Haunted by the 12th?
Jordan Spieth says no -- but others have a wide variety of opinions on his return to Augusta National
April 03, 2017
By Mike McAllister , PGATOUR.COM
Jordan Spieth says he got rid of the demons in December.
Unfortunately, he didn’t get rid of the question. Indeed, it’s arguably the single most intriguing question entering the Masters, and the one Spieth is definitely tired of answering.
Will last year’s 12th-hole nightmare at Augusta National impact him this week?
You’ll recall that Spieth gave away all of his three-shot lead – and more -- at the 155-yard 12th when he rinsed two balls into Rae’s Creek en route to a quadruple-bogey 7 in the final round. At the end of the day, instead of slipping on a second consecutive green jacket, a shellshocked Spieth was left pondering the cruelties of Augusta National.
In December, he made his first trip back to the course. Although nervous as he stepped onto the 12th tee box, Spieth stuck an 8-iron over the bunker to 15 feet and made the birdie. He pumped his fist, then thrust both arms high over his head. “Demon’s gone,” he recalled later.
And given the fact that he’s won three tournaments worldwide since last year’s Masters, he certainly doesn’t seem to be haunted by that final round.
But not everyone’s buying it.
“It will be difficult for him to put that out of his mind,” said Colin Montgomerie, the World Golf Hall of Famer who’s now an analyst for the Golf Channel. “ … Wait until he gets a card and pen in his hand again.”
Two weeks ago, Spieth was again asked about the 12th hole – for about the 12,000 time – and he made no secret that he’s ready to move on.
“No matter what happens at this year’s Masters, whether I can grab the jacket back or I miss the cut or I finish 30th … it will be nice once this year’s finished, from my point of view, to be brutally honest with you,” he responded.
For now, the topic remains fascinating, which is why so many of his peers and others in the golf community have been asked about it. Will the 12th hole haunt Spieth? If so, how long? And to a broader degree, how long do golfers carry around the memories of such a disastrous moment, especially when it happens on such a big stage?
Here’s what they had to say (and, as you can see by their own gut-wrenching losses, Spieth is hardly alone in dealing with this issue):
Tough loss: McIlroy held a four-shot lead through 54 holes at the 2011 Masters, but shot a final-round 80 that included a triple-bogey at the 10th and a double-bogey at the 12th. He finished tied for 15th, 10 strokes behind winner Charl Schwartzel.
“It's not as if it's going to be the last year he gets questions about it. So, yeah -- that might be the way he's approaching it, the mentality of I just can't wait for this to be over … But if he doesn't banish those demons or win this year, the questions will always still be there. I still get questioned about the back nine at Augusta in 2011. It's just something you have to deal with. It's something that happened. It's not going to go away. It's there and it always will be.
“But of course, I sympathize with him. The guy had a chance to win the green jacket and I didn't. He had the same last year. But … he can console himself by opening up his wardrobe and seeing one hanging there. It's a little bit different.
“No matter what happens this year, those questions will still be there and linger a little bit. … But Jordan still has an amazing record at Augusta. He's played three times, he hasn't finished outside the top two. He's great going in there. Once he plays that 12th hole once, once he gets it over and done with on Thursday, he'll forget about it and most other people will, and he'll go on. And I'm sure he'll have a great chance to win again this year.”
Tough loss: In the final round of the 2013 Masters, Day held with lead with three holes to play but bogeyed 16 and 17 and finished solo third, two strokes out of a playoff won by Adam Scott.
“I've done the same thing. I had the lead in 2013 with three holes to go and I was standing on 16 and I made a mess of 16. Don't look at it as a negative and hold that above yourself and put that on a pedestal. Understand that it's just learning. It's OK to fail. But it's OK to fail as long as you look at it as a learning experience and know that the next time I'm there, I'm going to make sure I try to do this instead of doing the exact same thing that put me in that position…
“He's young enough and talented enough that it won't even affect him. Obviously, it hurt and stung at the time. But I think he's done pretty good with his career thus far, and I think he's going to have a lot more opportunities to win Augusta, green jackets and other major championships. It goes in there and kind of sits around in your head a little bit, but sooner or later it kind of goes off and you're done with it.”
