Jordan Speith Challenges the Golfing Establishment

Golf may be making a comeback. After Tiger Woods brought the sport to the forefront of entertainment in the late 2000s, golf has always been eager for those rare athletes who come in and dominate the sport. But ever since Woods’ fall from grace, the sport has lacked a true dominant force to captivate audiences. Furthermore, the sport has lacked a dominant American golfer since Woods. Rory McIlroy, who hails from Northern Ireland, has been branded as the next big thing, set to rip through a generally weak field.

However, a new competitor has risen to the top to challenge McIlroy in his pursuit: an American named Jordan Spieth.

Jordan Spieth was born on July 27, 1993 in Dallas, and is the oldest of three children. He inherits his athletic prowess from both his father, Shawn, a former college baseball player who founded a media analytics startup, and mother, Chris, a former college basketball player turned computer engineer. He grew up playing soccer, baseball, football and basketball, but golf eventually took precedence in the pecking order.

As a student at St. Monica Catholic School and Jesuit College Preparatory School, Spieth established himself as a golf prodigy. He won the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship in 2009 and 2011, making him just the second golfer after Tiger Woods to win the event twice. He also accepted an exemption to play in the PGA Tour’s HP Byron Nelson Championship in 2010, where he tied for 16th among the field of professionals.

After his illustrious high school career, Spieth enjoyed great success in college as well. As a freshman at the University of Texas, Spieth was named Big 12 Player of the Year for golf and a first-team All-American leading the Longhorns to the NCAA Golf Championship. He earned low amateur status at the Masters in 2012 and by the end of the year, Spieth was professional.

Spieth claimed his second PGA Tour victory at the 2015 Valspar Championship, but the big thrill of his young career came a month later at this year’s Masters. After jumping out to a huge lead, Spieth established records with his scores after 36 and 54 holes. He went on to tie Woods for the lowest score in Masters history at 18-under 270 and became the second-youngest player after Woods to don the green jacket as the tournament champion.

“This was arguably the greatest day of my life,” Spieth said afterward. “To join Masters history and put my name on that trophy and to have this jacket forever, it’s something that I can’t fathom right now.”

More than victories, it is Spieth’s consistent high quality and ability to rise to the occasion that has inspired faith among his admirers that he will be the next young player to follow Woods’ path. Spieth did just that in his first steps to prominence, winning the U.S. Junior Amateur twice to join Woods as the only multiple winner of that event. As a 16-year-old, Spieth tied for 16th in the Byron Nelson Championship, finishing higher than Woods ever did as an amateur in a PGA Tour event. In Spieth’s only year at the University of Texas, the Dallas native led the Longhorns to a national title, something Woods didn’t do at Stanford.

The most grown-up part of Spieth is his game. He has a sophisticated toolbox, saving strokes with intelligent shot-shaping, sound judgment, an artful short game, and a brave putter. When he’s on, he can go low, as he did with final rounds of 62 and 64 in last year’s FedEx Cup. But he specializes in getting the most out of his rounds when he’s slightly off, steeped in the ability—to borrow a bromide from Bobby Locke and Jack Nicklaus—to “play badly well.” It’s why Spieth has finished among the top 20 some 27 times as a pro.

The next major tournament on the radar for Spieth is the US Open, being held for the first time in the Pacific Northwest at Chambers Bay in Washington. Spieth and McIlroy are the runaway favorites, McIlroy at 11-2 odds and Spieth at 7-1.


World #1 Rory McIlroy photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Spieth dismisses the rivalry, for now. “I could certainly appreciate if I could get to where he’s at,’’ Spieth said of McIlroy, “but right now I don’t see myself there. There’s a lot of hard work that needs to be had to get there, and once I am there it’s certainly a huge goal of mine to make it interesting with him and possibly take over No. 1.”

When McIlroy was asked if he thought of a rivalry with Spieth, he sidestepped, saying, “Honestly, I don’t think so. I’m pretty much paying attention to myself out there, just sort of trying to get myself around the golf course. Regardless of who I play with, that doesn’t really change.”

Nevertheless, Spieth, along with others in the next generation of golfers, is here and a force to be reckoned with.

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About Franklin Lewis

Frankie is a senior at Lick-Wilmerding High School. He lives in San Francisco with both his parents in North Beach. Frankie runs cross-country and plays baseball for Lick. He wrote and edited his elementary/middle school paper from 5th to 8th grade. This is his second year on the Paper Tiger staff. Frankie manages the sports section in the Paper Tiger.

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