Time for one of our famous back-and-forth chats (in public) about a topic that I think is an interesting debate: is Jordan Spieth what golf needs right now?

JK:

I proposed this topic because I believe I know that LG’s answer would be different from mine. You see, LG is an unabashed fan of Tiger Woods; in his mind–and with some truth to the myth–all golfers are mere mortals in a divine playground for one great God: The Big Cat. And it cannot be denied that Tiger Woods did some amazing things on the golf course–things that are unparalleled even to this day.

With that said, Tiger Woods simply cannot be the standard by which all golf is measured, and I feel my co-author often has too high expectations for the golfing elite of today. Yes, the Rory McIlroys and Dustin Johnsons of this PGA era can rival some of Tiger Woods’s physical abilities, but it’s unfair to compare their skill or mental game to the greatest of all time.

And, thus, to LG (and to our readers), I pose the question: is Jordan Spieth what golf needs today?

and I answer it “yes.”

Maybe that answer is qualified a bit. If determining what golf “needs” is finding someone who can help the game stay healthy, growing, and interesting, then I think Spieth is a resounding “yes.” While this may be anecdotal, in the days since Spieth’s victory, I have seen countless examples of greater interest at my local driving range, at my local course, in conversations with fellow golfers. It seems like everyone is coming out of the woodwork to get in the game. No, this isn’t like when Tiger Woods created a new demographic of interest in the game, but it is a revitalization that is much-needed–and much overdue.

Why is Spieth what golf needs? In my humble opinion, golf is perhaps the most personally reachable game that gets consistently put on television. It’s something that you can do even if you’re overweight, lost a leg, can’t see out of one eye, can’t walk straight, etc. etc. etc. And it’s still a challenge no matter your skill level because your main competition is yourself. That means that the professional level is aspirational for many of us. What we see the pros do we automatically want to do. If a pro throws grass in the air, we start doing it. If our favorite pro changes his shaft, we want to check out that new shaft (don’t tell me you never tried the Tour AD DI when Tiger Woods started using it). We are constantly grinding in an attempt to improve.

But the game that we see on TV for almost all TOUR pros nowadays is something that is utterly unreachable. Even on our best drives of the year, we can’t carry the ball 340 like DJ. Even on a jumper downwind downhill, we can’t hit a 7-iron 215 like Rory. Even with months of practice, we can’t reliably flop the ball to within a foot of the hole and have it stop on a dime like Phil.

But we can do what Spieth can.

At least, that’s what we can tell ourselves.

When you look at Jordan Spieth’s game, nothing really flashes out. Yes, he is a brilliant putter–one of the best the TOUR has ever seen. But no matter how flashy that is, we can all see ourselves making a long putt here or there. And otherwise his game never seems too flashy. Many times, he looks human. How many guys have ever sliced the ball onto the driving range? If you’re reading this and have two thumbs, congrats–it’s you. So when Spieth hit his ball further right than the R&A even anticipated any TOUR pro would, we kind of sort of related to that. Making 5 from the driving range (with a penalty drop, no less) is beyond impressive, but that’s not really the focal point of that event. When you watch Spieth, it almost looks like he hits his iron shots a little heavy. His iron gaps are within the range of a normal human being. His driver averages 292.3–not short, but something that many good players can achieve. And even if you can’t achieve it, you might easily be able to get within 20 yards of that.

In other words, his game is relate-able.

And, on a personal level, it’s hard to find any sports figure with a better public image. He’s kind to everyone and seems to make no huge mistakes despite being in his early 20s. He seems to understand his place in history but still tries to remain humble, a trait that Americans–and golfers in general–seem to fall for (maybe because it’s so rare nowadays). He’s even going bald–and admits it.

In other words, Jordan Spieth is making golf approachable again…in much the same way that Tiger Woods made golf exciting. If there’s anything the sport needs, it’s true excitement, but if I can’t have that, let’s make it approachable. Let’s have a guy who’s a role model, a good dude in general, and a great golfer.

And the guy can putt the lights out!

LG:

So the question is: Is Jordan Spieth what golf needs right now?  Based on the way he’s setup this discussion, JK’s right.  I mostly disagree.

JK actually answers the question the same way I do – golf needs to be more exciting than it is now if it is to stay healthy and vibrant.  If we assume people watching professional golf is an indicator of the game’s healthiness, then golf needs to be exciting for it to stay healthy.  In other words, professional golf needs to attract more new players to the game.

