Mariotti: Leaving us Spieth-less 

click to enlarge Fresh off his Masters win, Jordan Spieth will look for an encore at the World Golf Championships at TPC Harding Park this month. - CURTIS COMPTON/AP FILE PHOTO
  • Curtis Compton/AP file photo
  • Fresh off his Masters win, Jordan Spieth will look for an encore at the World Golf Championships at TPC Harding Park this month.

If it was "arguably" the greatest day of Jordan Spieth's young life, as he put it, then there can be no argument about what his seminal breakthrough means to sports, golf, America, 21st-century life and maybe even humankind. Big-picture lowdown here: The rest of us probably needed this experience more than he did.

Watching him perform surgical incisions on Augusta National like few masters before him ... watching him do so with humility, grace, guts, fire and shotmaking sagacity ... watching him fulfill adolescent scenes where he'd stand on a green with friends and say, "This is to win the Masters" ... watching him celebrate with his family in some Rockwellian throwback, while wishing his 14-year-old sister, Ellie, could have been there as she battles strains of autism ...

Kind of restores one's faith in the world, does it not?

"Ellie would ask me, 'Did you win? Did you win?' and I said, 'Not yet, not yet, no,'" he said of recent conversations with her. "Now I can tell her I won."

He won the green jacket. We won our societal equilibrium back. No one was really sure if they made champions anymore like Jordan Spieth, who is still with his high-school girlfriend and longtime swing coach and who spent his evenings in Georgia last weekend playing pingpong, watching "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" and staying up until midnight while hanging out with close friends still in college. Remember, he is 21, and he'd be a senior at the University of Texas if he hadn't decided to leave early and conquer the golf universe in a one-and-done no one complains about. "It felt like we were back home on a random weekend," he told the Associated Press. "I couldn't partake in what they were doing."

No, Spieth was too busy making history that couldn't have been predicted a year earlier, when he led the Masters by two strokes early in the final round but lost to Bubba Watson. This time, he wasn't going to blow a wire-to-wire lead, even as he was awakened by anxious thoughts in the wee hours, even as Tiger Woods tried head games with references to Rory McIlroy's Masters blowup in 2011. This time, he applied the chokehold with daring forays, starting with a full-swing flop above the 18th green Saturday after his lead had dwindled to four strokes, then on Sunday, when he responded to the charging Justin Rose with birdies. He could have laid up on the 13th fairway, with a five-shot lead, but he chose 5-iron and went for the green.

"Hard, go hard. GO!!!" he shouted at the ball, as he often does.

The ball listened. With that message, Spieth secured the most resounding Masters victory since Tiger's "Hello, world" triumph in 1997, which was about conquering racism in a privileged, white-bread sport as much as Woods' emergence as a transcendent global figure. Finally, America has a sports sensation who doesn't seem headed toward scandal. Suddenly, the 25-year-old McIlroy has a rival — Europe vs. USA — while the struggling sport of golf, which doesn't relate to smartphone-hooked millenials who don't have time for 18 holes or inclusive institutions like country clubs, has a reason for all demographics to pay attention. Doesn't everyone love a guy who goes for it all when there was so much to lose again? "When it landed, I thought it hit short in the water, and all of a sudden the roar came up," Spieth said. "The pitchmark was right on that little peninsula, another moment where I thought, 'This could be destiny.'"

He managed a laugh. "There's a reason I have the hairline I do," said Spieth, who has a fade of sorts on his forehead. "What we do, it's stressful."

You'd never know watching him. Now No. 2 in the world behind McIlroy, Spieth embarks on a post-Masters whirlwind that will take him, starting April 27, to TPC Harding Park for the World Golf Championships Cadillac Match Play tournament. The event was moved from Arizona, where it traditionally was held in February, to the San Francisco springtime as part of The City's commitment to hosting prime golf events at Harding Park, including the 2020 PGA Championship and 2025 Presidents Cup. The Match Play tournament is booked here for one year.

Who knew it would serve as the coronation of golf's next leading light?

Spieth, whose Bay Area appearance is confirmed on the WGC website, likely will be joined by McIlroy, Phil Mickelson and the majority of the top 64 players in the Official World Golf Ranking. Woods will not be here. His agent told ESPN.com in an email Wednesday that his wrist "is fine" after ramming his club into a tree root Sunday, but he won't be eligible for the Match Play event with his No. 101 ranking. I never thought we'd say this about Tiger, but with Spieth and McIlroy established as the game's conversation pieces, he won't be missed much.

"I look forward to getting in the heat of the moment with [McIlroy] in the near future and see if we can battle it out and test our games," Spieth said.

Maybe they'll duel it out by Lake Merced, where the zoo is nearby and the gallery will be a circus.

Anyone in the country not talking about Spieth this week?

"He has no weaknesses," Mickelson said. "He doesn't overpower the golf course, but he plays strategically well. He plays all the shots properly. And he has that ability to focus and see things clear when the pressure is on and perform at his best when the pressure is on. That's something that you really can't teach."

"It really shouldn't be that easy. You take your hat off and marvel at it," Rose said. "He's going to fly the flag for golf for quite a while."

"When I first met him, I tell you, I'll never forget it," golf great Ben Crenshaw said of his fellow Texan. "I looked right at him, and he looked at me, and I thought I was looking at Wyatt Earp. He just had that look about him."

"America wanted its superstar," three-time Masters champ Nick Faldo said on CBS, "and it got one very quickly."

Even Spieth seemed to grasp the magnitude of it all. "This is as great as it gets in our sport," he said.

The only thing bringing him down is a nickname hatched by other golfers in the clubhouse: Golden Child. "It's not nice what I say to them when they say it to me," he said this week during a media blitz in New York, where he appeared on network shows and watched the Empire State Building salute him with Masters green lighting. "I've been working on trying to keep it quiet. And this week isn't going to help."

But what's he going to do? Jordan Spieth is the Golden Child.

And for a few days, even with the Warriors in the playoffs and the Giants trying to score a run or two at the ballpark, this city will be his.

Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at jmariotti@sfexaminer.com. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.

About The Author

Jay Mariotti

Jay Mariotti

Bio:
Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at jmariotti@sfexaminer.com. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.
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