The turn of events on the back nine this past Sunday at the Masters may have been shocking but in a way it was an appropriate ending for a tournament whose first memorable moment was Ernie Els’ horrific six-putt from two feet on the first hole. Ernie’s nightmare on the first was a classic example of the sort of thing you hear about and can’t believe, so you have to see it for yourself, and then once you’ve seen it you wish you hadn’t because there is something terrifying about seeing a member of Golf’s Hall of Fame caught in some vicious circle of hell where he cannot for the life of him get the ball to drop into the hole. It’s also worth remembering that the Big Easy’s fly swatting exhibition was something very few golfers have ever seen. Yeah, of course we’ve seen the full array of lousy shots and misses and all the rest, but any of us, even a particular playing partner of mine, would have given him the fourth or the fifth putt. Only a sadist would have made him keep on putting.
Which brings me to the other bookend for the weekend, Jordan at the 12th. If Ernie at the first hole was the unimaginable, Jordan at the 12th was the unexpected enactment of the familiar. All of a sudden one of the best in the world looked like any of the crappy golfers most of us spend our weekends with. And to be clear, it isn’t the first shot I’m talking about. It was that chicken-winged turf excavation that he executed after taking his drop. That was the money shot, or to be more accurate, the Not-Going-to-Get-Another-Jacket shot.
Now a common response among golfers to mishaps such as this is to cite them as evidence of how hard the game is. I don’t exactly agree. The shock value comes from something different. The standard appraisal of the golf games of players on the PGA tour is that they are playing a different game than the rest of us: the monumental distance off the tee, the precision of the approach shots. the deft touch out of the bunker and around the green. But when Jordan Speith chunks his third shot into Rae’s Creek he turns things upside down. He’s no longer playing a different game, now he’s playing our game and it’s very unsettling for us to see that.