What you can learn from Jordan Spieth’s epic 12th-hole Masters collapse

March 21, 2017

On Masters Sunday last year, Jordan Spieth reached the par-3 12th hole—named “Golden Bell”—with a one-shot lead over Danny Willett. The young Texan left with his bell rung, dunking two balls into Rae’s Creek en route to a quadruple-bogey 7. In just a few calamitous minutes, the 2015 champion had gone from a cakewalk to the walking dead. Other than reminding us how fast fortunes can change at Amen Corner, what can everyday players take away from this shocking debacle?

Give Up Your “Rights”

On the 12th tee, Spieth and his caddie, Michael Greller, decided to play safe and hit a draw to the fat of the green, rather than go after the tantalizing right-cut pin; this would take the water and the front bunkers out of play. But once over the ball, Spieth got greedy and tried to fade it toward the pin. His shot flew short and right, landed on the front bank and rolled into the drink.

Spieth’s trouble actually began long before he got to 12, says Top 100 Teacher Brady Riggs. The Masters champ had struggled all year with flared iron shots.

“When the ball shoots out to the right, it travels a shorter distance because the clubface is open at impact,” Riggs says. “This creates more spin, more loft, and a loss of distance and direction. Never try to hit a fade with an iron when you’re struggling with this shot, especially when there’s trouble short and right.”

The 12th hole was designed to punish shots that miss right, and Spieth made matters worse by attempting to pull off the wrong shot shape at the wrong target. How should weekend players handle a similar situation? The key, Riggs says, is to hone a reliable anti-right swing. Just strengthen your grip, move the ball up in your stance to promote a shot that goes left. And fully commit to a smart strategy.

“Pick a target that takes the trouble out of play and stick with it,” Riggs adds. “Even if you aim directly into a bunker, you’re still better off than in the water.”

Conquer the Chunk

After taking his penalty drop about 80 yards from the flag, Spieth compounded his problems by dunking his next shot into Rae’s Creek. The enormous divot was evidence of a chunked wedge.

“Follow a tried-and-true technique that Nick Faldo used,” Riggs says. “On the follow-through, get your belt buckle all the way to the target. If you stop turning, the club buries behind the ball, producing a chunk. Keep turning, and you’ll catch the ball first.”

Relax in a “Riptide”

Spieth’s 7 on “Golden Bell” made the headlines, but it followed bogeys at Nos. 10 and 11. Mental-game expert Bhrett McCabe suggests that on the 12th hole, Spieth got caught in a psychological riptide, referring to the dangerous ocean current that can make swimmers panic.

In a real riptide, McCabe says, “The simple solution is to swim parallel to the shore until you find a place where the current eases and you can get back to the beach. But people panic and try to fight the tide, making the situation worse.” In other words, battling the bad mojo only caused more problems for Spieth.

To free yourself from a riptide, McCabe offers a three-step approach to steady the most nerve-jangled golfer. “Take a deep breath to slow your heart rate, defer to your reliable go-to shot and pick a very specific, safe target. Get out of your mind and “get external,” and you’re more likely to succeed.”

Indeed, after his round last year, Spieth admitted, “I didn’t take that extra deep breath and really focus on my line on No. 12. Instead I went up and just put a quick swing on it.”

To his credit, he bounced back after the 12th hole disaster with birdies on two of the next three holes. Which leads to one last lesson: Be a quick study.