Tree to drain to clubhouse gutter: Jordan Spieth does the unthinkable at Texas Open

Jordan Spieth hits a ball at a clubhouse.

Jordan Spieth did the unthinkable Saturday.

Brennan Asplen/Getty Images

After Ludvig Aberg drove the 17th green despite his driver breaking at impact, NBC’s Steve Sands thought he’d seen it all Saturday at the Valero Texas Open.

Then Jordan Spieth came to the 18th hole.

Spieth started the third round of his home-state open in a tie for 10th and rebounded nicely after starting with back-to-back bogeys with four birdies to share seventh at five under as he played the final hole.

But while the 18th at TPC San Antonio may be a relatively easy par-5, the third easiest hole Saturday, the tee shot is no cakewalk. It’s the most difficult fairway to hit this week with just 28 percent of players finding it off the tee this week.

Spieth was not part of that 28 percent Saturday. He caught the toe and hooked his tee shot. It landed in the fairway, bounded through the dried-out grass and past the narrow strip of rough before finding itself in an unmaintained area of scraggly long grass and rocks. Spieth was 354 yards from the tee, but right under the base of a tree and near some big rocks.

He had the option of chipping out behind him and back to the fairway, but this is Jordan Spieth we’re talking about. You could tell his buddy, NBC’s Smylie Kaufman, who is in the lead analyst chair this week, was nervous.

“Oh man, Dan,” Kaufman said. “I think he’s going for something here. He’s going to try to hit this big high slice.”

‘It’s tricky’: How Jordan Spieth is told ‘no’ by caddie Michael Greller
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He tried it. It didn’t work.

His club ricocheted off the branch right in front of him and his ball bounced off another. NBC caught a shot of the ball as it dove into an area between what looked like a staging area and the brush left of the fairway.

Finally, the blimp located the ball. It was playable in a penalty area right before the staging area fencing, but there was a massive concrete drain between him and the hole.

“Are we headed to another Royal Birkdale rules situation without the dunes?” Dan Hicks joked, referring to Spieth’s magical 5 during the final round of the 2017 Open Championship that helped him secure the Claret Jug.

Kaufman then pointed out that it appeared Spieth would have gotten relief from a temporary immovable obstruction if he wasn’t in the penalty area. But since he was, there would be no relief.

Spieth arrived at his ball and jumped on the drain to get a better vantage point of his options, reminding Hicks again of the image of him standing on top of the sand dune at Birkdale when he played his shot from the practice grounds.

Spieth quickly realized he couldn’t take a swing at the green. So where could he play it?

He basically had two options: Take a drop from the penalty area or play a shot toward the TPC San Antonio clubhouse, which is to the left of the 18th hole, not behind the green.

Wait, the clubhouse?!

“If I hit it over on the deck, where would my drop be?” Spieth asked a rules official who had arrived on the scene.

“The drop would end up by the scoreboard?” wondered caddie Michael Greller.

Jordan Spieth didn’t have many options. So, naturally, he hit it at the clubhouse. NBC Sports

Spieth was legitimately contemplating hitting his ball at the clubhouse which is set nearly 100 yards off the fairway and Greller wasn’t trying to talk him out of it. NBC brought PGA Tour Senior Director of TV Rules Orlando Pope to explain why.

“The clubhouse is still in bounds so he’s trying to figure out which way to go there,” Pope said.

So, naturally, Spieth decided to hit at the clubhouse.

With plenty of risk of hitting the drain or enormous rocks around him, Spieth took a hack with a wedge, directly at the clubhouse. It carried the second-floor deck and landed on the roof.

“Of all the things I expected to see today Dan, I didn’t expect to see a ball on top—,” Kaufman said before Hicks finished his sentence.

“That’s on top of the roof!” Hicks said.

The entire broadcast team was flabbergasted. The ball rolled down to the gutter, reminiscent of Happy Gilmore’s winning putt around and through a fallen TV tower at the end of the film.

“I’m going to go out on a limb and say there’s never been a PGA Tour player who hit it in this area before,” said Curt Byrum.

NBC flew its drone over the gutter to get a close-up of the lonely ball.

Then, Spieth got a free drop some 70 yards back to the right, not far from the fairway. Pope explained that Spieth was getting a drop both from an immovable obstruction (the clubhouse) and then a temporary immovable obstruction (the scoreboard short of the 18th green), which he can do under rule 16.1a.

Spieth ended up with 124 yards to the hole from a native area with a few trees overhanging that he would have to keep his approach below.

“If he gets this up and down for par, we’re putting a plaque here,” Kaufman said.

He punched out and ran his ball up the green, but it couldn’t crest the ridge in the middle of the putting surface and rolled back about 10 feet.

After all that, Spieth had 54 feet for what could have been the most quintessential Spieth-par we had ever seen. It wasn’t to be. He left his first roll eight feet short and missed the second effort for a gut-wrenching double bogey. It was the only double bogey on 18 all day.

He fell from five under, in a tie for seventh, to three under and tie for 17th, and ended up 12 shots back of leader Akshay Bhatia after 54 holes.

Kaufman thought back on his friend’s decision on the second shot to try to hit the heroic recovery.

“That first decision he made, should he have just punched back into the fairway and taken that situation from the fairway instead?” Kaufman wondered allowed.

That wouldn’t have been very Spieth-like, now would it?

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