PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Jordan Spieth had both a good day and not-so-good day on Saturday. He signed for 68 during the third round of the Players Championship. Good. His private commentary on the tee of the par-5 11th at TPC Sawgrass, picked up by a boom mic, reached a level of candor that was high even for him. Not so good.
The comments came when he hit into the golfer in front of him, Rory Sabbatini, standing on the right side of the 11th fairway, preparing to play his second shot. As best you can see on the video of the shot, Spieth’s tee shot struck a tree, ricocheted left and nearly beaned Sabbatini, a famously fast-playing and outspoken veteran golfer from South Africa.
As best you can hear on the video, somebody, likely Spieth, offers a full-throated “Fore right!” After a little back-and-forth chat on the tee, Spieth says, “Is that Sabbatini? Oh, God. I couldn’t pick a worse person to hit into.”
The observation was funny because it was true. Also, because it narrowed the divide between them and us. Who among us hasn’t done and said something right along the same lines?
Spieth and his third-round playing partner, Collin Morikawa, offered some more personal observations. Everyday stuff, really, except boom mics at PGA Tour stops seem to be more sensitive and on more often than they ever have been before. (Ask Spieth’s buddy, Justin Thomas.)
The PGA Tour brass is well-aware of all this, this week more than ever, given the Tour’s expansive digital coverage of the Players, which gives viewers uncensored access to every movement from every player. On Wednesday, the Tour sent out a text missive to the field, which Brian Wacker of Golf Digest tweeted out.
Here is Wacker preamble: “The Tour sent a text to players today reminding them that big brother will be watching this week.”
And here’s the text from the Tour, per Wacker, a former Tour employee and a well-sourced reporter:
“REMINDER—Every shot will be captured and transmitted live this week through PGA Tour Live. Be mindful of what you say and do on course. Thanks.”
Tiger Woods likes to say that Father Time is undefeated. Well, Big Brother is undefeated, too. Father Time records every step you take. Big Brother watches and listens to everything you say and do.
Is it too much? The march of our times will tell you that there is no such thing as too much. Witness the rise and rise of TMZ.
Also, technology is unrelenting. As you can’t put toothpaste back in the tube, or not neatly, you can’t stop the progress of technology. Just to limit this discussion in the arena of sport, the basketball coach and his team huddle in a late-game timeout and millions can hear the directives and read the white board. For now, we don’t hear the pitcher and the catcher in their near-the-mound confabs, but that day is likely coming.
“I’ll apologize when I see him,” Spieth told Golf Digest, referring to Sabbatini. “I hit a tree right by him, so it couldn’t have been a good feeling.”
Part of Spieth’s appeal is how much he talks on the course, often to himself. Part of the enduring appeal of the late and great Phil Mickelson-Jim “Bones” Mackay player-caddie marriage was how boom mics picked up their intra-hole shot analysis. For some, Tiger Woods’ profane responses to his offline shots were endearing, funny and revealing. Others thought they offered further proof of the decline of Western civilization.
Among today’s star golfers, one of the players least likely to say something that goes viral, via a boom mic pickup, would be Dustin Johnson. On the course, he’s like a monk, almost. At dinner, with his buddies, he is voluble, in a remote table, he is voluble, but there are no boom mics around.
Asked on Saturday how aware he is of on-course mics and whether they inhibit him, Johnson said, “I’m used to it, by now. I’m pretty good at watching what I say. It just is what it is.”
It is what it is. And what you say on 11 is heard by the world, or it could be.
Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at Michael.Bamberger@Golf.com