Sunday at the Masters has always been a tradition in our family. Back in Conroe, Texas, my parents, brothers, and I would watch — pulling for Jack Nicklaus or whomever was our favorite at the time.
I still remember, 30 years ago this week, the amazing Sunday that Nicklaus put together. He shot a final round 65 (–7), with a back nine of 30 (–6), for a total score of 279 (–9).
At age 46, he became the oldest winner of the Masters. He was a few years younger than my dad — and everyone thought that my father looked like Jack. That was a great day.
In the last decade, I’ve lost my mom, dad, and my younger brother Bill. Watching the Masters on Sunday helps me feel closer to them (and to my two living brothers who live in different states).
This past Sunday looked to be another terrific day. It appeared that Jordan Spieth would win the Masters for the second year in a row. (He had an amazing year in 2015, winning two of the four majors, and getting second and fourth in the other two.) As I watched the front nine, I saw Spieth close with four birdies and make the turn to the back nine in a solid position to win, up five on his nearest competitor.
Then, the wheels began to come off. Spieth bogeyed #10 & #11, coming to the short par 3 #12 with the famous Rae’s Creek flowing in front of the green. You can watch what happened next here:
While Spieth had a disastrous quadruple bogey on the 12th, Danny Willett played an excellent final round and was crowned the Masters Champion.
It was hard to watch Spieth’s breakdown. And we shouldn’t take away from what Willett did to win. He played excellent golf.
But for sport psychology, it is worth watching the post-match interview with Spieth. He explains what happened to him — mentally, tactically, physically — as he began to play the back nine.
Spieth looked at the leaderboard and changed his decision-making and shot-making strategies. He began to protect a lead, by playing more conservatively. This led to a change in his swing speed, particularly on the 12th, where he was not committed fully to each shot.
Spieth admitted that he decided to play it safe, and the safe play choked him.
“I knew par was good enough and maybe that’s what hurt me … just wasn’t quite aggressive,” Spieth said.
“I said, ‘Buddy, it looks like we’re collapsing,’ ” said Jordan Spieth.
What can we learn from this day? Clearly, it is important to continue to play with confidence and “with what got you there.” I talk about this a lot with teams and individuals with whom I work. Don’t begin changing things for “the big game” or the “big moments” in a competition. You will feel more nervous, for sure, but that is all the more reason to stay with the aggressive mentality. I like to remind athletes that you can mentally be the pursuer and not the pursued, no matter what the game situation.
A little trick that I’ve been using with some of my athletes is to have them wear a green band (or draw a green dot on their hand) — signifying “all in.” It reminds the athlete(s) to stay in the moment, commit to the action, and not change the decision-making process to play more conservatively.
Easier said than done… but it is something Spieth will learn and grow from. He has some more exciting Masters Sundays ahead of him, I’m sure.