As Jordan Spieth walked off the 18th green at Chambers Bay on Sunday, he slapped his hands together loudly out of frustration. He thought he had just lost the U.S. Open, which would have been his second straight major title, after he missed his 15-footer for eagle, settling for a tap-in birdie. However, it wasn’t necessarily the putt that he was bemoaning, rather the double-bogey he had made on the penultimate hole, the par-3 17th, following a 30-footer he drained for birdie on the par-4 16th.
But it clearly wasn’t over yet.
Dustin Johnson, who birdied the par-3 17th to get to four-under for the championship, still had to finish playing the par-5 18th. Johnson had already striped a drive down the middle of the fairway, leaving him with only a 5-iron into the hole. From the scoring trailer, Spieth watched nervously with his caddie Michael Greller by his side — as he had been all week, not just providing him with yardages and club selections, but also providing the 21-year-old Masters champion pep talks when he became frustrated, advice when he needed it, a support system when he was down, and the list goes on.
Spieth wondered how he had just lost himself the U.S. Open title, which would have gotten him halfway to the grand slam, with next month’s Open Championship at the Home of Golf and August’s PGA Championship still on the horizon.
“What did I do?” Spieth remembered saying to Greller. “How did this happen?”
He was frustrated with himself and disappointed. After all, he had been three strokes clear with two holes to play after his clutch birdie on no. 16. It was his to win.
As he waited for DJ to finish, he felt stunned, but what materialized was even more jaw-dropping. I was lucky enough to have a front row seat just left of the green as the last two groups played 18, and there had been so much going on — not just at the end, but all day, with Rory McIlroy making a move and Adam Scott posting the low-round of the week with a 64, among other intriguing storylines — and even more thrilling drama unfolding all over the controversial Chambers Bay. I was revved up, which was only heightened by the intense, exciting atmosphere.
What was going on? It was hard to keep up, but birdies, disasters, missed short putts and phenomenal shots were happening left and right. I’d just seen DJ throw a dart to three feet on the 17th, setting him up for an easy birdie. Then, I’d seen Jordan hit a great drive and perhaps the shot that eventually won him the U.S. Open with his 3W to 15 feet on 18. Next, DJ, who was playing in the final group with Jason Day, busted a drive down the middle of the 72nd hole, leaving him with only a 5-iron into the 600-plus yard par-5. He hit an equally sick of a shot as Spieth. Of course, as you know, DJ failed to hole a 12-footer for eagle to win outright and then missed a three-footer for birdie to get him into an 18-hole playoff on Monday against Spieth.
It was absolutely stunning. I watched speechless as DJ tapped-in for par and went through the usual motions of shaking hands with his fellow competitor and the caddies. A few seconds past and I watched Johnson walk off the green. Then, I turned to my colleague who was sitting next to me and said, “Wait, what just happened? Spieth…won?” He confirmed that was indeed the case. I mean, duh. But that’s just how unbelievable the chain of events had been. I couldn’t believe what I had witnessed. It was amazingly entertaining and dramatic, as well as painful — it was like someone had punched you in the stomach and knocked the wind out of you.
With all that, Spieth became the sixth player in history (and youngest at age 21) to win the Masters and U.S. Open in the same year. Spieth also is the youngest two-time major champion since Gene Sarazen in 1922. He joins Young Tom Morris, John McDermott and Gene Sarazen as players who have won two majors before the age of 22. He is the youngest U.S. Open champion since Bob Jones in 1923, as well. He is the first player to birdie the 72nd hole to win the U.S. Open by one stroke since Bob Jones in 1926. The list goes on.
“I’m still in shock,” said Spieth in his post-victory presser. “It’s cliché to say, but I’ve never experienced a feeling like this. Just kind of total shock. I thought that I had won it on 16, I thought that — I didn’t think I had lost it after 17, but I thought I needed to play 18 well just to play tomorrow. And then after DJ hit his second shot in, I thought, Shoot, I may have lost this tournament. And just utter shock at the finish.
“It’s not easy to get any putt down in two here. I three-putted, I think, nine or ten times this week. With the ridges and the greens firming up and getting faster, it’s just tricky.
