He’s only 19. That’s what they kept saying on Sunday, marveling that a man so young could perform so well on a stage so large.
For those who have been following Jordan Spieth’s brief career in the spotlight, we’re not really surprised that Spieth the golfer was in contention down the stretch at a PGA Tour event, or that he finally earned himself a spot in a playoff.
But to see Spieth the teenager’s performance in that five-hole playoff was astonishing, considering everything that was at stake for him (full Tour status, a birth in this week’s Open Championship, next year’s Masters, and eligibility for FedEx Cup points) – and the young man didn’t blink.
Spieth didn’t win the John Deere Classic as much as his competitors failed to take advantage of opportunities to seize the title themselves. Defending champion Zach Johnson couldn’t get close enough to the pin for legitimate birdie tries and Canadian David Hearn missed what seemed like a basket full of makeable putts.
Johnson’s and Hearn’s failures didn’t detract from Spieth’s victory, however. Spieth made crucial par-saving putts to keep himself in the playoff when it looked like his first Tour win would have to wait. As Tiger Woods has demonstrated many times over the years, keeping yourself in the game with par-saves can be just as important as awe-inspiring iron shots or draining eagle putts.
It was Spieth’s composure when it counted that was by far the most impressive part of his feat. He didn’t hit great shots, but he didn’t hit any truly bad ones either (though he was somewhat lucky on his final drive on the 18th hole). Johnson took himself out of the tournament with a wayward tee ball and a desperation recovery shot that subsequently found the water.
Hearn eliminated himself because he couldn’t find the bottom of the cup.
So what to make of Jordan Spieth, the first teenager to win on Tour since 1931? Is he the next player to challenge all the great records?
Who knows. The answers will come with time. Woods’ pursuit of those records has shown that nothing is certain, even for precocious young men who mature much before their time. We’ve seen “kids” younger and younger excelling in the world of sports, so it doesn’t seem so outlandish that a teenager could win on the PGA Tour.
But still, there’s something different about a kid just a little over a year removed from high school going out and competing on the world’s greatest golf Tour.
And not just competing – winning.
The LPGA has demonstrated that teenagers who grow-up fast can reach the top quickly. Why should the men be any different?
Whatever the take, it sure is refreshing to see a young man do well in a sport that allows the game’s legends to walk right alongside him. Lest we forget, 63-year-old Tom Watson competed admirably just a week before at the Greenbrier Classic. Watson didn’t win, but I doubt anyone would consider it a miracle if he did.
And how about 40-something Phil Mickelson winning in Scotland on the same day?
Mickelson’s game appears to be as fresh as ever leading into the Open Championship. Can he pull off a win in the one major where many have said he was just too undisciplined and erratic to compete?
We’ll learn this week. But no one would be all that shocked to see Jordan Spieth – or Tom Watson – do well either.