to be tamed each year by the same person or same familiar names thereby diminishing its long, rich and mystique history.

In 2013, my son Stephen and I were thrilled to attend a Tuesday practice round at the Masters. Cameras were allowed (not cellphones) and although electricity was in the air, the players and patrons were laid-back, and sharing this life-experience with Stephen was one of my most memorable memories. It was a bit overwhelming to see and stand by my golfing heroes in person that I knew well and had watched so often on TV (especially saying “hello” to my hero Steve Stricker) and to just walk this beautiful and historic golf course.

That year, 32-year-old Adam Scott defeated 46-year-old Angel Cabrera (the 2009 Masters winner from Argentina) in a 2-hole play-off when he sank a 15-foot birdie in fading light on a drizzly afternoon across the 10th green to be the first Australian to ever win the Masters. The drama at Butler Cabin repeated when Bubba Watson, the 2012 Master champion who shot a seven over par, put the Green Jacket on Scott — seems like a rather cruel tradition.

Golf is a polite and gentle sport (although friends, players still want to thrash the competition) where strict rules of etiquette and behavior apply and is one of my favorite sports to watch on TV because of the beautiful, peaceful surroundings and I can see who the players are. And, it’s actually quite fast-paced with the cameras flipping from one player to the other with interesting narrative from the announcers.

Life is like sports, huh? One minute you’re up by five strokes in the final round of the Masters, 9 holes to play with the opportunity to win back-to-back Green Jackets and be the first player in 156 years of championship golf to go wire-to-wire in successive years in a major, when life intervenes and Rays Creek sucks down two golf balls along with the dream to make history and instead end with a 1-over 73 in the final round on Sunday at the Masters, tied for second place.

The inevitable stuff that happens to us in life can of course be devastating, but it depends on how we react that determines if we are going to be OK or not. There is no real time limitation as to how long it will take one to recover from whatever negative experience, but if one holds onto it for too long, it can become a debilitating psychosis.

Jordan Spieth, who has taught us how to win and lose with dignity and humility, will be OK because he’s young, talented, mature, takes responsibility for his failures, and although stunned right now, he’ll shake it off, learn from this, and move on to become one of the most influential and famous professional golfers ever to play this frustrating and demanding sport of golf.

Steve Stricker earned his doctorate degree in counselor education from Ole Miss. He can be reached at sstricke@olemiss.edu.