Tough loss: At the 2007 Open Championship, Garcia once led by four shots in the final round. Despite three bogeys on the front side, he still had a chance to win outright on the 18th hole, needing only par. But he missed an 8-foot putt and loss to Padraig Harrington in a playoff.
“I think in this case [Spieth’s] probably going to be thinking more about two years ago than last year. So he's been successful there. Yeah, what happened to him, obviously it's never nice, but those things happen to all of us. And as much as you would like to avoid it, unless you come out here and play two tournaments and win them and say, ‘OK, I'm done,’ and retire, those things are going to happen. The game of golf is just like it that.
“We know the talent he has and how good he is mentally, so I wouldn't expect him to not be somewhere around up there at Augusta as much as he enjoys that place and as well as he's done.”
Arnold Palmer Invitational Round 4 recap in under 60 seconds
Tough loss: At the 2015 Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard, Stenson led with four holes to play, but three-putted twice to lose by a stroke to Matt Every. But he says his toughest loss came at the 1998 Telia Grand Prix, a Challenge Tour event in his native Sweden. Stenson, an amateur at the time, double-bogeyed the 17th hole after a poor tee shot and missed a playoff by one stroke.
“I think everyone that's had a successful career felt like they have given a few away over the period of time and you analyze what happened and what you could have done differently and then when you put yourself in those situations again in the future, you try and act differently and do differently and hopefully you will have a different outcome. And I think that most of the guys out here have managed to figure that out. Otherwise, they probably wouldn't have made it into the next division and taken that next step.
“But of course it's painful. Losing is never fun, but harder when you feel like something you did or something you didn't do was the reason behind it.
"I think it's always easier to leave a loss behind you when someone else makes a long putt or makes a birdie on the last hole or something like that. But if you 3-putt from 15 feet up the hill, you're not going to leave feeling too good about yourself.”
Tough loss: As an amateur at the 1960 U.S. Open, Nicklaus was leading on the back nine at Cherry Hills but faded down the stretch as Arnold Palmer completed his memorable charge.
“You always learn from those experiences. I think we all do. I didn't have one that was quite as bad as what he had, but I go back and look at -- sort of parallel my life a little bit back there.
“1960, I was 20 years old, and I was leading the U.S. Open. Now, I wasn't leading by several strokes, but I was leading the U.S. Open and playing with Ben Hogan, had a very good chance to win, nine holes to go, I was leading. I was still leading with six holes to play. I looked at a leaderboard, which had [Ben] Hogan, [Arnold] Palmer, [Mike] Souchak, and [Jack] Fleck one shot behind me. And I proceeded to fall apart like a $3 suitcase. Three-putted 13, three-putted 14, missed a couple of short birdie putts and bogeyed the last hole to lose by two shots.
“I look back on it, and I say, you know, I would have loved to have won that tournament, but maybe the best thing that ever happened to me was the learning experience that I had from it. Did it destroy my life? No. And it won't destroy Jordan's life. I learned from it. I put what I learned there to use. Did I do it again? Sure. But did I do it to the same degree? No. …
“Tom Watson blew, what, two PGA Championships and a U.S. Open? Did it destroy his life? No, it didn't destroy his life. He learned from it. He went on to win a lot of major championships and obviously became one of the world's great players.
“So I think, if I'd won some of those tournaments, I think I'd have been scratching my ears out here like this and, it would probably have been the worst thing that ever happened to me. It was probably the best thing that ever happened to me. So probably what happened to Jordan at Augusta, he'll learn from that, and it will be one of the best things that ever happened to him.
“That's certainly the way I look at it. From him turning back and looking on it and being OK, he's 22 years old. He'll be just fine.”
