The Unplayable Shot that Won the Open!
If He Had Not Missed That Tee Shot So Badly, His Struggles Probably Would Have Continued.
How awesome it would have been to be able to read his mind. We can make some pretty strong assumptions about what he was thinking and feeling based on his comments and the remarkable way he handled the adversity of Sunday’s last round in the Open at Royal Birkdale.
Jordan did not mean to play that terrible tee shot on 13. He was trying so hard to keep his round together, to avoid giving away the Open Championship. It was his to lose. Overnight he had a three shot lead. His closest competitor was experienced and steady. Jordan struggled from the first hole. His erratic putting was back. His putting had been plaguing him all year. His ball striking was as good or better than 2015 but his putting was a problem.
The first three rounds at Royal Birkdale were solid, workmanlike and brilliant at times. His putting was pretty good. His short game was magical keeping him in the tournament and in the lead.
So what was wrong on Sunday? Jordan said all the right things on Saturday after his round. He knew what he needed to do mentally. He had to keep doing the right things. He had to manage himself and his thoughts. But it wasn’t working. His try was failing. Self doubt was up and most likely arousal was up over his putts. So they did not feel good and were not executed well. We believe his commitment was not as good as it needed to be for good putting.
Three over through 12 holes. Tied with his competition. Missing putts. Advantage Kuchar, who was playing steady and solid while Jordan was struggling.
Another challenging tee shot on 13. Jordan had missed several today. It would be natural for any of us to hold on a little. To try to guide that tee shot, to avoid another miss and keep the tournament from slipping away. So we believe Jordan held on or tried to make sure he hit the ball perfect and the result was a club face open at impact and the shot way right, out of sight.
What was going through Jordan’s mind now? His hands went to his head watching the shot. Oh NO. Panic? Fear? Self reproach for a miss under the Major Championship pressure. Visions of a 6 or 7 on the hole. He said as much later.
Then the worst you can imagine when he got there, an unplayable shot and penalty with no good area to drop for the next shot. The only decent drop area Jordan had was on the range, among the equipment trailers, behind some of the highest dunes on the course. On any other course he would have been out of bounds.
Time is passing and Jordan is well aware he is holding things up. Yet he still keeps his composure and makes his decisions. Thoughts of winning or losing have receded in the face of the immediate demands of the situation. Survival is all. Jordan must play a blind shot well with all the pressure for outcome you can imagine.
This situation and his thinking are what changed him from the previous careful, controlled, don’t make a mistake Jordan to the committed, all in, fully focussed on this shot Jordan with permission to swing freely and putt freely.
Players often play trouble shots or blind shots better because the shot forces them to imagine the shot, the ball traveling in a certain way toward the target. The trouble shot makes them do an effective pre-shot routine. Often the swing or shot is unusual so they are further pushed from their normal, swing centric thinking and process.
Then he ran up the dune and back to the hole for his next shot. The run would have accessed his athletic self and further separated himself from his previous, struggling state. This reinforced that now was different. Players seldom run on the golf course in competition. We believe the running was good for him. It settled him down further.
The pitch was not easy. The putt was not a gimme, especially since he had been struggling to putt earlier in the round and this year. But for Jordan, he was different from before. We believe he approached the shot without worries but rather with commitment and conviction.
This shot was super important to his chances. Making it would be like making a birdie. He would save a shot and only be one shot back. Grit and courage and self assurance are part of Jordan and he used them to execute the putt without the self doubt that had been plaguing him on the first 12 holes. He had changed his thinking and his physical state.
Super Jordan was playing.
The next hole was a par 3, small green and wind to consider. Kuchar went first and came up short of the green. Jordan swung confidently and aggressively. He nearly made a hole in one. Then he calmly rolled in the short putt.
Super Jordan hit his tee shot confidently and aggressively on the par 5. He hit his approach confidently and aggressively to pin high but 48 feet away. He confidently and aggressively rolled the putt for Eagle.
Super Jordan continued to play all the way into the clubhouse.
No longer worried about losing. No longer concerned with making mistakes and playing carefully. Jordan freed himself up with that unplayable shot and changed himself into Super Jordan. With his new attitude and freedom, Jordan demanded his Open.
He left us all in awe.
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