Virginia Golfer May / June 2015 - Page 41

Virginia Golfer Voices by SCOTT MICHAUX Spieth Well-Suited for Spotlight TOP: FILE PHOTO; ROSS KINNAIRD/GETTY IMAGES W ith one precinct reporting from Georgia’s 12th Congressional District, the golf world is already projecting 2015 Masters winner Jordan Spieth will be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2035. Too soon? Speculation about what the 21-year-old’s record-setting victory at Augusta means in the long term is moving faster than his receding hairline. “Jordan Rules: The Spieth Era Begins Now” was the proclamation splayed across the cover of Sports Illustrated–– less than four years removed from the same cover space announcing “Golf’s New Era” in the wake of Rory McIlroy’s record romp in the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional just two months after blowing the Masters. Projecting future success based on shortterm data is a dicey proposition, of course. We were quick to hail Sergio Garcia as the next great champion when the teenager chased his ball out from behind a Medinah tree at the 1999 PGA Championship. Garcia remains a top-10 player 16 years later, but he’s still chasing that elusive major. Garcia, however, is at least closer to “Hall of Fame” conversation than Charles Howell III, who 15 years after being declared the “next Tiger Woods” has $28.5 million in career earnings but only two victories and one sorry tie for 10th place showing as his peak in a major championship. Acknowledging the futility of predicting the future in golf, the confluence of youth and accomplishment has always sparked a little hyperventilating. Back in 1931, a youngster only six months past his 20th birthday knocked off Gene Sarazen and Denny Shute to claim the PGA Championship. A United News report heralded the dawning of the Tom Creavy era thusly: “The passing on the Professional Golfers’ Association championship from the overlords of swat who have held sway since 1922, into the hands of youthful Tom Creavy, was seen today as presaging a new style of play.” Well, Creavy’s “era” began and ended with that lone major title. His experience, however, is more the exception than the norm when it comes to launching superstardom at such an unripened age. Precedence is actually heavily weighted w w w. v s g a . o r g 39_VSGA_MayJun15.indd 39 With his triumph at the Masters, Jordan Spieth took possession of the green jacket, awarded to the event champion and is now at the forefront of American golf. in favor of Spieth being a can’t-miss Hall of Famer in line with Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods more than Garcia and Howell. What Spieth did in dominating the Masters wire-to-wire and tying Woods’ scoring record gives every reason to believe it’s the beginning of something truly great. Nobody got within three strokes of him during the last three rounds at Augusta. “He was too good for the rest of us,” said McIlroy, who finished fourth. Spieth is only five months older than Woods was when “Tigermania” erupted with his 1997 Masters triumph, so the “Spiethfrenzy” is a perfectly rational reaction for a guy who’s finished second and first in his only two Masters starts. Let’s put this in some historical context. When he donned the green jacket, Spieth was 16 days older than Walter Hagen was when he won the first of his 11 majors at the 1914 U.S. Open. Of the nine guys not named Spieth since World War I who won their first major before the age of 25, Creavy is the only one to not win at least four career majors. The other guys are Sarazen, Bobby Jones, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Seve Ballesteros, Ernie Els, Woods and McIlroy. Spieth was also the youngest player postDepression to win a PGA Tour event when he claimed the 2013 John Deere Classic in a playoff over former Masters champion Zach Johnson at 19 years, 11 months and 17 days. There have been 14 players since 1900 who have won PGA Tour events prior to their 21st birthdays—11 of them older than the age of eligibility for the World Golf Hall of Fame. Only two haven’t been inducted— John McDermott and Creavy. Woods and McIlroy just need to turn 40. Spieth is on that same trajectory. To this point in his brief career, he already compares favorably to his 21st century peers—Woods and McIlroy. Before he turned 22, McIlroy had won twice worldwide, including at Quail Hollow as his first PGA Tour victory. He was 19 years, eight months, 29 days when he broke his maiden at the 2009 Dubai Desert Classic. Before he turned 22, Woods had six PGA Tour victories, including the Masters among his four wins in 1997. He was 20 years, nine months and six days when he won his first tour title at the 1996 Las Vegas Invitational—14 days before winning his second at Disney. Spieth already has five worldwide wins, three of them official PGA Tour titles. Before turning professional at age 19, he led Texas to an NCAA championship, claimed low amateur honors in a U.S. Open and was the only golfer other than Woods to win multiple U.S. Junior Amateur titles. Combine his pedigree and results with his burning desire to become the No. 1 golfer in the world and you have the ingredients of a superstar. He’s already No. 2 behind McIlroy. The key for Spieth will be resisting the temptation to make changes in the so-called pursuit of perfection, à la Padraig Harrington or Luke Donald. The knock on Spieth is that he doesn’t have any one element of his game that stands out as “great.” He ranks 61st on tour in driving distance, 109th in driving accuracy, 81st in greens in regulation, 60th in ball striking and 59th in sand saves. That’s all true. But he excels at using his skill, instinct and brain at getting the most out of every situation. He ranks in the top eight in every “strokes gained” category from tee-to-green and putting and No. 1 in scoring. At last check, those are the things that matter most. So mark the 2035 induction on your calendar in ink. Spieth is destined to be great. Columnist Scott Michaux is an award-winning columnist for The Augusta Chronicle n Augusta, Ga., and a regular contributor to Virginia Golfer. M AY / J U N E 2 0 1 5 | V I R G I N I A G O L F E R 39 5/8/15 11:58 AM