Tough loss: At the 1989 Masters, Crenshaw took a 4-shot lead when play was suspended in the third round Saturday night. When the round was completed Sunday morning, his lead was down to one. He still had a share of the lead going into the 72nd hole, but missed a 12-foot par putt and fell one short of a playoff won by Faldo.
"I think he’s talked about it -- it’ll be something he has to prove to himself. We’ve all had our catastrophes around here, but that happened at a bad time -- self inflicted, but you make mistakes like that if you’re a golfer. You learn from it.
"On the flip side, it’s hard to imagine he’s played three times and accomplished what he’s accomplished [at the Masters]. He knows what he has to do and I think at this point, he’s probably a little upset at his game right now but he’s coming back to a place he loves and he can allow his imagination to work. I think he’s thinking of things like that.
"He’s so good; he’s got things together so well upstairs.
He’ll be anxious -- as a player, you want to start the tournament, you’re so anxious to start, you’ve done your prep and you’re keyed up and you want to see the first few holes. I suppose 12 is gonna be in his mind; he’s just gotta go out there."
Tough loss: In the 1990 U.S. Open at Medinah, Faldo suffered a three-putt from 45 feet on the 16th hole for a bogey, and then missed a 12-footer for birdie on the 18th hole, falling one stroke short of making a playoff eventually won by Hale Irwin.
"I think it is all about 12. I voiced that’s why he hasn’t played well this last month. Because maybe he’s been winding himself up a little over it. I think his attention is on exactly that. He wants to get to 12 on Thursday – he knows he made a poor swing – so he’s going to make a great swing this time, knock it to 10 feet. Knock it in… monkey off the back. Then you move on.
"I think he has got to go down there and deal with it, which you can do. It is the hardest thing in golf or any sport is when you don’t have the opportunity to come back and deal with again let alone have another chance to square it up again. You’ve got to believe he will do a good job of that.
"You can either be looking at everybody or you can feel like everyone is looking at you. In a situation like that that’s one of the tough things learning to handle – that everyone is watching you. You’ve got to be able to handle that."
Tough loss: In the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot, Montgomerie was tied for the lead on the final hole. But a poor approach shot and a three-putt left him one shot behind winner Geoff Ogilvy. Montgomerie never won a major in an otherwise stellar career.
“It's interesting, isn't it? You talk about somebody who finished second to Bubba and then he comes back and wins it. And then he's, what, five ahead on the last, going into the last nine. You're almost giving it to him. That's what Augusta is all about, really. You know it's not finished until the last putt is holed.
“And yes, it has hurt him very badly, and you can see that throughout and afterwards. You know, I hope for his sake that he can come back and compete the way he has the last three years. It will be difficult for him to put that out of his mind. He says he's played the 12th hole in practice and he's come back and birdied it on every occasion. Yeah, wait until he gets a card and pen in his hand again and see what you do on No. 12. But never mind, never mind 10 and 11, because they are scary, as well. He did go bogey, bogey before that time.
“But it will be interesting to see how he does. He's a very, very old head on young shoulders, and he has as much discipline as anybody. And if anybody can come over that and through that back nine last year, he can, and I wish him well to do so. …
“It's easy when you are beaten. When you are beaten by a better man on the day and you succumb to somebody who scores 64, 65, and you've shot 68 and you said, OK, you've beaten me. Hands up, well done.
“But the hurt is, and it comes back to me at Winged Food; it comes back to Greg Norman at Augusta, and it comes back by giving it to somebody. But the feeling of giving it to somebody, that hurts more than ever, and that's the thing that Jordan has been hurt by. I had a hand and a half on this Masters jacket again, and I just couldn't button it up, you know. Had it on, and I just couldn't fasten it. And that's the key.”
ANDY NORTH (ESPN analyst): “I completely believe in Jordan Spieth. I think he's a player that is going to be a really, really good player for a long, long time. But yes, there's going to be some demons in there when gets to 12 for the first time in the tournament. I guarantee it.”
