Jordan Spieth is one of the leading contenders for Sports Illustrated‘s 2015 Sportsman of the Year. You can see the full list and the entire series of essays that make the argument for each candidate here. This story also appears in the Dec. 14, 2015, issue of Sports Illustrated. To subscribe, click here.
If Jordan Spieth, the big-hearted golfing prodigy, is not named Sportsman of the Year, expect civil unrest. Middle-aged men in Under Armour windbreakers and soft-spike Foot Joys will gather outside SI’s offices, carrying placards marked 54 under! in bold red ink. The 22-year-old Texan was 54 strokes below par in the four majors this year. The total winning score for all four majors was 58 under. He was there, there, there and there.
Consider, too, where and how he did it. Augusta in April is Augusta in April, the let’s-get-this-party-started tournament that the kids grow up on these days. Spieth won the Masters by four without breaking a sweat, and at the end he stood on the home green and applauded the fans applauding him. Someone taught him manners. Tiger Woods won the 1997 Masters at 21 years and three months with a record score of 18 under. Spieth was 21 and eight months, and now he shares the scoring record with Woods.
In June the U.S. Open was played at a gorgeous, newish, half-ridiculous county course near Tacoma, Wash., called Chambers Bay. While playing the 18th hole in the Friday round, Spieth, speaking to his caddie but with a Fox boom mike hovering nearby, said, “This is the dumbest hole I’ve ever played in my life.” If the golf gods don’t like a player, they will destroy him for such candor. They must like Jordan. On Sunday, playing in the penultimate twosome, Spieth made a birdie 4 on that same hole to finish five under, then watched as Dustin Johnson, the final golfer on the final green, needed three putts from 12 feet to close at four under. That home green had more bumps than a Lego. Spieth had been given a gift. He let the world know that he felt DJ’s pain. You can’t teach grace.
In July the British Open was at The Old Course. Spieth finished a shot out of a three-man playoff. The previous week he had played in the John Deere Classic in Silvis, Ill. He could have skipped the Quad Cities event and gone to Scotland early, to acclimate and prepare. But he had won the JDC in 2013 and had promised to return to the event that had given him a sponsor’s exemption when he was first getting started, and that is what he did, winning in a playoff. Do-the-right-thing, taught by example.
There were other highlights in a season that will go down as one of the five or 10 best in the (roughly) 150-year history of professional golf. In August, Spieth took solo second at the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, near the factory town of Kohler, Wis. In September he won the Tour Championship at East Lake, in Atlanta—the course Bobby Jones grew up playing—and with it the FedEx Cup. In October, at the Presidents Cup in South Korea, he was the buoyant epicenter of the winning team, as the U.S. beat the Internationals by a point.
So, yes, this Jordan Spieth was a big-time big winner in 2015. But the name of the honor under discussion here is Sportsman of the Year. That’s why he’s most deserving. He made a record $22 million playing golf this year, and he will give millions of it to the charitable foundation named for his family. His younger sister, Ellie, has special needs, and Jordan’s relationship with her is beyond tender and inspiring. He fills up reporters’ notebooks with honest observations, he chats and high-fives with his fans, he thanks his caddie and instructor and parents at every turn. In discussing his wins, the word you hear again and again is we. Memo to the SI brain trust: Keep the peace. Make Jordan the SOTY.