By: Steve Williams, WGCA contributing writer
How refreshing was it to watch Jordan Spieth at Colonial, on Sunday, on the back nine?
There is a new excitement in the air right now regarding the PGA Tour and its future. We have a great crop of young men, as well as some middle-aged men, who each possess the quality game to provide years of fantastic entertainment for golf fans.
Twenty years ago there was Tiger, just getting started on tour…and raising the bar to a level so high that it brought out a standard of training and competitiveness which, I believe, helped create what we have now. Tour golf has never been this competitive! Additionally, all of us who make our living in the golf industry owe a sizable portion of our income to what Tiger did for the game. He created an excitement, which brought tournament golf into the homes of millions of people who otherwise would not have watched PGA Tour golf before he emerged.
But now, tour golf is in the hands of guys like Spieth, Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott, Dustin Johnson, Ricky Fowler and Bubba Watson. On a lesser note, guys like Danny Willett, Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Hideki Matsuyama and James Hahn have the talent to jump to the top of the rankings. Then there are the stalwarts, such as Phil Mickelson, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose and Louis Oosthuizen, all of whom are a threat to win a major tournament at any time.
But back to Spieth! How long has it been that you could recall a man on tour who did magical things with his clubs, and…who had the depth of character, discipline and likability that Spieth has? Not only that, but he is as fine a gentleman on the course as I can ever recall seeing. He also knows how to deal with disappointment while congratulating those who were better than him on any particular day, with an amount of poise that is rarely seen.
If I am being brutally honest here, I could say that although Tiger lifted the quality of competition to a level that was rarely reached prior to his emergence, I was never comfortable with him being a role model for the young kids who were starting to dream about being on tour some day. Sorry if that is offensive to anybody, but although competitively he was like a man among boys at times, when it came to maturity and respect for the game and his competitors, he was sometimes an adolescent among men on the tour. I cringed sometimes when I heard his language and saw him throw and kick clubs, like some 13-year-old junior-high student.
I cringed because I knew that the young kids growing up watching that behavior would emulate it to some degree, at the very least. I also cringed when Tiger made huge mistakes in his personal life, mistakes which ended up taking a massive toll on his mind, but more importantly, which young golfers might feel should be acceptable behavior.
Keeping things in balance, though, I think few people actually comprehend how much Tiger did for the game because of his phenomenal talent, wise decisions on the course, and because he loved the thrill of the competitive moment. Tiger provided unparalleled amounts of quality shots which will go into the annals of golf lore. He is certainly one of the all-time greats of the game, and he lifted the quality of golf to a higher level than previously attained, in my opinion, anyway.
Spieth, though, has such respect for the game, its history, his competitors, the fans – and especially the young fans – that he seems willing to handle the responsibility of being a role model. Additionally, he obviously knows that it is the fans who have made playing tournament golf so lucrative for those who are fortunate enough to make it in professional golf. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to believe that the vast majority of parents would be proud of their child’s development as human beings if they turned out like Jordan Spieth, the person.
So, I will suggest that when you think of the short list of the names of the men on the PGA Tour who created a stir that catapulted golf to a level formerly not achieved before they became household names, it would be names such as these: Bobby Jones, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Greg Norman, and Tiger Woods. There were many other great names, but those I mentioned seemed to transcend golf and reach people who had no interest in watching it before.
From what I can see right now, I believe Jordan Spieth will fit solidly in that list as the years go by. I can find faults in his swing to the point that personally, I wouldn’t rate his golf swing much better than average on the tour. But he has virtually every other strength that a man needs to become a superstar.
And…he is currently in the process of stoking the imagination of millions of serious young golfers across the globe. That fact in itself will encourage a large percentage of parents to get their children involved in golf. Does it get any better than that?