Jordan Spieth and major contention
Before firing back-to-back 75’s on the weekend at Torrey Pines, Jordan Spieth was once again the talk of professional golf. Being a 20-year old leader at the midway point of a tournament that included the likes of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and a host of major winners will do that to a player, especially when he uses a second round 63 in the presence of Woods to vault himself into that leading position.
Then, we saw what happened on Saturday and Sunday, as the course toughened up and Spieth’s ankle gave out on him, leading to a bunch of players passing him. That 63 was wiped out and consecutive 75’s had given Spieth a tie for 19th place, five shots back of Scott Stallings’ winning total. He would later tell Ryan Lavner of Golf Channel that “So, all in all, I just really wasn’t mentally ready to win this week.”
I’m not going to read too much into that quote because really, he’s probably going to win a bunch of tournaments in his career and he’s likely to win at least one in 2014, especially if his current form keeps up, but there is one thing that is worth mentioning when it comes to Spieth and his potential for winning not only regular events, but major championships. From Ben Crenshaw:
“A kid like this is extra special.”
And from Tiger Woods:
“He should be commended for not only the way he played, but the way he conducted himself. He was emotional, he was fiery, he was trying. It was wonderful to see. It’s neat to see him wear his emotions on his sleeve. He can turn bad shots into positives. You can see his body language, he exudes confidence. He’s a wonderful kid.”
Except, those weren’t quotes about Spieth. They were about Sergio Garcia fifteen years ago.
Garcia has had a great career to date, but we all know that a major championship title has eluded him so far. For all of the praise that was heaped on Garcia as a teenager and into his early 20’s, you could make the argument that he’s underachieved, even though I don’t think that’s overly fair at this point. John Daly underachieved with his talent. Tom Weiskopf underachieved as well, but I don’t think the book has been fully written on Garcia just yet, and as I’ve written, I think he’s better equipped to win a major now than ever before.
Kyle Porter wrote about Spieth a few weeks ago comparing him to Garcia, and I completely agree with the assessment. The obsessive need for sports fans and media, particularly those on the golf side of things, to compare current athletes with the best who ever played has become a massive disservice to those attempting to play the game in current times. Garcia was supposed to be the next Tiger, as was Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy has had the comparisons thrown on him as well, and while I don’t think many have compared Spieth to Tiger in the same breath, I do think there’s a perception out there that winning major championships is something that any young star can pull off because of how easy Tiger made it look almost twenty years ago.
Look at the guys who won the majors last season. Scott finally got one at age 32, as did Justin Rose at Merion. Phil Mickelson won his fifth major last year at 43, but he had years of close calls and was given the dreaded “best player without a major” label for most of his pro career before finally winning at Augusta at 33. Jason Dufner won the PGA last year at age 36 after becoming a steady PGA Tour member in 2009 at age 32.
Garcia’s still looking for a major. Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Matt Kuchar, Ian Poulter, Steve Stricker, Henrik Stenson, Jason Day and Dustin Johnson are among many other great players doing the same thing.
Seeing a new player emerge in a game that desperately needs them is a welcome sign, and admittedly, it’s difficult not to get excited about the kind of show that Spieth puts on seemingly every week. I’m not suggesting that we stop looking at this kid as a sign of great things to come because that would be crazy, but I also hope that people remember that golf is a game that can turn at an instant, and even those who have tremendous success, like Mickelson, can go years without winning a major championship. The burden to win a major, which is what I think we’ve seen in the past with Mickelson and Colin Montgomerie, as well as right now with Garcia and even Woods, can often be a massive roadblock for even the best players in the game.
I’m looking forward to seeing Spieth compete at Augusta for the first time in April just like everyone else and he’s going to be a force for years to come in the professional game, just like the players above have been for the last decade or more, even without a major championship win on their resume. There’s nothing wrong with those players and the way they play the game, just like there’s nothing wrong with Spieth and the way he does things.
I just hope that people remember that there’s also nothing wrong with not winning a major championship at 20 years old.