As we break away completely from the Masters, now a week and a half out, there’s one loose end that needs tying: what should we make of Jordan Spieth’s first trip to Augusta?
While I’ve always been a big proponent of not labeling young golfers “The Next” anybody, Jordan Spieth’s meteoric rise is ripe for public comparisons to some of the best players in the world. The inevitable list of possible Nexts included the usual suspects: Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson.
However, the one that rings home with me the most is one I’ve only seen mentioned by Kyle Porter over at CBS Sports’ Eye on Golf: Sergio Garcia.
We all remember Garcia as the baby-faced kid who scissor-kicked his way in a dual with Tiger at the 1999 PGA Championship but the reality is that his first 25 PGA Tour events were as amazing as Spieth’s.
Let’s take a look…
Spieth through 25 events: One win, four seconds, 10 top 10s, 15 top 25s, 20 made cuts
Garcia through 25 events: Zero wins, one second, nine top 10s, 15 top 25s, 21 made cuts
Call it shortsighted, but given Spieth’s recent play at his first Masters, the flashback I kept having was to 1999 at Medinah and Sergio Garcia scissor-kicking his way around the course chasing Tiger Woods. I distinctly remember being in a Niagra Falls Hard Rock Cafe watching that US Open. Similarly, I was in a vacation home in Naples watching Spieth. The comparisons are endless!
In all seriousness, though, at this point Jordan Spieth’s possible outcomes are endless. He’s only played in five major championships (four as a professional) and made the cut in three of them, highlighted by his Masters runner-up. Since we’re comparing, Tiger didn’t win his first major until his 7th major start.
Still, all roads are open to Spieth. He could win a major this year and be “on pace” to be the next Tiger; he could go winless and the Sergio comparison could grow some legs; or, more likely, something completely different will happen. Spieth and his handlers have the luxury — that’s right, it’s a luxury — to see how today’s superstars have handled a myriad of situations, both correctly and incorrectly.
We’ve seen scandal blow up one of the best careers in the history of the game, tooth aches used as excuses for withdrawal, Twitter rants sink a number of good will beliefs and so much more. Another thing to consider, Spieth has been the next big thing for a long time. He won the US Amateur twice, he played in the HP Byron Nelson when he was 16. His public breakout has been a long process that has been meticulously handled.
Personally, we know as much about Jordan Spieth as Team Spieth wants us to know. We know Ellie, his special needs younger sister; we know Steven, his standout basketball-playing little brother; we know his caddie, a former 6th grade math teacher; we know his main sponsor, UnderArmour, who signed Spieth Durant-like as competitors Nike tied their ship to Rory McIlroy; and we know his girlfriend, Annie Verret, who can often be found outside the ropes following around her high school sweetheart.
Other than that, we don’t know much, and that’s the way Team Spieth likes it. Regardless of who Spieth’s career trajectory jogs memories of, we’re fairly certain that it won’t involve the pitfalls of some of the other top players because his team has learned from those mistakes. The next Sergio or the next Tiger, time will tell, but Spieth is well aware of the stage he is performing on and has assembled the team around him that will use the past as a lesson plan.
In other news today, we have an R&A development, our first reports from Pinehurst No. 2, a Nate-Silver special and a preview of tonight’s In Play with Jimmy Roberts.
-The R&A will have a new face come September of 2015 as The Guardian reports that chief executive Peter Dawson is following in the footsteps of David Letterman and calling it quits next year. Dawson will also give up his post as secretary of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews. The position, which is to be filled by “international executive search firm Spencer Stuart” will name a replacement with enough time “for an appropriate handover period in 2015.”
If you’re worried you may be overlooked by Spencer Stuart, you can always send in your credentials to TheR&A@SpencerStuart.com.
GolfDigest.com’s John Huggan recapped his tenure, going so far as to label his time at the R&A as the “Dawson Era.” In a good way.
News that the R&A’s first-ever chief executive, Peter Dawson, will retire from his post in September 2015 after 16 years on the job comes as no real surprise. With golf in the Olympics and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews finally set to vote on the vexing issue of allowing female members, maybe the 64-year-old Cambridge graduate felt there was nothing much left for him to achieve. Then again, perhaps it is simply time to be at home more with his wife, Juliet — who has recently not enjoyed the best of health — and working on the swing that made him a 1-handicapper at his best.
-Pinehurst held their US Open Media Day on Monday, April 21 during which the heathen media descended upon Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore’s renovated masterpiece that will host back-to-back US Opens in June. The divots should be repaired by that time.
We’ve seen and heard about the changes to the course, which was reopened in 2011, but as they ramp the course up into playing shape, some interesting tidbits have been shed to light from GolfChannel.com’s Randall Mell:
Coore is relishing seeing a U.S. Open without the typical, chop-out rough.
“This is going to be the first U.S. Open played without a maintained rough,” Coore said during Monday’s media day. “Yes, the fairways will be bigger, but the uncertainty of shots that are going to be played from the natural rough, we think that is going to be one of the most interesting stories of the week.”
Of course, Coore said, the diabolical turtle-back greens will remain Pinehurst No. 2’s primary defense, but the shots into them will be more intriguing this year. Coore and Crenshaw began restoring the course in May of 2010 with the course re-opening in the spring of 2011.
The restoration means a player who misses a fairway this year may find his ball in a sandy waste area, in wiry grass or in pine straw, or in some combination of all of the above.
“We think you’re going to see some of the most spectacular recovery shots in U.S. Open history,” Coore said.
Mell’s colleague, Will Gray, agreed to an extent, but also noted on Twitter that there is a strong possibility that there may be a few gripes.
Main takeaway from playing No. 2 – players are prob going to gripe bc there is no rhyme or reason to lies off the fairway. Luck def in play.
— Will Gray (@WillGrayGC) April 21, 2014
You can blow it 20 yds right, find hardpan and be fine, or miss by a yard, end up in a footprint or behind a tuft and have no shot to green. — Will Gray (@WillGrayGC) April 21, 2014
Overall though, I like the course and like the idea of having an Open here. Will force players to play a little outside the box/get creative — Will Gray (@WillGrayGC) April 21, 2014
Getting into a read for today, we’re becoming more and more enthralled with the Sabermetric-izing of sports, so much so that Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com fame is now employed by The Worldwide Leader. Now, with sports reports coming out of his number-centric brain, we get interesting pieces like this one on income inequality in golf by Roger Pielke Jr.
But those are team sports. With the Masters tournament unspooling this week, I started wondering about income inequality for the PGA Tour, a collection of athletes that doesn’t have a salary cap. Surely, after more than a decade of big purses for Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and a select few others, golf would prove to be an unequal sport.
It is, but increasingly less so. Since 1980, the PGA Tour has been shifting toward more income equality. How that happened, and how golf differs from other professional sports, shows that high levels of income inequality aren’t inevitable, even when individual athletes have different levels of skill.
And finally, today’s video is more of a public service announcement. Find a reair of In Play with Jimmy Roberts and DVR it. It’s on again tonight at 8 p.m.