Weekly 18 — Why Jordan Spieth is the Tom Brady of golf

Golf


Since the watercooler at Weekly 18 headquarters is still focused on The Open a week later, we might as well begin there — and with a cross-sport comparison that needed a week to marinate.

1. I spent a lot of time over the past week trying to explain the differences between Jordan Spieth and other top players, notably Rory McIlroy — and I wound up finding an analogy from another sport. Go watch highlight tape of Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. They’re both very talented, obviously. They’re both uncommonly successful. If you really want to parse the video — and I’m writing as an unabashed Patriots fan here — you might contend that Rodgers throws a tighter spiral and is quicker outside the pocket. And yet, if you ask any unbiased football fan to choose between the two careers, they’d undoubtedly pick Brady, because of his overall success and penchant for coming up big under pressure. I see the same thing in relation to Spieth. He might not be more talented than a guy like McIlroy, but he owns the intangible will to succeed that places him above his peers.

2. After typing that last analogy, it dawned on me that this wasn’t the first time I’d drawn parallels between Spieth and a Patriot. So I went back through the archives. Last year, in an interview session before his next start after a Hyundai Tournament of Champions victory, Spieth said: “I’m very focused on this week and recognize that by Tuesday afternoon no one really cares anymore. And that’s fine. It’s on to the next one.” That’s downright Belichickian.

3. Spieth turned 24 on Thursday. The 14 professional victories, including 11 on the PGA Tour and three majors, are obviously impressive stats. But the most eye-popping numbers might come in the form of dollar signs: He already ranks 22nd on the PGA Tour’s all-time money list, with $32,584,648 in official earnings. That’s astounding. And requires a hat tip to Tiger Woods. And Arnold Palmer. And Deane Beman. And so many others who paved the way for this sort of financial windfall.

4. Always important to remember: McIlroy still leads Spieth in majors 4-3. Yes, he’s older. Yes, he’s played in more of ’em. But it’s important to not only view this from inside the bubble of what’s only happened in the past 10 days.

5. Speaking of McIlroy, plenty of storylines will be floating around entering this week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, many of which will focus on Spieth making his first start after winning The Open and other top players trying to put together one more solid week before a final chance to claim a major this year. But the biggest of those storylines is that of McIlroy. At the time of this writing, reports had surfaced that he’s split from longtime caddie J.P. Fitzgerald, though no replacement had even been rumored. Strange timing. McIlroy is fresh of The Open, where he effusively praised Fitzgerald for a mid-first round pep talk that eventually led to a fourth-place finish. Before that, he’d struggled to shake an injury (and the ensuing rust) for much of this year, finally looked to be the McIlroy of old for those final 3½ days at Royal Birkdale. The last time he played Firestone, back in 2014, he won — in between wins at each of the last two majors. Don’t be surprised if he challenges once again this week. And yes, it could lead to a big week at another place he’s won before, Quail Hollow, for next week’s PGA Championship. The bigger surprise, for now, will be the guy walking alongside him.

6. Poor Matt Kuchar. It was one thing to watch him lose The Open and feel his pain. It’s another thing altogether to hear him speak these emotional words about losing in front of his two boys, days afterward: “[It] was difficult on me to see the kids in tears knowing their dad didn’t win. It’s an interesting position as a father. When your kids are young, they look up to you like you’re Superman. Kind of you’re their hero. You’re the one to protect them and save them and to do great things. And when it doesn’t work out and you aren’t the hero holding the trophy, it’s saddening, as well. I saw the look in their eyes, and I wanted to be that guy. So I was a little bit broken myself that I wasn’t that guy.”

7. Here’s more from Kuchar on that aftermath, just because I couldn’t get enough of how brutally honest he was about speaking with his kids: “We had a flight getting home that got delayed, and we went to a bowling alley and killed some time. I had to tell them, I said, ‘Listen, you do your best. You play your best, you try on every shot, and sometimes it goes your way and sometimes it doesn’t. You have to learn that these things happen.’ They are such great lessons that come from golf. You know, this was one of them. I did my best. I tried my hardest and it didn’t work out. Certainly going to keep trying. And so it’s hard when you don’t come through as Superman, but it’s lessons that I think will pay dividends in the long run.”

