NEW PROVIDENCE, Bahamas — The most awkward moment at this week’s Hero World Challenge came on Monday afternoon, when Tiger Woods beat Jordan Spieth in the finals of the “Hero Shot,” a wedge-off exhibition that took place at the Grand Hyatt Baha Mar’s largest swimming pool.
Woods was asked immediately after winning what kind of bragging rights this would give him. “Oh my God, they have no idea,” he said, looking at his competitors. “We have a 20-hour flight, so some of these guys are going to get harassed pretty good.”
The awkward part, of course, is that Spieth won’t be on that flight to Melbourne, Australia; he’ll be headed home to Dallas. Woods’ comments weren’t meant as a slight, of course — he most likely forgot, for just a split-second, that Spieth isn’t on this year’s Presidents Cup team. But it’s clear that Spieth hasn’t forgotten. There’s no way he could.
If Jordan Spieth were looking to escape the Presidents Cup, he should have stayed far away from the Hero World Challenge. The place feels like a U.S. locker room. There are 15 Americans in this week’s field, and 11 will be headed to Australia together on a jet after Saturday’s round. They’re already on a group text. Spieth isn’t.
It gets worse. On his way to the Bahamas, Spieth spent the weekend in Jupiter, Fla., where he crashed with his buddies Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas, both Presidents Cuppers. On Sunday they played some team matches with Gary Woodland and Patrick Cantlay, two more U.S. team members. A fun weekend, to be sure — but filled with reminders that they’re prepping for Melbourne, and he’s not.
“It won’t really necessarily hit me until guys are over there and the tournament’s being played, but I went to Florida and stayed with Justin and Rick over the weekend, so I certainly knew they were getting ready to go,” Spieth said after his pro-am round on Tuesday.
The recent arc of Spieth’s career has been amply covered, and his demise greatly exaggerated; of late he hasn’t been great, but he’s hardly hopeless, either. His last win came at the 2017 Open Championship, when he was still the Golden Boy and claimed his third leg of the career grand slam at just 23 years old. He’s dropped to No. 44 in the world now, although he’s missed just one cut since the Players Championship last March and notched five top-10s over that span. But the success that propelled him onto the last five U.S. teams only makes missing this one more difficult.
Patrick Reed said he feels for Spieth, his longtime match play partner. “Once you’ve been on ‘em, you always want to get back,” he says of the tight-knit U.S. teams. Reed was dismayed not to make this year’s team on points, but earned a captain’s pick with a run of strong play.
Spieth and Fowler may have found some comfort in commiseration, being on the outside looking in — but then Brooks Koepka pulled out, and Rickie was in with a late captain’s pick. Here’s hoping Spieth didn’t tune in to his buddy’s presser on Tuesday to hear just how painful it would have been to miss the team. Some selections:
-“It does suck not to be a part of the crew and the team, and especially like you said, leading up and the guys going to dinner, having a team dinner. You’re like, all right, I’ll just go get room service and hang by myself.”
-“No, there are weeks and those months leading up, the times that you want to be a part of that, you definitely don’t want to be on the outside. Like I said, that’s part of the motivation.”
-“I think that’s something that you’ve heard from Tiger and Phil talk about multiple times is that the team events are special weeks, but it’s not always just about that one week, that camaraderie and brotherhood, the group texts.”
You get the idea. Once you’ve been on these teams, it’s no fun to be off them.
As a result, Spieth is at the Hero working on his game, searching for some answers that will get him shipshape for the new year. His swing feels “okay,” he said. “Just working on some stuff to try and get it back to where it was kinda years 2015-17; we found some stuff that was certainly different so we’re trying to work it back…we’ll just see,” he said.
Any specific swing thoughts he’d care to share? “No, not really.”
What’s clear is that the trip to Jupiter was eye-opening, serving as a reminder that half the U.S. Team (and six of the world’s top seven) live within miles of one another and regularly meet up for games. That happens far less often in Dallas.
“It’s amazing what they’re able to do on a daily basis in South Florida, the guys that they can round together. It’s certainly an advantage, for them being able to do that every day. It was fun to be a part of it, at least for one day.
“After seeing that, it’ll be something that I’ll consider trying to go there in the winter months, maybe, as a place to practice and work. Maybe I’ll make another trip or two before the new year.”
Spieth isn’t hiding from the fact that he’s missing this year’s Presidents Cup; instead he’s trying to make sure it never happens again. If being here this week can serve as extra motivation, well, that’s all the better. 2020 is a Ryder Cup year, after all.
“Missing the Presidents Cup isn’t something that was very fun for me,” he concluded. “So I don’t wanna miss any of those events any more.”
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