Monday, April 13, 2015

Spieth shifts spotlight of American golf

Gene Wojciechowski, Columnist / College Football reporter
April 12, 2015
Jordan Spieth celebrates after winning the Masters golf tournament Sunday, April 12, 2015, in Augusta, Ga.
Chris Carlson/AP Photo

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- What is it like when the dream grows up to become reality?Jordan Spieth can tell you, now that his reality, years in the making, includes a 42-regular green jacket.
Spieth didn't just win the 79th Masters, he took it out behind Butler Cabin and knocked it silly. He led from Thursday start to Sunday finish. He tied a Masters scoring record -- you know, just for fun.
So final-round drama took a vacation day. Big deal. That's the trade-off for watching Spieth leave tank tracks over the rest of the field. History doesn't always require a cliffhanger ending.
Spieth won by 4 strokes and was never truly threatened. Justin Roseand Phil Mickelson made their little runs, but it was like watching two guys try to scale a 20-foot wall with a 5-foot ladder. They tried, but they needed help -- and Spieth never lowered them a rope.
"This is arguably the greatest day of my life," Spieth said.
If you're looking for the next great American player, Spieth is a nice place to start. Soon, he might be a nice place to finish -- if he isn't already.
The search has gone on for years. From Arnie to Jack to maybe Tom Watson to Tiger to ...?
Let's see. It was going to be Hank Keuhne, Ricky BarnesCharles Howell III,Rickie FowlerDustin Johnson -- the list goes on. But none of those guys has won a major. Not even Arnie or Jack left Augusta National with a four-round total of 18-under. It was, as Mickelson put it, "just astounding."
It was, wasn't it? Everything about Spieth's 2015 Masters (sure, you might as well include his T-2 in his Masters debut last year too) was beyond amazing.
Spieth actually stepped to the 18th tee box at 19-under (the first player ever to do so here) but bogeyed the final hole. That meant he tied Woods' 72-hole Masters scoring record -- a record many thought would never be matched or broken.
The list of his early career accomplishments is beginning to stretch longer than the flagstick Spieth's caddie, Michael Greller, kept as a keepsake. Spieth has already won more than $14 million in his brief professional career. He has three PGA Tour victories, but in his past four tournaments, he has gone win, second, tied for second, win. He has played in the Ryder Cup and the Presidents Cup.
Did I mention he's only 21?
"Obviously, you could put him in that classification of phenom," said Zach Johnson, who won this tournament in 2007. "But given that, I don't think you want to ordain him anything yet."
Fair enough. It's one major, but what a major. Spieth is only the fifth Masters winner to go wire-to-wire and the first to do so in 39 years. With the win, he moves to No. 2 in the world rankings, behind Rory McIlroy.
The truth is Spieth and his game are easy to like. He's 21, but you wouldn't know it by the way he plays. He thinks older. He carries himself older. Even his hairline is older. If you're American golf, you want him on that tee box. You need him on that tee box.
There's a reason there was a conga line of players and caddies waiting to congratulate Spieth as he made his way to the scorer's room. Jim Mackay, Mickelson's caddie, hugged him and said, "I'm happy for you, buddy." Johnson told him, "I'm so proud of you, man. Well done."
On the CBS broadcast, three-time Masters champ Nick Faldo told viewers, "America wanted its superstar, and it got one very quickly."
Actually, it didn't happen that quickly. Spieth has been dreaming of this since he was a kid in Dallas, when he would go to the golf course with his buddies and spend time on the practice green.
"This is to win the Masters," he would tell them as he lined up a long one.
If he made it, he and his friends would yell loudly enough to cause some of the club's members to shush him.
This is the same guy who years later would be allowed to take a quick tour of Augusta National's Champions Locker Room -- where only Masters champions are allowed entry. He gazed at the room and said to himself, "This is where I want to be. This is the pinnacle of golf."
On Sunday, he made the putt to win the Masters for real. His name will be engraved on one of those lockers. Dream, let me introduce you to Reality.
Tiger Woods turns 40 in December. He remains the face of golf, but even he would say he isn't the future of golf. That title belongs to McIlroy.
But for now, in this country, Spieth is the present and future. Of course, Johnson respectfully disagrees.
"I think that's an embellishment," he said.
His point: There are other young American golfers in the superstar pipeline.
"I think American golf is outstanding," he said.
He'll get no argument here. But Spieth is the only young American golfter to move from the pipeline to Butler Cabin for the green jacket presentation. He's the only one to thank the food and beverage people at Augusta National during the awards ceremony. He's the only one to say, without reservation, that he wants to win another Masters and unseat McIlroy as world No. 1.
Is he the next great American golf hope?
He's already there.

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