Jason Day’s drive. Jordan Spieth’s flop shot. Zach Johnson’s putt.
Major championships produce shots that can be more memorable than the winner holding the trophy. Zach Johnson with a claret jug? The more lasting image from the British Open was Johnson holding his crouch and slowly clenching his fist on the 18th green at St. Andrews.
And then there are shots that stand out only to the player.
The three major champions were asked what they thought was the signature shot from their victory, along with a shot that was particularly pleasing to them because of the circumstances or the quality of the shot.
In a wire-to-wire win, the biggest moment for Spieth was on the 18th hole in the third round. A seven-shot lead only 20 minutes earlier was down to four shots, and it looked certain to shrink even more when he missed the 18th green well to the right behind the bunker. In a risky move, Spieth hit a flop shot that helped him save par and set the tone for the final round.
“That was the key shot,” he said. “You could pitch it 15 feet in front and hit it hard enough to at least be on the green. But given the severity of that slope, it’s going to roll out. A good shot would be 15 feet. I decided to hit a higher one and spin it. That shot is certainly one I don’t want over again. It was 1 in 5 getting it up and down.”
Not so obvious was the 5-iron on the par-5 13th. He had about 190 yards to the front from the left side of the fairway, but the ball was nearly knee-high because of the slope. He was coming off a three-putt bogey on No. 12. The danger comes from ball above his feet because the swing is flatter with less speed, and the ball won’t go as far.
Spieth provided his own commentary: “Go hard! GO HARD! GO HARD! GO!” It narrowly cleared the creek and set up a two-putt birdie. Asked how many times he barked instructions to his golf ball, Spieth said, “Less out loud than what was in my head. But still enough.”
The winning shot for Spieth turned out to be a 3-wood on the par-5 18th at Chambers Bay, and he felt he couldn’t miss.
“I had 281 (yards), but I only had 238 to cover the front,” he said. “The only other option was this 3-iron I was carrying, but it was off an up slope. I hit 3-wood and cut it. As long as I hit a fade, nothing could go wrong, so ultimately I ended up in a perfect yardage. I could miss it really bad and carry the front.”
It bounded to the back of the green and rolled back to about 10 feet for a two-putt birdie.
Lost in a wild final hour was a simple par that really wasn’t that simple. Spieth’s tee shot on the par-3 15th rolled back off the front, and the slope was much like the elevation at Augusta National — you have to see it to believe it.
“That slope was taller than me,” he said. “You had to judge the speed the right way. I had to cast it out to the right, but if I hit it too hard it goes 12 feet by. I can’t be short or I’m re-hitting. It was perfect speed and went to 4 or 5 feet for a manageable second putt.”
Only after he made that putt did Spieth look at a leaderboard on the back nine and see that he was tied for the lead.
Johnson figured he had to make birdie on the 18th at St. Andrews to reach 15 under and have a chance. Known for his wedge game, this wasn’t his best — some 30 feet behind the hole — “but I at least gave myself a look at it.”
Give an assist to Danny Willett.
“Fortunately, I had a good read,” Johnson said. “He was 3 to 5 feet from me, so I had a good look at it. I know the putt is left to right, and I know the putt at the end flattens out and potentially goes left, especially after seeing Danny.”
Two thoughts crept into his mind. Johnson lipped out on the final hole a week earlier at the John Deere Classic that kept him out of a playoff. “It’s not a good thought, but it went through my head.” And he considered the speed. That was a good thought.
“That green is not that fast,” he said. “I hit a solid putt, and I hit it perfect. It straightened out at the end, the last 3 feet it went left, and the rest is history.”
It got him into a playoff with Marc Leishman and Louis Oosthuizen. Just as meaningful to Johnson was the 10-foot birdie putt he made on No. 1 in the four-hole playoff. Oosthuizen made birdie from about 15 feet. Johnson felt it was critical not to fall behind.
“The biggest of the week was the first putt in a playoff,” Johnson said. “It was huge.”
It’s hard to find that one signature moment for Day, which speaks to the clinic he put on at Whistling Straits in winning at a record 20-under par. It was after his worst shot that Day was at his best.
He had a two-shot lead going to No. 9, drilled a drive down the middle and Spieth was in trouble in the rough. A model of perfection all week, Day inexplicably chunked his wedge. With momentum at stake, he followed with another wedge to 8 feet and saved his par. Spieth made bogey and Day was on his way.
“To hit such a terrible shot and then come back and get up and down, it was a good momentum change,” Day said. “To be able to hit a good pitch … that’s probably the biggest shot I’ve had to hit.”
It was a full, powerful swing that brought him just as much satisfaction, particularly the 382-yard shot on the par-5 11th that left him no more than a wedge to the green.
“Under those circumstances, it was the best drive I hit all year,” Day said. “If I had an off week with my driver, no way I would have won.”