I completely respect what Jordan is trying to do as a professional athlete, but I don’t think he’s “what golf needs right now.”  Every tournament Jordan plays in and wins provides a masterclass in course management and putting, and yes, he also has a perfect public image.  But that’s not why we watch professional athletes.  We don’t watch professional athletics to see things we can do.  We watch to be awed.  We watch to see the ridiculous.  We watch to be entertained.  We watched MJ because of his insane work ethic and desire to win.  We watch Steph Curry because he makes passes and the shots that no one should make.  We watched Tiger because he’s the best forever in the clutch and it was assumed that he could win regardless of where he was in the field.  Listening to Jordan talk about going bald is about as exciting as the thought of talking to your parents about the facts of life.

I agree with everything JK says above regarding Jordan’s game and how it makes golf approachable.  But, Jordan’s game only makes golf approachable to people with interest in golf already.  It is interesting for me as a golf nut to see someone win majors without doing superhuman things with the golf ball, but it is not exciting.  I can’t honestly remember the last time I watched Jordan play more than 9 holes.  The last time I watched him play 9 holes was the back nine at the Masters, which even non-golf people watch…because its the Masters. I’m definitely not turning on the Valspar Championship to see how Jordan Spieth takes on the back nine at whatever course that tournament is played.

I do think Jordan can inject this excitement into his game if he continues to win at his current pace.  The narrative will then be Jordan chasing down Tiger and Jack, which means the excitement comes from chasing down two of the most exciting and greatest players of all time, not from his game per se.  Can he deal with the weight of history? Can he close?  All indications are yes, but the possibility of failure is why we would watch.

 

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Updated 6/20
Yikes. Once again, our prowess for picking tournaments is pretty poor. See correct answers below:

Overall:
Winner: Webb Simpson
Winning Score: +1.
Runner Up: GMac and Michael Thompson.
Low Amateur: Jordan Speith.
“Unknown” in the Top 10: Michael Thompson, John Peterson. THIS IS WHAT I MEAN BY “UKNOWN”–AS IN, NO ONE KNOWS WHO THE F THEY ARE!
Most difficult hole vs. par: 6, but I contend it would have been 16 if they hadn’t moved the tees up on Sunday.
Easiest hole vs. par: 17.
Last Year’s Winner (Rory) Will … (Win, Top10, Make the Cut, or Miss the Cut): Missed the cut.
How many prior winners will be in the Top 10: 4 – Furyk, GMac, Els, Goosen
Will there be an ace?: Yes.
…(assume there is) Which hole: 13.
Will someone win it, or will everyone else lose it?: Furyk definitely lost it

First Round Three balls:
Tiger, Phil, or Bubba?: Tiger
Goosen, Vijay , or ZJ?: Goosen and Vijay shot 75; ZJ shot 77. no one won.
Rory, Luke, or Westwood?: Westwood
Furyk, Sergio, or GMAC?: 69 for GMac on day 1
Fowler, Ryo, or DJ?: Ryo shot 71 on day 1 (followed by 78 and MC on day 2)

Second Round Three balls:
Tiger, Phil, or Bubba?: Tiger shot 70. Phil and Bubba shot 71. Close.
Goosen, Vijay , or ZJ?: Goosen and ZJ shoot 70
Rory, Luke, or Westwood?: Westwood and Donald shoot 72; Rory shoots 73.
Furyk, Sergio, or GMAC?: Furyk with the 69
Fowler, Ryo, or DJ?: Johnson shoots 74 FTW. WTF?

Original 6/13:
Alright Ladies and Gents, this week marks the 112th playing of our National Championship.  The tournament will take place in LG’s backyard – the Lake Course at the Olympic Club.  Given LG’s inside knowledge of the course, clearly he should win (and already has because he has inside knowledge).

Without further distraction, our predictions:

LG:

Overall:
Winner: TW.
Winning Score: -3.
Runner Up: Sergio Garcia.
Low Amateur: Patrick Cantlay.
“Unknown” in the Top 10: Aaron Baddeley.
Most difficult hole vs. par: par-3 Third.
Easiest hole vs. par: Par-4 Seventh.
Last Year’s Winner (Rory) Will … (Win, Top10, Make the Cut, or Miss the Cut): Make the Cut.
How many prior winners will be in the Top 10: 3.
Will there be an ace?: No.
…(assume there is) Which hole: 15.
Will someone win it, or will everyone else lose it?: TW will win it.

