UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. — There’s always a star in the future. And in the wings. There’s always another great one ready to move in, to keep us enthralled in golf. Always another Jack Nicklaus. Or Tiger Woods.
Always a Jordan Spieth.
He’s not the new Tiger, because Woods was unique in his preparation, his focus and intensity, and his ability to will himself to victory while the field ran for cover.
But Spieth is the new, exciting face of American golf. The same weekend the game lamented the decline of Woods, the game hailed the brilliance of Spieth. And much in the way that Woods’ domination allowed him to break records and put him on track for more, so too is Spieth forging that path.
We already knew what Spieth could do when, in April, he won the Masters, the second-youngest ever to do it (not surprisingly behind Tiger’s triumph in 1997). Then Sunday, on the afternoon of the summer solstice—and you can find symbolism in that—Spieth, at 21, won the U.S. Open, becoming only the sixth man in history to win both tournaments in the same year.
“He’s a first-class guy with an assassin inside,” said Andy North, the ESPN commentator who, as a player, twice won the Open himself. “You couldn’t ask for a better combination.”
Or for a better final day of America’s golfing championship, the lead going hither and yon until, stunningly, Dustin Johnson, who led early and rallied to tie, three-putted the 72nd hole. That left Spieth, who shot a one-under-par 69 with a cumulative five-under-par 275, one shot in front of Johnson and Louis Oosthuizen (who shot 67).
That also left Spieth with the enticing possibility of doing what never has been done: the Grand Slam; the four majors won in a calendar year.
In 1930, Bobby Jones took what were then the big four: the U.S. and British Opens, and the U.S. and British Amateur. Atlanta Journal correspondent O.B. Keeler, seeking a pithy description, stole a term from the card game bridge, when someone wins all the tricks: Grand Slam.
Ben Hogan came close in the golfing version, winning the first three majors in 1953 and then not entering the PGA. Woods won the last three in 2000, and then when he took the 2001 Masters to make it four in a row, the achievement was labeled the “Tiger Slam.”
Arnold Palmer won the Masters and U.S. Open in 1960, Jack Nicklaus did it in 1972, and Woods did it in 2002. Now Spieth has a chance to take that further in 2015.
If you have any doubt of Spieth’s place in the game, even at 21, just look back at those names: Jones, Hogan, Palmer, Nicklaus, Woods. Each considered among the greatest golfers of all time.
“It’s hard to think of it right now,” Spieth said. “I’m still amazed I won, let alone that we weren’t playing Monday.”
But it’s not hard to think of Spieth as a champion. He’s the youngest winner of the Open since Jones in 1923. Even Tiger didn’t win it until he was 24, although he did win it three times.
Woods turned non-golfers into fans, and the personable, remarkable Spieth very well could do the same thing. He’s “insanely focused” on his game, as he said the other day, but unlike Woods, he acknowledges those in gallery when they shout his name.
“I have nothing but great vibes here,” said Michael Greller, a onetime school teacher who carries Spieth’s golf bag, “starting with my marriage two years ago on top of the hill.
“Certainly we drew a lot off Augusta and Tampa (Spieth won the Valspar), and there were a lot of positives we could draw from. He was able to execute shots, aside from 17, and you are going to hit bad shots. What he did on 18, though, I think, captures his mentality.”
The 18th, a hole which, when played as a par four on Friday, Spieth called “dumb,” was again a par five. He got there in two and two-putted for a birdie after a double bogey at 17.
And with that, the outcome may have been decided long ago. After Tiger Woods comes Jordan Spieth. Different, yes, but in so many ways, the second coming.
Art Spander is a winner of the 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award in Journalism from the PGA of America. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.