UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. — The adage is you don’t win a U.S. Open, it wins you. That after the yanked tee shots and missed putts, after the lead slips through the hands of one golfer to another’s like fool’s gold, there’s someone standing as much in bewilderment as elation when he’s handed the trophy.
On a beautiful mid-summer’s day, on a course as reviled as it was admired — tattered and battered Chambers Bay — that someone was the best young player in America and maybe the world, Jordan Spieth.
If Rory McIlroy wants to protest, he should consider that Spieth, in winning the Open, is: (1) the first golfer to claim a season’s first two majors since the now-forgotten Tiger Woods in 2002; and (2) the youngest player, at 21, to win the national championship since Bobby Jones in 1923.
Spieth won the Masters in April and then Sunday, as he moved into the late lead, agonizingly dropped back into a tie. Then he stunningly ended up with the victory when Dustin Johnson three-putted the 72nd hole, turning a possible winning eagle into an all-time heartbreak as his fiancée and her father, hockey great Wayne Gretzky, looked on in agony.
A final-round one-under par 69 gave Spieth a 5-under total of 275. Johnson, cruising the front nine, shot 70 and tied for second at 276 with South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen, who shot 67. Adam Scott (64), Brendan Grace (71 with double-bogey at 16) and Cam Smith (68) tied for fourth.
And now we put forth those words of the impossible dream: Grand Slam. Spieth has a chance of winning all four majors — the British Open and the PGA Championship coming up in July and August. The fest never has been accomplished.
Jones, in 1930, won what then were the Big Four: U.S. and British Opens, U.S. and British Amateurs, and it was the correspondent from the Atlanta Journal, Jones’ biographer, who borrowed from the card game, bridge, and called the quartet the Grand Slam.
But since the PGA and the Masters replaced the two amateurs, only Ben Hogan, in 1953, and Woods, in 2000, won as many as three in a year. And Hogan is the only one who took those three in order, Masters. U.S. Open and British.
Arnold Palmer won the first two in 1960. Jack Nicklaus won the first two in 1972. Woods won the first two in 2002. Now Spieth has won the first two this year. The British, next month at St. Andrews, has become that much more important. History might be waiting.
“It’s hard to think of it right now,” said Spieth. “I’m still amazed that I won, let alone that we weren’t playing (Monday).”
He meant an 18-hole playoff that would have been needed if Johnson hadn’t failed on his four-foot comebacker after his 12-foot birdie slipped by the cup at 18.
“Disappointed,” said Johnson. “The greens do bounce when they are fast and bumpy. Whatever the putt did on the last hole, I don’t know. I might have pulled it a little bit.”
If Spieth pulled anything, it was a rabbit out of a hat. He took the lead with a rambling birdie putt on 16, tossed it into Puget Sound with a double-bogey at 17, then was given it once more on Johnson’s three-putt.
“I think this will sink in a little quicker than the Masters,” Spieth said of the victory, “given that it’s already happened. But boy, what a team effort.”
He was referring to his caddy, Michael Greller, who grew up in Washington and first worked for Spieth when the U.S. Amateur was held at Chambers Bay in 2010.
“Michael knew this course better than anybody playing this week,” said Spieth, “and he made sure I was in the right spots without my best stuff.”
The spot Spieth is in now is very enviable. Golf needs new attractions. There’s McIlroy — who shot 66 Sunday — but he’s Irish. Spieth is a Texan, an all-American idol.
If the U.S., with the decline of Woods, was waiting for a new star, well, he has arrived. No surprise for those who watched Spieth finish as low amateur in the 2012 U.S. Open at San Francisco’s Olympic Club. He was well-schooled, well-mannered and well ahead of most 18-year-olds.
Andy North, the ESPN commentator who twice won the U.S. Open, said Spieth has the elements of a champion. “He’s a first-class young man,” said North, “and an assassin inside.”
A captivated world can’t wait to see what’s next.
Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.bleacherreport.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.