Welcome to the Summer of Spieth, which no doubt beats the Summer of A-Rod, the Summer of Hope (Solo), the Summer of All-Star Cyber-Stuffing and the Summer of Robin Thicke, wherever he went. The tantalizing issue is whether Jordan Spieth, still 21, can achieve what no golfer has done in the modern era and win all four major championships in the same calendar year. Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer all made it halfway, then encountered competitive constipation.
But having methodically dismembered Augusta National like few before him to win his first Masters green jacket, then surviving the broccoli greens and cast-iron fairways at reviled Chambers Bay to win the U.S. Open, Spieth’s shotmaking skills seem capable of carrying him on any course in all conditions. The Old Course at St. Andrews awaits him, followed by the links-like layout at Whistling Straits.
You going to bet against him? I’m not.
Nor do I want to. Because unlike Woods, who was polarizing in the public eye with his self-absorbed petulance and the sex scandal that derailed him, Spieth is precisely what America wants and needs in its next golfing phenom. He is humble, uncomplicated, mature beyond his years and enjoying his suddenly large life with the same girlfriend he met in high school and the same swing coach he has had since his preteens. He is such a throwback, you half expect him to introduce us to his good friends, Wally and Beaver Cleaver.
Did you notice his reaction when Dustin Johnson suffered the cruelest fate and gagged away the Open on the final green, as Wayne Gretzky stood there in silence and wondered why his future son-in-law missed the empty-net goal? Spieth did not jump for joy, send screams to Puget Sound and hug everyone in sight. Politely, with tasteful compassion, he walked from the scorer’s tent with a blank expression.
“This was just an odd deal — very odd. I very much feel for Dustin,” Spieth said. “He deserves to be holding the trophy just as much as I do.”
Now that he has it, he isn’t dismissing the fabulous possibilities ahead. Young as he is, and reverential as he is about the sacred ground he is entering, you don’t sense any twitch of intimidation or apprehension. He knows only five others have won the Masters and U.S. Open in the same year: Woods, Nicklaus, Palmer, Ben Hogan and Craig Wood. He knows he’s the youngest to win the Open since Bobby Jones in 1923. He knows only one other player, Gene Sarazen in 1922, had won two majors at age 21. And while the entirety of it all blows his mind a bit, he’s ready to march with them.
“I didn’t think that those names would be mentioned like that. That’s a piece of golf history, and as a golf historian, that’s very special and it gives me goose bumps,” Spieth said. “It’s amazing. And it gets better every week with our team. Those names are the greatest that have ever played the game, and I don’t consider myself there. But I’m certainly off to the right start in order to make an impact on the history of this game.”
Common wisdom says he’ll crack when the Grand Slam talk heightens next month in Scotland. And maybe he will, which would be no disgrace. “I’m just focused on the claret jug now,” he said. “The Grand Slam is something that I never could really fathom somebody doing, considering I watched Tiger win when he was winning whatever percentage of the majors he played in. And he won the Tiger Slam [holding all four titles at one time], but he never won the four in one year. And I figured if anybody was going to do it, it would be him, which he still can.”
At this point, with his game in shambles, Woods will be lucky to make his tee time in four consecutive majors. The sport belongs to Spieth and Rory McIlroy — in that order, with McIlroy drooling at the thought of challenging his younger U.S. rival on European soil — and it’s possible no one will miss Tiger if he wisely chooses to fade into retirement and a life of fatherhood and Fox golf analysis (oh, was Greg Norman useless Sunday, as was the entire effort of a network out of its league on Open coverage). All eyes are on Spieth, who makes the St. Andrews visit sound like a class field trip.
“It’s one of my favorite places in the world,” he said of the sport’s ancient home, hardly sounding fazed as he recalled a visit three years ago. “I remember walking around the R&A clubhouse and seeing paintings of royalty playing golf, and it was dated 14-whatever. I’m thinking, our country was discovered in 1492 and they were playing golf here before anyone even knew the Americas existed.”
That Spieth knew when America was discovered puts him miles ahead of many young sports stars. It should surprise no one that he received a congratulatory tweet from Stephen Curry, his partner in the UnderArmour empire. I’m not sure who’s scouting potential spokesmen for the athletic apparel and shoe company, but the birddog clearly knows what he’s doing. Spieth and Curry are the country’s two hottest and most compelling sportsmen.
Funny I should mention that word. Midway through 2015, Sports Illustrated has a difficult call ahead for its venerable Sportsman of the Year award. The Bay Area has a chance for back-to-back covers if Curry wins, joining Madison Bumgarner. But if Spieth wins the Slam, well, Curry will be the first one to concede in August, on the 72nd hole somewhere in Wisconsin, bowing like the rest of us. Spieth won’t allow himself to think that far ahead until he is holding the putter in the cheesy breeze. But interestingly enough, his family members weren’t afraid to go there in remarks published by ESPN.com. Can Jordan win the Slam?
Said his brother, Steven: “Absolutely. If he didn’t prove it today, I don’t know when he would. I think he’s got to be the favorite in any tournament he plays in.”
Said his mother, Chris: “Absolutely. He’s got more confidence than anyone this year … He’s won in different ways now, and not a lot of guys have that experience. In Jordan’s mind, he knows he can do it both ways.”
Said his father, Shawn: “Yeah, I think he can, absolutely. The U.S. Open is probably the hardest one, and people expected the hardest one for him … He loves links golf, so he’ll have his chances. It’s on different venues for both the PGA and Open Championship every year, so they’ll be golf courses that suit him and I think he’ll have a really good chance. Grand Slam in one year? It’s still alive, the dream’s still alive.”
They are biased, understandably. USGA executive director Mike Davis is not, telling the website, “Jordan is good enough to win the Grand Slam. Somebody who can win on a course like [Chambers Bay] and the Masters, these are just two different animals. So he’s enough of a shotmaker. And the thing about Jordan is, when you watch him, he doesn’t do anything spectacular. You look at his entire game and say, ‘He’s not one of the best drivers, he’s not one of the best putters, but he does everything really well.’
“And he’s an incredible thinker … Think about what he went through standing on the 18th tee, having a 3-shot lead and doing what he did [a double-bogey on 17] and then hearing the roar from Dustin’s group. And now all of a sudden he goes, ‘I’ve got a 3-shot lead to, I’m tied.’ Think about the emotions. The chances of him winning [the Slam], the odds are not great. But he is absolutely capable of it.”
The reason you root for Jordan Spieth, unequivocally, is because there’s no reason not to. Like Curry, you couldn’t find much wrong about him with a million search engines. It’s his summer, his world, and on July 27, he celebrates a birthday.
He’ll be 22.
Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.