8. Major controversy at the U.S. Girls Junior Championship on Friday afternoon. In the 19th hole of a semifinal match, Elizabeth Moon missed a putt, then raked her ensuing 4-incher without it first being conceded. Her opponent, Erica Shepherd, was immediately asked by her coach/caddie whether she’d verbally conceded the putt. When she rightfully said she hadn’t, she was deemed winner of the hole and, therefore, winner of the match. All of which sparked a hot-button issue that hadn’t been pressed since Suzann Pettersen’s non-concession at the Solheim Cup two years ago. Moon was wrong for raking too quickly; Shepherd was wrong for not watching and conceding. But neither of them were so wrong that they deserve to be chastised for the entire thing. Which leads to another point …

9. … my least favorite part of the entire controversy wasn’t even the controversy itself. It was the entire aftermath, when adults bludgeoned each other with hot takes over social media about which teenaged girl is at fault, which one is to blame and why she should feel so badly about what she did. These are kids. One split-second of their lives was frozen in time for the rest of us to analyze and debate. Chalk it up to a learning experience. Let’s hope the two of them aren’t left overthinking the situation like so many couch surfers were afterward.

10. I know the rule. We all know the rule. But I also know that rules should give way to common sense when appropriate. Don’t agree? Try this: The next time you’re playing a $2 Nassau with a buddy and he rakes one from 4 inches away without hearing a concession, let him know about it. And then let me know how that goes for you.

11. Successfully defending a title doesn’t sound that tough. I mean, a player only has to accomplish something he’s already accomplished before, so he already owns that built-in confidence. It’s not that easy. From increased sponsor and media obligations to living up to loftier expectations, it’s rare that players win the same tourney in back-to-back years. Check that: It’s usually rare. That phenomenon has occurred more frequently this season, with Justin Thomas, Hideki Matusyama and Daniel Berger already going back to back, then joined by Jhonattan Vegas at the RBC Canadian Open this weekend.

12. This week’s lesson in “Picking Winners is Really, Really Tough”: Vegas’ previous 10 starts before winning again were MC-MC-MC-MC-MC-35th-MC-MC-34th-MC.

13. Sticktaps to Canadian Open organizers and their Glen Abbey host course for #TheRink, a hockey-infused wonderland which had golfers ripping slap shots and wristers on tournament grounds. From all reports, it was a load of fun. And if you don’t believe me, just ask Jack Nicklaus, who wore a hockey sweater while working on his game.

14. Speaking of Canada, it’s now been 63 long years since Pat Fletcher was the last native Canadian to win his country’s national open. The guys who came the closest this week were Mackenzie Hughes (T-32) and Graham DeLaet (T-48), who each got into contention entering the weekend, only to come up short.

15. Years ago — maybe eight or nine, to be more precise — one PGA Tour caddie whispered this bit of wisdom to me: “The three most talented players on the PGA Tour are Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and …” In the split-second before he completed that thought, the possibilities were running through my mind. Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, maybe Sergio Garcia. Not quite. He continued: “… Charley Hoffman.” His point was that Woods and Mickelson had obviously maximized their potential based on the results, but that Hoffman was something of a career underachiever. Well, it might have taken a while — and yes, Hoffman has enjoyed a lengthy, successful career — but at 40, he seems to have turned a corner. After losing in a playoff Sunday, he now owns two runner-up finishes, a third and a dozen top-25s (including all three majors) in 25 starts. He’d likely trade that in for career win No. 5, but he’s certainly living up to that talent.

16. Bernhard Langer is a machine. At the age of 59 — less than a month from his 60th birthday — he won his 10th career senior major championship at the Senior Open on Sunday, a tournament about which he’d said early in the week, “I probably shouldn’t even be here, to tell the truth; I probably should be in bed.” Despite laryngitis and flu-like symptoms, Langer battled brutal weather conditions throughout the week, then posted a final-round 72 to win by 3 strokes. His success leads to a bigger question for the next generation: Will a top player someday see his records as a benchmark that he works to surpass? Instead of the mindset of players such as Steve Stricker, Vijay Singh and Davis Love III, who all have mostly played on the PGA Tour after turning 50, will players at some point reach that checkpoint and immediately start gunning for Langer’s marks? Even if they do, he’ll be tough to overtake.

17. How bad was the weather at Royal Porthcawl? Brad Faxon, who finished 14th, tweeted this:

It was cold and windy and rainy and just miserable. There were 72 scores in the 80s, three in the 90s and, as Faxon tweeted, opening rounds of 77-78 were enough to make the weekend.

18. We’ll end with the worst news of the week: It was announced that Jarrod Lyle has been diagnosed with yet another recurrence of acute myeloid leukemia. One of the game’s more popular players for his fun-loving personality and inspirational story, he again has the support of the entire golf community behind him. Here’s hoping for a full recovery and a day in the near future when we see him competing inside the ropes again.



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