Defending champion Jordan Spieth admitted he was more than a little taken aback by his reaction as he returned the Claret Jug to the R&A at Carnoustie yesterday.
The Texan, who completed the third leg of a career Grand Slam in dramatic fashion at Birkdale 12 months ago by winning the Open Championship by three shots from Matt Kuchar, had not realised there was a traditional ceremony for the champion golfer to hand back golf’s oldest trophy to the organisers.
“It wasn’t an enjoyable experience what you guys had me do there, but it’s done,” Spieth, 24, said. “So, yeah, hopefully only out of my possession for a week, which would be ideal. The traditions of the Open are very special, even if you’re on the wrong end of that one.
It didn’t really hit me. I thought maybe somebody would meet me in the parking lot, and I’d just give them the case back, and we’d move on. But it was a ceremony, and because of that, it actually hit me harder.
“I was like, man, this was in my possession. I took it to all the places that allowed me to get to where I am today. My family was able to take it around. Members of the team were able to take it.
“It’s the coolest trophy that our sport has to offer. So having to return that was certainly difficult.”
In his short career as a professional, Spieth has become used to being the centre of attention and he was certainly that at Birkdale during last year’s final round when he was locked in a last-day duel with Kuchar. The turning point in the battle came, bizarrely, when Spieth sliced his tee shot on 13 the wrong side of a massive dune, precipitating a lengthy rules debate with the referee to establish where from where he could play his next shot, eventually playing from behind an equipment truck on the practice ground.
Having led after each of the first three rounds, he suddenly fell behind for the first time with five to play but the delay at 13 proved to affect Kuchar more than Spieth, who finished birdie, eagle, birdie, birdie, par to match his rival’s 69 and win by three.
I just remember a couple things: One, how long it took on 13 versus how long it felt it took,” Spieth said yesterday of watching back the drama on TV.
“It felt like I was making decision, decision, decision, decision kind of quickly, concisely, and on TV I was very annoyed. I had to fast forward through it.
“And then how quickly it looked from when I finished on 13 to tee off on 14 and how long that time felt, that regrouping actually felt like — I remember using the rest room. I remember kind of regrouping. But on watching the coverage, I finished 13, all of a sudden I’m on 14, and I looked like a different person — demeanour, player, everything. But it felt like I had all this time. So it was kind of the opposite there when I was watching it. Kind of weird.”
As to the idea of taking a drop on the practice ground, way back from where the ball came to rest but in line of sight, Spieth took ownership ahead of his caddie Michael Greller.
“It was my idea. I’ll certainly claim that one. Michael was pretty adamant about going back and re-teeing.
“When we figured out that that yardage was a yardage I could reach the green, it made sense that I could hit it up around the green, and it would have been my best chance to make the best score.”
Spieth agreed it was one the best decisions he has made on a golf course.
“Yeah, absolutely. It had to be the best, yeah, considering the timing and what it led to.”
Not that Spieth is looking to repeat the drama any time soon.
“I’ve had plenty of tournaments where I’ve made it very boring coming down the stretch, and I’ve had plenty of tournaments where it’s been exciting, good and bad. And that needed excitement to get it back, obviously, but if I could go back and redo it again, I would 100% make three birdies and no bogeys and just walk my way up the 18th green and win the Claret Jug.”