Even for the greatest players, golf sometimes turns into a public autopsy.
It can strip you bare and open you up for everyone to see what is inside you.
Character or lack of it, maturity and childishness, strengths and weaknesses, flaws and failings — all come tumbling out for the world to examine.
So it was on Sunday for Jordan Spieth, who was derailed on Amen Corner and overtaken by the opportunistic new Masters champ Danny Willett.
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It’s been called a meltdown, collapse or a choke, but mostly it was golf being golf.
In the long run, Spieth’s failing on Sunday will make him more dangerous to opponents who may lurk in his wake in Sunday back-nines of future majors.
He’d been so dominant at times the past year or so that he may end up being even more appealing to those fans who understand golf’s cruelties by showing that he is, in fact, human.
Remember that Arnold Palmer was beloved as much for the style in which he lost as the ways in which he won.
As smart as he is, Spieth might look back at the tournament and take further counsel from a fellow sufferer of golf’s whimsical sadism — Ernie Els.
Els unintentionally provide the best lesson in sportsmanship on Thursday’s first round when he six-putted from inside three feet on the first hole, yet soldiered on for next 35 holes — entrails dragging — without breaking a club, cursing aloud or incinerating the entire glorious expanse of Augusta National.
Spieth’s travails were more costly, since he was on the verge of his second consecutive Masters title. His bogey-bogey-quadruple bogey streak left many wondering how he’ll recovery psychologically from not winning his third major title in the span of five such competitions.
Please. Really, please. Anybody who saw Spieth run away with last year’s Masters and then win the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay — while still just 21 — knows this kid is made of nails.
The back nine of that Open resembled a bar fight at closing time, and Spieth was the last man standing. He showed that day that he was absurdly mature for his age, playing like a savvy veteran and grasping a critical truism of golf: The greats get that way not by being perfect, but by minimizing the damage of their inevitable mistakes.
In this Masters, he had played well off his best all week and still had a five-stroke lead heading into the back nine. When he baptized a couple balls on 12, he fell four strokes out of the lead, but still managed to rally for a couple birdies to tie for second — a position I suspect that would have delighted Jason Day, Rory McIlroy and many dozens of others.
In the wake, there’s been some divided opinion on how Spieth responded to the disappointment. I thought he answered his questions in his media session with a civil tone and full accountability.
In other words, extraordinarily well for a 22-year old.
Which brings us back to Els, the South African with four major titles on his resume. He’s 46 and already is a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame. After opening with a six-putt nine, he could have grabbed his back and withdrawn, or goofed off the rest of the way.
But he not only finished but rallied on Friday to a one-over 73 on a difficult windy day. Not that it’s such a hardship for somebody to have to play a couple rounds at Augusta, but he certainly didn’t take an easy way out or play the sulking prima donna.
Els’ wife, Liezl, was there to witness the debacle. She told the New York Times: “To me, as his wife, what happened after he walked off No. 1 in the first round made my admiration for him grown by leaps and bounds. What he showed our children when he kept playing makes me so proud.”
Els wasn’t eager to pat himself on the back. “You play long enough, you make a fool out of yourself somewhere, but I did it on the biggest stage,” he said before adding a sentence that is an important message to Spieth.
“But, I’ll try to take something out of this.”
Spieth will win many more majors. He’s too good and too tough to be sidetracked by taking second this week. And all that will speed up if accepts the lessons of failure and moves on.
Dave Boling: 253-597-8440, email@example.com, @dboling