There’s probably never a better time to not have email or a cell phone — Spencer Levin owns neither. When you lose a six-shot lead with just 18 to play, the last thing you need is sympathetic messages and/or calls (or Twitter).
Levin was dominating the field at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, but wayward shots on the back nine cost him the lead and eventually the tournament. He shot four-over 75 and ended up third.
If we learned anything from last week at Torrey Pines, it’s that no lead — no matter how significant — is safe until the last putt drops on the 72nd hole. Levin’s unfortunate collapse in the final round was just another reminder of golf’s precarious, cruel nature.
After Levin walked off the 18th green at TPC Scottsdale, he naturally looked stunned, shell-shocked and disappointed. In fact, it was similar to the expression on Kyle Stanley’s face just a week earlier at the Farmers Insurance Open when he triple-bogeyed the final hole in regulation and then lost in a playoff to Brandt Snedeker.
Levin managed to hold it together for the front nine, but coming down the stretch, he missed crucial putts — the kind he was making all week — and then on 15 his ball ended up against a cactus. Despite a good punch-out, he got pricked by the spines and stopped for a minute to make sure he was okay. He seemed a little rattled and then his approach into 15 never had a chance and plopped into the water.
“I got it out in play (from the cactus), hit a good second shot to get it in play, and then the third shot I didn’t feel like I hit that bad a shot,” he said in his post-round presser. “I pushed it a little bit, but I guess I didn’t hit enough club. I thought 4-iron would go over the green and 5-iron didn’t carry. So I don’t know what happened, I just came out of it a little bit. But when that ball went in the water it was a complete shock to me. I was thinking it would fly in the bunker, let alone not carry the water. So that was kind of tough.”
The fiery 27-year-old, who is one of the most-liked guys on Tour, admitted he didn’t rest easy on Saturday. He had never slept on a six-shot lead before, but that wasn’t really the problem. He could have come out there and still played well with plenty of energy, but nerves got to him or perhaps he just tried too hard.
“It was a weird feeling today,” said Levin. “I’ve never had a lead like that. I know you don’t see it very often out here. It’s just a weird deal. It’s almost like you’re kind of wanting the holes to run out real quick, and next time I’ll just try to maybe stay a little more patient, like they always say, and try to have a little more fun.
“I just didn’t have any fun today. I was trying to rush it, get it over with. I need to find a way to have a little more fun because it’s a game, it’s supposed to be fun. When I’m playing well, it’s fun, I’m joking around, laughing, everything is good. I’ve got to find a way to get in that mindset next time I’m in this situation for sure.”
Credit Levin for his candor and not tossing around a bunch of cliches. No BS. No excuses.
“It’s all 100 percent myself, the way I went about it, the way I thought to everything I did. It was on me, and I blew it, basically.”
This isn’t the first time he’s had trouble staying in the moment and letting his nerves get the best of him. (I hate to admit that I bet against him even though I wanted him to win.) Even though it was a totally different situation — he didn’t have a six-shot lead or even the lead, but he was playing in the final group — Levin has a tendency to get quick when he’s under the gun. Last time he played in the final group was at the Arnold Palmer Bay Hill Invitational last March. While he wasn’t leading, he shot 41 on the front nine and finished with a disappointing 76. He learned from that experience, though. And he’ll take something away from this painful lesson, too.
Just ask Kyle Stanley. Coincidentally enough, Stanley was the guy who lost the five-shot lead and managed to come from eight shots back and win just a week after his collapse. If anyone knows how Levin is feeling, it’s Stanley.
“I really feel for (Spencer), experiencing that,” said Kyle in his post-win presser when asked what he’d say to Spencer. “You don’t want to wish that upon anybody. He’s a very good player, way too good of a player to not bounce back or recover. I feel bad for him. I really do.”
I think the solution for Spencer is rather easy actually — which, of course is easier said than done — but in the few times I’ve seen him in contention, he seems too uptight and tense. Somehow he needs to trick himself into believing it’s just another round and loosen up and find the Spence we usually see out there — the one that’s smiling and having fun with his pals.
“That’s really good for Kyle,” said Levin. “That’s pretty awesome from what happened last week to come back and win the very next week. That shows he’s a hell of a player obviously. But yeah, I guess it shows that you can recover from it. I think I will. I feel like I am getting better.”
“I’ve just got to find a way to maybe just tell myself it is a big deal because that’s what we all strive for, but in the grand scheme of things it’s really not. My family still loves me, my friends are still my friends, I’m still going to eat dinner tonight. I guess I’ve just got to go with that mindset next time I’m in that situation because I did not think like that today at all.”
He’s right — it’s not the end of the world.
(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)