How TTW Techniques Might Have Helped Jordan Spieth

(Before we go any further, you might enjoy reading this article by Rick Reilly about the twelfth hole at Augusta National, from the April 2, 1990, issue of Sports Illustrated. It's a long piece, but gives a great sense of how challenging No. 12 historically has been. Money quote: "The best hole in the country is the 12th at Augusta National. … Jack Nicklaus calls it 'the hardest tournament hole in golf.'"

One more thing: Keep in mind that, irrespective of the difficulty, everyone plays the same hole.)

The central idea and understanding of the TTW project is that the techniques that could help Tiger regain his dominance (or at least start playing golf with pleasure again) are the same techniques an amateur would use to improve her game, and vice versa. With that perspective in mind, today I'd like to explore what Jordan Spieth could have done differently on the first three holes of the back nine in the final round of the Masters.

Let's review the situation one more time. Spieth finished the front-nine with four straight birdies, giving himself a five-shot lead going into the final nine holes of the tournament. Here's an outline of all of his shots on ten, eleven and twelve:

  • Ten (Par 4)

    • Tee shot: 3-wood. Off to the right, into the rough.
    • Second shot: Short and right, into the front-right bunker by the green.
    • Third shot: From the sand, well short.
    • Fourth shot: Medium-length putt, missed.
    • Fifth shot: Makes the putt.
    • Result: Bogey
  • Eleven (Par 4)

    • Tee shot: Driver. Well right, into the trees.
    • Second shot: No shot at the green. Pitches out to center of fairway.
    • Third shot: From 122 yards, right at the pin. Lovely shot.
    • Fourth shot: Putt, about 6 feet, missed just below the hole.
    • Fifth shot: Makes the putt.
    • Result: Bogey
  • Twelve (Par 3)

    • Tee shot: Short and to the right. Falls back into Rae's Creek.
    • Second shot: (Penalty)
    • Third shot: Wedge from maybe 80 yards, hit fat, right into the creek.
    • Fourth shot: (Penalty)
    • Fifth shot: From same place as last shot, hits back of green, bounces into the sand.
    • Sixth shot: Out of sand, close to pin.
    • Seventh shot: Makes the putt.
    • Result: Quadruple bogey

(Also worth remembering: two years ago, in his first Masters, Spieth had come to twelve chasing the lead on the final day and had hit short and to the right and seen his ball bounce back into the water.)

Seeing it written out like that, the pattern is kind of hard to miss. With the exception of his second and third shots on eleven--the former a high-margin shot, the latter a beautifully hit wedge--every shot he hit on the back nine (excluding putts), up until the fifth shot on twelve, was short and to the right.

What do you think was going through his head as he stepped up to the tee on 12? How likely do you think it is that he was thinking, "Don't hit it short and right?"

Pretty likely, I'd say.

One of Jerry's teachings is "The body doesn't know 'not.'" That is, the abstraction of "not" has no energetic meaning to the body. When we say to ourselves, "Don't hit it to the right," the energy in the body is, "Hit it to the right."

In last week's piece, I noted that something changed substantially with that fifth shot at twelve. I bet Spieth was thinking something like, "I'll hit it toward the back of the green. If it goes into the bunker, fine." And by changing his conceptualization of the shot into something with a higher margin for error, and with a positive visualization without a corresponding negative one (i.e. no "don't hit it right"), he changed his energy. Again, for proof, I offer that he made an comfortable up-and-down from the bunker, then birdied the par-5 13th and par-4 14th.

So from a TTW perspective, what might we offer to Jordan Spieth to keep this sort of thing from happening again, or to stave it off when it starts to happen?

A regular practice of centering might have helped. As I noted in my piece from two weeks ago, I noticed as he addressed the ball on ten that he collapsed his shoulders forward. Energetically, this is a way of protecting the heart center, and is usually a sign of trying to keep fear at bay. With practice, he might have noticed that in fighting his fear, he was pulling himself out of center, and then been able to re-center himself.

By the time he hit his second shot on ten, and certainly by his third, he should have been able to notice that he was establishing a pattern in his shots. Again, by this point, taking a few moments to re-center would likely have helped him.

Another possibility would have been to change the energy of the situation by changing the parameters for success. Narrow parameters for success, when not met, lead to feelings of failure and a diminishing of energy. Broader parameters for success make success much more likely, and success leads to positive changes in energy-- literally, success helps beget more success.

Now, this approach is no panacea. Spieth said later that part of the problem was that he got conservative after the turn. Perhaps that's why he grabbed 3-wood instead of driver on 10. A 3-wood is a higher margin club than driver, but nevertheless his tee shot on 10 went to the right, into the long grass. So something was different between his high-margin approach on the tee on 10 and his high-margin fifth shot on 12.

The point here isn't to engage in endless counterfactuals. It's to suggest that there are strategies to counteract a swing toward negative energy. Centering alone might be enough. Playful imagining might work. Changing the parameters of success and failure can help. Many of these tools involve using the thinking mind to generate a positive imagined outcome, which is unlikely to succeed without a means--like centering--to turn the process over to the body's intuition.

Jordan Spieth has all the physical tools to be a great golf champion, but what we saw at Augusta during the final round this year tells us that he doesn't yet fully have the energetic tools. (Jordan: call us. We can help.) He'll need to develop them, or he'll end up in exactly the same situation again and again.

And as for the rest of us? We, too, need to develop our energetic skills, or we too will end up playing out the same patterns again and again in our lives.

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