Feb
14
2017
Let Jordan Spieth define, do Jordan Spieth
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour

It was over before Jordan Spieth even hit his opening tee shot. Heck, it was over before he showed up to Pebble Beach to warm up for the final round. Spieth was not going to blow his six-shot lead through 54-holes. Not happening.

At 23 years old, he’s a grizzled veteran and as poised as they come — I should be used to his remarkable maturity and composure by now since I’ve had a front-row seat for the last four years. Can we just take a moment to remember what we were doing at 23? Our maturity level? I mean, I’m just going LOL. 

But since you asked, I was a completely naive, idiotic baby that thought I knew everything, of course. On the bright side, I had a really good (at least well-compensated) job in one of my four or five previous lives, as a private equity analyst at an investment bank, but I learned that I couldn’t be contained in boring, corporate environment. I can handle 80-hour work weeks, but not doing that kind of soulless work.  However, I still managed to enjoy being 23 to the fullest. Let’s just say living in NYC during 2005-08 (pre-crash) was a pretty cool time. Oh, the good old days — it’s just not the same anymore! But I digress, point is, 99% of 23 year olds do not handle themselves like Jordan Spieth. We all know he’s always been 20-whatever-going-on-40. And I’m used to it, but he never ceases to impress.

On Sunday Spieth cruised to a four-shot win over Kelly Kraft. He didn’t do anything fancy or crazy. He kept it simple and shot a two-under 70 — two birdies, 16 pars. It was fairly boring, but that’s actually one of his greatest strengths.

“Our goal for the day was to try and hit as many greens in regulation as we could,” said Spieth. “I hit 17 of them today. The one I missed was just a jumper out of the rough that I didn’t plan for. So it was just all-in-all tee to green exactly what I was looking for and it led to a lot of tap in pars…

“(The plan) was make it as stress free as possible, hit as many greens in regulation as you can, easy pars, if they go, they go.”

The only important thing was he won. Mission accomplished. He also hit another milestone, capturing his ninth victory on the PGA Tour (including two majors). Think about that for a moment. He’s won NINE times on the PGA Tour at 23. That’s incredible. I really think sometimes he doesn’t get enough credit or I guess just because he didn’t win two majors and almost win the other two, like he did in 2015, it was always going to feel like a downer.

From even before he turned pro, he was breaking records left and right as the “youngest” to do this or that — words that were usually followed by “since Tiger Woods.” Well, Spieth did it again.

Youngest to win nine times on PGA TOUR since World War II:
Tiger Woods (23 years, 5 months, 7 days) – 1999 Memorial
Jordan Spieth (23 years, 6 months, 16 days) – 2017 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am
Jack Nicklaus (24 years, 19 days) – 1964 Waste Management Phoenix Open

I’d say that’s pretty good company to be among. It’s arguable, too, that Spieth’s achievement is potentially more impressive because the fields are deeper and the competition is stiffer than in previous eras. But then I’d get accused of disrespecting the GOATs!!! My bad! IMHO, Tiger is the GOAT. (Spieth actually calls him underrated yet Woods is still the greatest, which makes it all the more impressive.)

But you know what I’m *so* tired of hearing: The comparisons and the expectations and Tiger Woods. For the past five years at least, everyone has been searching for “the next Tiger.” Hate to break it to you, but I doubt we’re going to see another Tiger Woods anytime soon. Tiger was a freak of nature. He was a different beast and he inspired an entire generation — one that has taken the torch from their hero — to train for professional golf in a way that hadn’t been done in the past.

Almost 20 years ago (holy crap, I know I’m getting old, but I’m not *that* old…), I felt like I was already playing the pro junior circuit (the AJGA, which truly does prepare you very well to know what you’re in for if you decide to try to play on Tour). But I hear it’s gotten way, way more intense and that’s no surprise, with the rise of entourages on the PGA Tour, it was only a matter of time that the junior ranks started to mimic the pros — trainers, the swing coach, the short game guru, the mental coach, not to mention the parents (for the kids, obviously, but sometimes for the pros still, actually). It’s a little scary, to be honest, but that’s the way it goes.

By now, Spieth “gets” the comparisons and the references and understands it comes with the territory. He’s a winner, so he doesn’t let it mess with his head — he thinks through it and manages to rationalize it in a way that he can sort of use it to his advantage or as a strength.

“Probably more comfortable than I was a couple years ago just because I recognize the longevity of a career and, again, I’ve seen the ups and downs,” said Spieth. “I really do feel like in the last two and a half years I’ve had enough experiences that people normally have in a 20-year career on Tour. And so I think that recognizing the longevity of a career, I don’t think anyone’s going to win at the same percentage that Tiger won at, so that’s a bit different.

“I started earlier than he did. No, I don’t think it’s fair to necessarily compare to it, but at the same time, I’m in the here to tell you guys how to do your job, so you don’t tell me how to do mine, you just ask me about mine. So you guys can do whatever you want.

“But we’re focused — and I think I think less of that than I have in the past and it’s an honor, it really is an honor. But getting to where you’re the first guy, even including Tiger, to do something, is maybe the next goal. But that might be pretty hard.”

