Column: Jordan Spieth’s Masters triumph shows that golf’s future is now
They came at the kid in waves, the world’s best golfers grabbing and clutching for four sweltering days, swarming him with green jackets and Claret Jugs and Wanamaker Trophies and glares.
Jordan Spieth took their punches, all of them, sticking out his 21-year-old chin from the top of the Masters leaderboard and absorbing every bit of Tiger’s teeth, Rory’s resilience, Lefty’s left.
Finally, under the cloudiest of skies on Augusta National’s 13th hole late Sunday afternoon, the kid cemented his place in golf history by punching back.
It was his second shot on a long par-five. He was more than 200 yards from a green surrounded by sand and woods and a tributary of Rae’s Creek. He was leading the tournament by five strokes. He should have laid up in front of the water. He should have played it safe.
He didn’t. He took a chance. He went for the knockout. He swung from his heels and screamed.
“Go hard! Go hard! Go hard!” he cried as the ball sailed through a cool breeze. “Go!”
The ball went. It carried the tributary, landed within 14 feet of the flag, and made the statement that resounded for the rest of the tournament.
“He’s fiery,” his caddie Michael Greller said later. “He’s got that killer instinct.”
And today Jordan Spieth has that oversized, old man’s green jacket draped around his shoulders after becoming the second-youngest person to win the Masters, with a tournament record-tying 18-under-par 270, four shots ahead of major winners Phil Mickelson and Justin Rose.
The debutante ball that began Thursday ended in a Sunday night waltz for the ages. He wore white pants that didn’t get dirty. He wore a boyish expression that never changed. He was Tiger without the bleeps. He was Rory without the fold.
The golf world now has its future on Spieth dial. This new era will be played by Jordan Rules. On the same weekend Ben Crenshaw retired, the sport has a new Texas two-putter who is equally gentle, but quietly tough.
“All in all,” Spieth said, “it’s really cool.”
Cool is one word for it. Dominant is another. Spieth is the first golfer to lead this tournament from start to finish in 39 years. He is only the second golfer in the Masters’ 79-year history to lead by as many as three strokes after the first round and never allow anyone to get any closer.
“How easy he’s making it look, yeah, absolutely I’m surprised,” Rose said.
Surprised is one word for it. Crazy is another. While Spieth might not officially be the youngest to win here — Tiger Woods was younger in 1997 — he certain acts the youngest.
He is surely the first Masters winner who spent Saturday night preparing for his final round by playing ping-pong with hometown buddies who were holed up in a nearby Motel 6. After putting away the paddles, he watched the movie “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.”
“It was on TV, that’s why,” he said. “And it’s one of the greatest movies in the world.”
He is also surely one of the few Masters winners who walked off the 18th green with his arms wrapped around his mother and father, who joined most of his family to cheer his final putt. This group included his grandfather Donald, who insisted on climbing out of his motorized scooter and walking unsteadily toward the green to hug his grandson. It was his win, too. On Friday, Spieth and his grandfather had prepared for the weekend by playing cards.
“I know he’s now the Masters champion and all that, but let me tell you, he’s still just 21,” said Carter Hickok, a Dallas-area hometown friend.
When Spieth took off his cap in public for the first time in four days Sunday, his thinning hair and weary eyes made him look much older. But during the week, with a golf club in his hands, he was joyfully all kid. He constantly talked to his ball. He casually debated his caddie Greller, a former sixth-grade math and science teacher who says this job is easier because he only has to deal with one kid.
“A lot of things I used as a teacher, believe me, I use out here with Jordan,” Greller said.
Spieth refreshingly congratulated his playing partners on good shots, most notably smiling and giving a thumbs up to Rose on Sunday after a nice approach out of the rough. Spieth is also politely aware of fans, never saying anything worse than “Dang!” and always using his manners when asking them to move.
“Please step back,” he gently asked one gentlemen during one chaotic hole on Sunday. “Thank you.”
All this and afterward, during his acceptance speech, he may have become the first Masters winner who said he wanted “thank the food and beverage workers.”
His parents say that these sorts of actions, not the golf, are what make them so proud. This sort of perspective was the gist of his father Shawn’s pregame talk with Jordan on Sunday morning. They spoke at the house the entire family shared. Where else would Jordan stay this week?
“I wanted him to know what I thought was important,” Shawn said. “I told him, ‘You know, you’re going to face some adversity out here . . . and this is the Masters . . . but it’s still just a game.’”
It is a game that Spieth has been dominating seemingly since he mowed a circle of grass into a sort-of putting green in his frontyard as a kid. Check out the online video clip of the 14-year-old Spieth saying, “My ultimate goal, I want to win the Masters.”
After he won two U.S. Junior Amateur championships and led the University of Texas to a national title, it was a game that brought him to his knocking knees last spring when he blew a two-stroke lead in the final round of the Masters, losing to veteran Bubba Watson.
“It stings right now, but the only thing I’m thinking about is, when am I getting back next year? That’s what’s on my mind,” Spieth said during last year’s post-match interview.
Sure enough, he showed up here with a vengeance, grabbing the first-round lead and ignoring the constant charges from players he once only dreamed of meeting.
“Since he was 15, everybody was always saying that he would be the next Tiger Woods, but, like, whatever,” said his friend Hickok. “We never actually thought it would happen this fast. This is nuts.”
What was nuts, according to all the golf experts, was that second shot on the 13th hole that resulted in a birdie that gave him a five-stroke lead and the confidence to finish it.
“When you’re watching it in the air, it felt like an eternity, you’ve seen so many things go wrong here,” Greller said. “Thankfully he yelled at it just enough and it covered.”
You see? While everyone has been joking about Jordan Spieth talking to his ball, it turns out the ball has actually been listening, during a week when the voice of golf’s future became the voice of a champion.
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