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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