Why you're really just a golfer, facing Amen Corner at the Augusta National

While thousands of players were competing for top prizes in the Sunday Majors last weekend, the final round of the Masters golf was concluding at Augusta National. 

Undoubtedly there were nightmares endured at the tables, but so too in Georgia, where the reigning champion Jordan Spieth underwent a collapse some say he'll struggle to put behind him. 

For those who were too distracted at the tables to watch, Spieth's trouble came about at Amen corner, specifically the 12th hole, a par three 155 yard short-iron shot, and a water hazard that would cost him four shots. That turned his leading score of five under par (accumulated over three and a half days) into that of a runner-up, and all in just ten minutes. 


daniel_negreanu_golf_12apr16_22.JPGDaniel Negreanu somewhere in the middle of the poker/golf venn diagram

To his credit Spieth pulled a shot back on the next hole, but he'd never come close to the lead again. He walked off the final hole bewildered. British player Danny Willett took full advantage to claim his first winner's jacket. 

Having reporting on the EPT for nearly ten years, I've often asked whether another sport or activity mimics poker for its inconsistency, and for that random element that frustrates even the most talented of player. 

The best I could do, if it was a tad anthropomorphic, was horse racing (a big "player pool", different winners each time. But comparing people to horses doesn't quite fit. A better analogy, as one high stakes player explained, was golf.

Golf has that same unpredictability. Players are troubled as much by those things they can't control as what they can: conditions, the bounce of a ball, the slope of a green, all of which they must absorb as being part of the game. 

There are hundreds (if not thousands) of professional golfers around the world, many of whom win one week then fail to make the cut the next. They have periods of good form, but are only ever a single mistake away from ruining an otherwise faultless display.  One bad hole, not unlike one bad hand, asks difficult questions of your character as you endeavour to get back on level terms. 


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Spieth experienced something like this on Sunday, ditching what appeared to be a sure lead until the 12th. "It was really one swing," he told ESPN. How many poker players leave a tournament prematurely, thinking "It was really one hand"?

Well, it's an exhaustive list. 

Take Dzmitry Urbanovich in the EPT Grand Final high roller last season. He led almost to the bell until mistakes handed victory to Eric Seidel (Urbanovich has since proved it's possible to recover). 

Philip Hilm famously blew up on the 2007 WSOP Main Event final table, bluffing off a chip lead to eventual winner Jerry Yang. 

Even last weekend, Daniel Palsson of Iceland was stacked at UKIPT London and on course to reach the final table. Then a mistake (which you can read about here at 8:29pm) cost him everything, and handed an enormous lead to eventual winner Usman Siddique. 


usman_siddique_12apr16.jpgBenefactor Usman Siddique

It can strike anywhere. 

But, like all great players Spieth, still just 22, will recover. All you can do is dust yourself off and set about rebuilding, and just like in poker, you must do so alone. 

Plenty of similarities then to make golf arguably poker's spiritual cousin? Just don't mention all the fresh air sunshine. 


Stephen Bartley is a staff writer for the PokerStars Blog.

Stephen Bartley
@StephenBartley in PokerStars news