First Round Three balls:
Tiger, Phil, or Bubba?: TW gets off to a rocky start.  Bubba takes the win on day 1.
Goosen, Vijay , or ZJ?: Hate to say it, but probably ZJ.
Rory, Luke, or Westwood?: Luke shoots even for the win.
Furyk, Sergio, or GMAC?: Sergio.
Fowler, Ryo, or DJ?: Fowler with the win on day 1.

Second Round Three balls:
Tiger, Phil, or Bubba?: Tiger makes a charge.
Goosen, Vijay , or ZJ?: ZJ again, unfortunately.  probably with a +3
Rory, Luke, or Westwood?: Rory comes back to make the cut.
Furyk, Sergio, or GMAC?: Sergio gives a couple back.  Furyk pulls out the win.
Fowler, Ryo, or DJ?:  DJ.  Did you see him at the St. Jude?

JK:

Overall:
Winner: Dustin Johnson
Winning Score: Even
Runner Up: Rickie Fowler
Low Amateur: LG, when he finds out he has to work instead of watch the open. But seriously, Cantlay
“Unknown” in the Top 10: Rooting for Tim Weinhart, local pro from Atlanta who made the field through qualifying.
Most difficult hole vs. par: Any of them could be. There isn’t an easy hole on the course. Let’s go with 16.
Easiest hole vs. par: 18
Last Year’s Winner (Rory) Will … (Win, Top10, Make the Cut, or Miss the Cut): make the cut. He’s not in good form after choking at the St. Jude
How many prior winners will be in the Top 10: 0
Will there be an ace?: no
…(assume there is) Which hole: I said NO!
Will someone win it, or will everyone else lose it?: No one wins the US Open.

First Round Three balls:
Tiger, Phil, or Bubba?: Bubba
Goosen, Vijay , or ZJ?: ZJ
Rory, Luke, or Westwood?: Rors
Furyk, Sergio, or GMAC?: Sergio
Fowler, Ryo, or DJ?: Fowler

Second Round Three balls:
Tiger, Phil, or Bubba?: Phil
Goosen, Vijay , or ZJ?: Vijay
Rory, Luke, or Westwood?: Rors
Furyk, Sergio, or GMAC?: Furyk
Fowler, Ryo, or DJ?: DJ

Fail of the Week 6

July 19, 2011

This week’s FAIL goes to our American golfers at the British Open, Phickelson and DJ. American golf has been hurting for the last several years (since Tiger’s surgery and subsequent tree-driving incident). We count on the big hitters, and they continually let us down.

Dustin Johnson has had chances at last year’s US Open, last year’s PGA, and this year’s British Open. But last year, he choked away the US Open with a final-round 82. Then he failed to read the rules and incurred a 2-shot penalty for grounding his club, taking him out of a playoff with headcase Bubba Watson and Martin Kaymer, eventual winner. And this year, for some reason he just couldn’t keep himself from jacking his second shot OB to the right on a par 5 at the Open Championship, again incurring a 2-shot penalty and again losing a major for it. Although Darren Clarke definitely won the championship, DJ had a shot to put pressure on him; when the ball went out of bounds, Clarke was looking at a 4-shot lead with 5 holes, which is doable even for a hacker like me.

However, the bigger disappointment had to be Phil “Phickelson” Mickelson. Mickelson shot a five under par front nine of 30 (see http://sports.yahoo.com/golf/pga/players/Phil+Mickelson/29/scorecard/2011/29). He had birdies on holes 2, 4, 6, and 10 and an eagle on 7. He sat at -6 for the round on the 11th tee box when the lights went out. For some reason, Phickelson rushed his 2-footer for par 3 on the 11th and bogeyed, sending him into a tailspin, thereafter bogeying 13, 15, and 16 and failing to make birdies on some of the easiest holes on the course (14 and 17). It was like he was a different golfer after the 3-putt–and, really, for no reason other than his own head got in the way. For all the tournaments Phil has won, the old choker is still lurking in there.

Once again, American golf comes up short. So, to you Phil and DJ, you are this week’s FAIL.