Commentary

Jordan Spieth learning on the job

Updated: April 15, 2014, 9:46 PM ET
By Farrell Evans | ESPN.com

The Masters Tournament placed Jordan Spieth under a microscope in a way that showcased both his abundant talents and warts.

His every shot, emotion and grimace were on display for the world.

When was he going to show his age? How would he handle the pressure? Was he fully prepared for this moment?

Every wunderkind, no matter the profession, is confronted with these questions.

In Spieth, we saw at Augusta National a precocious 20-year-old Dallas native with a masterful short game and the determination to rise to the occasion on the biggest stage in golf. But we also witnessed a young man not yet fully in command of his golf swing and emotions.

Almost as soon as the world began to fully grasp the possibility of Spieth becoming the youngest ever Masters champion after he took a 2-shot lead heading into the eighth hole Sunday, this perfect story began to unravel as his youth and inexperience contributed to thwarting his chances of winning his first green jacket.

Yes, Bubba Watson was masterful in claiming his second Masters title in three years. His otherworldly length off the tee and ability to shape the ball around Augusta's jagged edges and uneven lies was unmatched during the tournament. But an older, more composed Spieth would likely have given Watson an epic fight on the back nine. Instead, the young Texan played his last 11 holes 3 over par after going 3 under through his first seven.

In those last 11 holes, fighting nerves, inexperience and his swing, Spieth let his frustrations pour out in ways that undermined his spectacular talent and maturity in just his second year on tour.

A very congenial and polite professional, the former Texas Longhorn displayed none of this polish when he slammed his club into the manicured turf of Augusta National after an errant approach shot to the 10th green, or at the 13th tee when he complained aloud about getting a gust of wind when it was his turn to play.

Spieth was likely not the only player to make an outward display of anger during the final round. But not everyone was in his position. With a chance to win, he must maintain his composure at all times. Still, he showed a great deal of toughness under difficult circumstances.

"Jordan's desire to mentally compete is superior to his golf swing," said Mitchell Spearman, a noted instructor who has worked with a number of tour players including Nick Faldo, Nick Price, Nick O'Hern and now Billy Hurley III.

For most of the final round, Spieth struggled with his driver swing, according to Spearman, who teaches at the Isleworth Country Club in Windermere, Fla., where Watson also lives.

On several occasions, Spieth's hand came off the driver post impact, which is an indication of not hitting it in the middle of the clubface.

"I would encourage Jordan to lengthen out of his right-hand grip to get a little wider at the top to probably mellow out his bowed wrist," said Spearman, who played the European Tour in the early 1980s with Spieth's college coach, John Fields. "Jordan's bent left arm, a byproduct of his grip, allows the lower body to outrace the club."

With a swing built more on timing than excellent mechanics, Spieth has to be dialed in perfectly. He is also capable of pulling off the kind of short-game brilliance that he showed at the Masters.

Spearman says that if Spieth had Charles Howell III's pure ballstriking to go with his short game and competitiveness, he would be very difficult to beat.

"But Jordan's approach to golf of compete first and swing second has proved to be more successful than those who focus on having a beautiful swing," Spearman said. "He may not be as technically proficient as some of the other top young players, namely Rory McIlroy and Jason Day, but he's not far off and he's got more of a Jack Nicklaus mind than either of those guys, which is what you would rather have."

After finishing with an even-par 72 for a tie for second with Jonas Blixt, Spieth conceded that he could have benefited from more course knowledge, which will certainly accrue over the next decade, as he becomes a regular contender at the Masters.

"I learned that I actually can have patience," he said about the experience of being on center stage at the Masters. "That's something I've been struggling with when in these kind of positions.

"That's why I don't think I've won more when I've had a chance to. I think this week I proved to myself that if I can go in with that kind of attitude, that I'll be successful more often than not."

How far he will go in this game will depend on how patient he can be with himself and the success that is sure to come. Learning from the warts that were exposed Sunday at Augusta can only help him get better.

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