AUGUSTA, Ga. – Jordan Spieth, winner of the 2015 Masters and U.S. Open and the 2017 British Open but without a win since then, has to be the oldest 25-year-old Tour player ever. Arnold Palmer was 25 when he joined the Tour. Spieth speaks like a grown man, with a candor that has made him – for years now! – one of the freshest and most interesting voices in golf. At his late-afternoon press conference, he was asked how often he watches the 2015 Masters. Not often, he said. “I probably should watch it more.”
The modern pro plays under scrutiny, and with a level of attention, that will flat-out age you, and could change you. These are issues that earlier generations of players knew nothing about. Jack Nicklaus could go into a pub British Open week and stand at the bar and be acknowledged, but not fussed over. A lot of the reporters covering ordinary Tour stops were out-of-season football writers. There was no Golf Channel looking to fill its many hours and players Tweeting out idealized versions of themselves. It’s hard to imagine there was once a world without GOLF.com and No Laying Up, etc., but there was. This is the world in which Jordan Spieth plies his trade. It can’t be easy. The golfer is more of a golfer, all day everyday, than he has been before.
One of the appealing things about Spieth, and surely one of the secrets to his success, is that it was obvious, in his early years as a pro, that golf was not the most important thing in the world to him. Shortly after winning the Open at Royal Birkdale, he ranked the most important things in his life: “My faith, and then my family. And then, after that, this is what I love to do.” Your big three: Faith, Family, Golf.
On Tuesday, Spieth was asked if it’s hard to hold on to those priorities, in the face of so much attention, so many people wanting to know, basically, this: Hey, Jordan Spieth – you’re great. But what’s wrong with you?
“It’s being recognized, almost constantly, wherever you go: You’re the golfer! Versus, when I was first coming out, I just wouldn’t be recognized. So you just go have dinner and you don’t even think about anything. You talk about whatever you want.
“But as far as the way I go to bed at night and wake up in the morning and go do my work at home and come out on the road, I don’t feel like I’ve changed much. And sometimes when things are off, you spend extra time practicing and golf is more on your mind because you’re trying to figure out how to get it back. But I think it’s just stages that you go through.”
All very well said, but the truth is you can’t go back, whether you’re Jordan Spieth or anybody else in the world. Tiger Woods last year talked about watching swings of himself from his amateur days, but he can’t make that swing anymore. His body has changed, the game has changed, equipment has changed – he has changed. Spieth can’t go back to the putting game he had in 2014 and ’15 and ’16 and ’17. He can just try to make the putt that’s in front of him now, with the stroke he has now.
Of course, the part that he can control is the role that the Big Three – Faith, Family and Golf – plays in his life. The middle part now includes his wife, Annie Verret. They were a couple for a long time and were married last year. Spieth has always been close to his parents and to his siblings, Steven, who played basketball at Brown, and Ellie, who has special needs.
Balancing the third part (family) with the first two is about the most challenging balancing act there could be. But it was all of that together that made Spieth Spieth.
Millions picked up on it, young and old in between. Here is a school report, in toto and written in pencil on lined paper by a Jordan Spieth scholar-fan named Winslow Noel, a fourth-grader at Erdenheim Elementary, outside Philadelphia. It reads:
“I started watching Jordan Spieth when I was 6 because of his putting. I like him, because he is very generous and he started a foundation for kids with special needs and cancer and it supports junior golf, something I really love! Two things I learned about him is that he is the co-owner of the Masters course record and that his sister is part of the reason he started his foundation. He is my hero because he is my favorite golfer, he was the first golfer I ever saw win a major when he hit it out of the bunker and into the hole at the Travelers in 2017. When I watch him play he always makes me very excited. I especially love his short game.”
Some may say that the Travelers is a not a major, but Winslow Noel says it is and that should be good enough for the rest of us. As for Jordan Spieth, he doesn’t have to start putting again as he did in 2017. He just needs to keep putting. You don’t go back in this game. Back’s gone. There’s a ball sitting in front of you, and you try to do your best with it. What more can you do?
Michael Bamberger may be reached at [email protected]