Now that was a cool win by a 21-year-old kid who has class and character and an awfully good golf game. Not to mention that Jordan Spieth’s victory was a perfect way to cap off a very satisfying Masters week.
There are some majors that fulfill through the virtue of tense, competitive action that’s traded back and forth down the stretch. This one registered itself very differently, in a doubly elegant manner. Wire-to-to-wire finishes are indeed exciting, this one especially so because it hadn’t been done at Augusta National since Raymond Floyd in 1976.
But when the champion is a relative newcomer, a novice to the public if not exactly to the golf world, then the victory has all the makings of a turning point in competitive golf – much like Jack Nicklaus at the 1962 U.S. Open at Oakmont, Tiger Woods at the 1997 Masters or Rory McIlroy at the U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club in 2011.
It’s another matter entirely whether Jordan Spieth can save golf. CBS golf anchor Jim Nantz was quick (as always) to pronounce Spieth virtually a savior to the game and to dispute the notion that the golf industry is in trouble. It seems a stretch, since the relationship between the tour and what happens at everyday clubs is tenuous at best. We found out from Woods’ glory days that public interest boosts TV ratings but has little sustained impact on whether folks actually play golf.
Still, Spieth is a guy to admire and emulate, not only for the way he plays golf, but also for the way he handles his success. And with his last four weeks of competitive golf now including two victories and two runners-up, Spieth is enjoying a run like few others have ever had in golf. Good for him for being so humble and level-headed. It shows you can be competitive and driven and still be inclusive and embracing.
Let’s hope more college kids and junior golfers learn a thing or two about on-course comportment. It’s appropriate that this one-time Texas Longhorns varsity golfer is picking up where another one, Ben Crenshaw, has just left the stage. Crenshaw’s inspiring and emotional stroll down the fairways ended Friday afternoon, and while his scores (91-85) were tough enough that ESPN politely kept them off screen as he finished, the warmth and cheer and feeling of real respect and love that surround Crenshaw are what golf embodies like no other sport.
The week was notable as well for the drama surrounding Woods. Word of his demise proved greatly exaggerated. It’s amazing what a new grind on the wedges can achieve by way of a redeemed short game. No doubt he was helped by a course setup all week that was more forgiving in receptivity and lack of greenside rollout. The SubAir system surely helps reduce excess moisture, but if it were really the cure-all to create firm greens, then the putting surfaces would have been playing a lot harder than the everyday press was claiming for that device. The rollouts were not as scary as in previous years, and balls weren’t tumbling down the banks in front of or behind the 15th green like they usually do.
For Woods, just finishing the tournament at 5-under par (sandwiching 69-68 with a pair of 73s) was an impressive achievement. Sure, he still has lot of work to do to comfortably play a draw with his driver or 3-wood. If Woods is not yet "back," he is certainly still "around," though it will take more research by my osteopath friend to confirm or deny the story he casually told following Sunday’s round that after he banged his right hand into a tree root on the ninth hole he popped the bone back into place and went on playing. Even Nick Faldo expressed on air a certain suspicion about this latest story.
The final day at Augusta proved fascinating not for the direct challenge to Spieth’s dominance – Justin Rose and Phil Mickelson both made progress on him – but because each time, Spieth managed to keep them at a distance. The most impressive and most lasting image from the 2015 Masters is that of a young man playing hard and winning while still having fun and acting gracefully under pressure. If kids pick up on that, great.