CURTIS STRANGE (ESPN analyst): “I don't disagree with Andy North very often, but I'm going to disagree a little bit here from the standpoint that I think [Jordan’s] such a cerebral player, he's such a solid player, and even if he gets up with a one-shot lead next Sunday, and the pin is in the same position, he'll learn from what he did last year and he'll hits the proper shot. And when do we ever learn? On mistakes we made. When we screw up. The way I look at it, there's nothing wrong with remembering when you screwed up the year before or a couple years before, because you learn from that. You say, I'm not going to do that again. I bailed on this one or whatever happened, you know, if you have to pitch it from the same position again, whatever it is, you learn from it and you don't do it again."
"Let's not forget, he won a couple weeks after last year, too, so it's not like he went in the dark room and stayed for three days. … Golfers, we have to have these short memories. We have to be kind of halfway idiots in the respect that we have to take a lot of the bad and very few good times and we learn how to do that. I think he'll be just fine.”
BRANDEL CHAMBLEE (Golf Channel analyst): “I think that's optimistic of Jordan, thinking that as soon as this event is over, that he's put it behind him. You know, even though Seve Ballesteros went on to win the '88 Open Championship and did so many great things, people still alluded to the fact, his shot into 15 in 1986, they will never, ever forget it. It's part of his legacy. …
“Ask Jack about what shot he regrets the most; he'll have two or three at the ready. … [Arnold Palmer] famously triple-bogeyed the 12th hole in '59 [at the Masters] as the defending champion when he had the lead, and he famously let George Low distract him on the 18th hole when he goes up with the lead in '63, I believe it was, and those never go away. People never quit talking about them.
“But it's also a tribute. If you're good enough to put yourself in a position to win the biggest events, you're also going to have some scar tissue that is just going to leave indelible marks on everybody. Everybody has this nostalgia over every single shot at Augusta, so it will always be a part of his life. He'll just overcome it and he'll build on his resume.”
Jordan Spieth's thoughts about Augusta National's shortest par 3, the 155-yard par-3 12th:
"I see an extremely well-designed par 3. It's a lot better design for a left-hander than a right-hander, because the left half of the green is at a shorter distance than the right half.
"So when we pull the ball right-handed, the ball goes further. When we push a ball, it goes shorter. Lefties are the opposite. It fits lefty green. If lefty lines up at the middle bunker and they pull it, the ball is going to carry further. It will be OK on that hole. If they push it, it will go shorter. If they have the right club, they will be on the green. For a right-hander, you got to hit a really good shot. The reason it's so tough is because there are swirling winds and the green depth is so small.
SPIETH'S CAREER AT THE 12TH
2014 - Par, Par, Par, Bogey (Finished T-2)
2015 - Birdie, Par, Birdie, Bogey (Won)
2016 - Par, Par, Birdie, Quadruple Bogey (T-2)
"So, on the left side you might have maybe 10 paces from the front to the back before it goes into a little swale, which is very difficult to come out of. On the middle of the green, you only have about six or seven, and on the right side you have another 10 or 11 paces. But that's deep of a green to be hitting -- you're trying to hit the middle of that surface even if you only have 5 yards on either side. To only be off by 5 yards with a potential of wind gusting or swirling makes it difficult.
"Even though it's a 9-iron or maybe an 8, some days a pitching wedge, with the spin rate those clubs generate, a simple gust of wind that goes up 3 or 4 miles an hour more affects it more than 5 yards. So trying to trust that when you're on the tee is a challenge, especially on days that are tough conditions.
"So, it's extremely well designed. The bunkers are really well done for bail-out areas to be more challenging because it's a 9-iron, you hit a good shot, you should have a birdie chance, and you do on that hole.
"Historically I played the hole really well, but depending on where the pin is, depends on the shot you play and where you play it to. To feel like you're laying up with a 9-iron in your hand is abnormal. That's tough for players to trust."
Ben Everill and Sean Martin contributed to this report.