“I was in the score stand, I was able to share the moment when it finished with Michael, which is really cool. This is a special place for him, and we’re just able to add to his history here at Chambers Bay and our Major Championship history.”
By the time Spieth got to the media center for his press conference, he felt relatively calm and collected. After all, he had nearly an hour after just going through a whirlwind of various emotions in a short period of time.
“That was very, very much intense there on the back nine, and especially the last three or four holes,” he said. “15, 16 and 18 were the best holes — 15, after the tee shot, and then 16, 18 were the best holes I’ve played this week. It’s amazing. It’s incredible. It really is. It’s incredible to win a major championship. You only get a few moments in your life like this, and I recognize that. And to have two in one year and to still be early in the year, that’s hard to wrap my head around. But sitting here right now I am understanding that this is a special time for me after the conclusion of the round and onward until the next major starts.”
When Spieth, who is officially halfway to the grand slam heading into the Open at St. Andrews, was preparing to stroke his birdie putt on no. 16, he drew from a past experience — it reminded him of a putt he had for birdie on no. 15 at Augusta National in the final round of the Masters.
“The putt on 16, when it fell, that was about as animated as I’ve been since maybe throwing a tantrum when I was 13 on the course,” he said. “That was as animated as I get. And it meant that much to me. I hit the tee shot perfect and all you have to do on the second shot is just get it over the ridge. I left it short and gave an opportunity to have a tough putt and a tough two-putt. To see that one fall and take a 3-up lead with two to play, I thought that was the one.
“And then I soon talked myself out of that being the one. But I wasn’t calm and collected. Michael is the one who just shoved positive thoughts into my head the whole week. We didn’t have our best stuff tee to green. I putted the ball well, played the ball well inside 10 feet this week, which is where I struggled with the last couple of tournaments.
“Certain times I was getting frustrated out there, that maybe it could only be seen between me and Michael. He deserves a lot of credit this week.”
The tournament wasn’t necessarily won by the guy who hit the best shots, rather by the player who was mentally tougher. After all, Dustin put on one hell of a ballstriking clinic the entire week.
“(Michael and I) kept on saying out there, ‘We’ve done it before, these guys haven’t,'” recalled Spieth. “These guys are going to be more tense than you, you are more free rolling, that’s what Michael’s words were this week. We’re free rolling, there’s no reason to worry, just go about your game and it will work out. That’s what needs to be said out there. That’s the way I need to think out there.
“Again, when I finished I didn’t think I’d won, but at least I’d gone about the mental side of it the right way. And that was the difference in the tournament. Dustin obviously played well enough to win if that putt breaks more on the last hole. But that’s his — shooting 5-under is about as good as I could have done on this golf course, I think.”
Spieth joins esteemed company in the history books with all the records he set or matched on Sunday. Obviously, very few others have won the first two majors of the year — it was last achieved by Tiger Woods in 2002. Spieth understands he’s become a member of an elite club, but considering the goals he set out for this season, it’s not that surprising in ways since he had his eye on the majors.
“The focus this year was on the majors,” he said. “The goals were on the majors. They weren’t on winning a certain number of times or getting into contention in a major. It was let’s find a winning formula in a major. I didn’t think that those names would be mentioned like that. That’s a piece of golf history, and as a golf historian, that’s very special and it gives me goose bumps, it’s amazing.
“Those names are the greatest that have ever played the game, and I don’t consider myself there. But certainly off to, I think, the right start in order to make an impact on the history of the game.”
Spieth was asked for more details on this “winning formula” he was referring to, but he was reticent to reveal much.
“I can’t give my secrets away,” he said. “That wouldn’t be right. No, it’s a feeling. It’s a mental attitude. It’s a certain focus. It’s a certain preparation.”
In other words, he always has a game plan, and clearly, it’s working out pretty well.
[Ed. note: I’m deliriously tired, so I’m not sure what I wrote makes any sense or if I said what I wanted to say. I’ll update this post after I get a couple hours of shut-eye. Thanks for your continued support.]