Southport, July 23, 2017: The morning in Southport was brightened by the pleasant summer sunshine. Other than that it was an uninspiring Sunday morning that was meant to serve just one purpose. Jordan Spieth, with a three shot lead in the bag, was to march away to a comfortable open victory. Matt Kuchar was three shots back, but the rest of the field was too far behind to aspire for Open Championship silver.
Kuchar has never won a major tournament through an otherwise illustrious golfing career that includes top ten finishes in each of the majors. Spieth is a young tyrant who established an empire of his own by winning the Masters and US Open as a 21 year old upstart.
The mood inside the media room was cognitive of the dull scenario that was to unfold through the day. On the grounds, as the early groups made their way past the first tee, there was a mild applause of resignation that accompanied their seemingly pointless journey through the final round.
The fact that no one really burnt the course at Royal Birkdale added to the growing sense of ennui. As the waiting continued for the final groups to step out after noon, Haotong Li, a young Chinese golfer with enormous promise provided much needed relief.
Haotong birdied his last four holes to take his tally of birdies to seven, signing on a memorable final round 63. At six under, he scented opportunity. He mustered it might be worth keeping warm in anticipation of a playoff.
An unexpected twist brought the milling crowds and twiddling experts back to life with a sudden jolt. Spieth, playing as though he were an amateur who stumbled into the course, made bogeys on three of the first four holes to bring the final round to life. The 23 year old was erratic off the tee and tentative on the greens.
As he marched past the bend, Spieth had needed 37 strokes compared to 34 for Kuchar, wiping out the overnight cushion. The quality of Spieth’s golf was inexplicably shaky, even posing a constant threat to the healthy collection of spectators that lined the Birkdale course.
The situation came to a real head when Spieth drove far enough right to hit a spectator that wasn’t even watching the unfolding drama on the 13th hole. The ball rested in the thick foliage on the down slope of a mound.
Needing to take a drop, Spieth showed remarkable poise and ability to conceive a shot under the enormous duress of a prospective meltdown. On a Sunday at the Open Championship.
He walked back 50 yards into the practice range, to the side of a Titleist truck, finding a flat piece of land to work his way back. With no view of the green or the flag, he used his caddie Michael Greller as a compass to carve out a shot that reached the vicinity of the green.
Eventually, Spieth would consume 29 minutes to navigate that definitive passage of play. But when he came out the other end with a bogey on the card, he was a new man. Kuchar was in the lead by one, but it barely mattered.
The rejuvenated Texan was walking with a spring in his step, a confidence that is acquired from the cathartic process of scrubbing the scars from a painful past. The conversation this afternoon did circle back to the Masters in 2016, when Spieth squandered a five stroke lead by drowning in the ponds around Amen corner.
“Closing in a major today was extremely important for the way I look at myself. I thought before the round, ‘I have a reputation as being able to close’, but I was hesitant in saying ‘majors’,” said the delighted Spieth.
And here he was, soaring on the back of a bogey that felt like an eagle. He would play the next four holes in five under to escape into the distance. Kuchar couldn’t help but cast a look of envy toward his surging opponent. The 39-year-old was barely putting a step in the wrong place – yet, despite two birdies of his own, the ground beneath him had already shifted.
“It’s hard to explain,” said a visibly devastated Kuchar. “It’s crushing. It hurts.
“You work so hard to get to this position and to have a chance to make history and win a championship. You don’t get that many opportunities. And to be this close, to taste it with five holes to go, it’s a hard one to sit back and take.”
As Spieth made the final putt and let out a cry of exultation, there was universal acknowledgment of the young man’s mental fortitude. He ended the day much as he started it, with a three stroke margin, but the journey could not have been imagined or scripted in more dramatic fashion.
“It took an errant drive and a crazy drop to get me going,” added Spieth. “After that putt on 13 I felt a lot more comfortable because I felt I made a putt that really mattered from six feet; that just was enough to say we’re still in this tournament.”
“This is as much of a high as I enjoyed in my golfing life and I’m going to enjoy it more than anything I’ve accomplished in the past.”
Spieth’s victory decorated another major Sunday with just the kind of epiphany needed to celebrate and grow the game of golf. His exhibition of resilience and character will come to define his legend and it will be told through the story of this 146th Open Championship.