EXACTLY. Let’s please stop proclaiming everyone as the next Tiger. I think we’re finally accepting that is probably not going to happen and it’s going to be OK. I hope. For my sanity. Because these narratives start to get really old. We also need to stop with other narratives, like declaring [insert 20-something player] eras. Yes, the youth revolution has been making rumblings for years. Since Tiger’s scandal in 2009 basically launched my career, I’ve lived it and watched it. Perhaps the previous six years we were still in a transitional era, but from what we’ve seen so far in 2017, with the kids dominating and with Tiger missing cuts and withdrawing, it’s a bit fitting. So, it’s not crazy to say we’ve officially entered a new generation and/or even era — just as long as we don’t attach names to that word, it’s all good.

Spieth is the seventh player in his 20s to win on Tour in the 2016-17 season. Justin Thomas, 23, has racked up THREE victories already. Thank goodness, right? I’m sure he was getting sick of being referenced as “Jordan Spieth’s BFF,” which probably felt kinda like people thought that was his greatest career achievement or something. At 24, Hideki Matsuyama has notched two wins (and almost always been in the hunt in every other start) this season. 22-year-old rookie Jon Rahm captured his maiden victory the previous week in Phoenix.

“How is it going to be perceived?” Spieth said, repeating the question, referring to the recent flurry of guys in their early 20s winning. “I’m not sure. And nor do I honestly really care. I don’t mean that in a bad way towards anybody else, I think it’s awesome. I think it’s awesome what’s happened this year in the game. I think it’s seven straight winners or eighth straight winner in their 20s. It’s amazing that that hasn’t happened, I don’t know if it’s ever happened.

“But what Justin did was something that I’ve seen for a number of years, so that wasn’t that surprising. Hideki wasn’t that surprising to me either. John Rahm’s been highly talked about, so as a player, having practiced and played with these guys, certainly saw, could see that coming. It wasn’t too surprising. I think for me I’m certainly focused on what we can do leading into the Masters this year, I know that it’s going to be as difficult as any to win, so, in other words, what I’m trying to say is, I’m not really focused on what the other guys are doing, I think it’s great, but it doesn’t change or perceive the way I think of the win today or the way that this year’s gone for me, it’s just kind of cool on the side, I guess.”

I couldn’t have said it better. It’s not surprising at all.

Now, Spieth, a grizzled 23-year-old veteran, has all that experience under his belt with the ebbs and flows that are nearly inevitable in golf, he has a stronger appreciation of how difficult it is to win, which makes the fact he has nine Tour victories all the sweeter.

“I’m very, very happy with what we have had and when I look back and see how hard it is to win,” said Spieth. “I remember walking up 18 today thinking to myself, I don’t think that I’ve enjoyed the wins as much as I’ve kind of talked to myself about the losses. I don’t think I’ve really enjoyed on the inside how much it takes to win out here and the hard work that goes into winning when you do win and just really had a chance to just thoroughly enjoy it on the inside what it feels like.

“It’s great, but I’ve almost been like, okay, that’s what we worked hard to do and if I think about that, then I’m going to look back a number of years from now and think, you know, man, I wish I really enjoyed these wins more, because, honestly, in the amount of weeks that you play golf, to the amount of times you actually are on top, they’re very spread out.

“So, I remember walking up 18 and there and Augusta were probably the two times I’ve walked up and obviously being able to walk up and knowing you’re going to win is one thing, but I really, really enjoyed it today and soaked it in at the end on the green. I just remember just kind of just I had visions of just giving myself fist pumps in there just, like this is awesome, this is really, really cool, because it is really tough to do. And I’ll obviously when I’m playing next week and I have a pro-am tomorrow morning, doesn’t exactly give me a lot of time to enjoy this win, but what I’m saying is, internally, looking back at the work I put in this week and in the last couple leading into it, I’m very much enjoying it.”

And here are the nine wins:

Spieth’s Career PGA Tour Victories (9):
2013 – John Deere Classic
2015 – Valspar Championship, Masters Tournament, U.S. Open, John Deere Classic, TOUR Championship
2016 – SBS Tournament of Champions, DEAN & DELUCA Invitational
2017 – AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am

Augusta National, Chambers Bay, East Lake, Kapalua, Colonial, Innisbrook and Pebble Beach are some decent tracks to have claimed these victories. But I’d be remiss to forget the John Deere, not to mention his Australian Open wins at The Australian and Royal Sydney.

Speaking of which, Spieth won the Australian Open in 2014 that seemed to spark his magical 2015. He was victorious in a playoff a few months ago (2016) at the same tournament, so naturally, everyone is like, THIS MUST BE A SIGN. WATCH OUT, 2017, HERE COMES SPIETH!

I wouldn’t bet against him at Augusta National, though. I know what happened last year and blowing a five-shot lead at one point late in the final round was rather shocking, to say the least, but I think Spieth has recovered. Some speculated that it could have a long-lasting repercussions for his psyche. <>

Spieth isn’t a mental midget. I won’t name names of guys who may not have recovered from such gut-wrenching disappointments, but Spieth is in a class of his own. Sure, he doesn’t drive the ball like Rory McIlroy or have that absurd athletic capability and distance like Dustin Johnson. With the way courses are set up these days, modern venues favor bombers. By the same token, distance is always an advantage. I feel like that’s just a “duh.” With length, you’ll always have shorter clubs into the greens, and therefore, more control of the ball. That’s a given.

How many days until the Masters again?