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On Sports

Spieth could dominate golf for many years to come

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Rochester Business Journal
June 26, 2015

Jann Wenner, the co-founder and publisher of Rolling Stone magazine, decided to check out a little-known musician at a divey club on the Jersey Shore in the early 1970s. He came away, as the Brits say, absolutely gobsmacked. “I have seen the future of rock and roll,” Wenner wrote afterward, “and his name is Bruce Springsteen.” I was thinking of that line over the weekend as I watched the U.S. Open Championship. To paraphrase Wenner, “We have seen the future of golf, and his name is Jordan Spieth.”

Yes, I know that Spieth got a little lucky. He probably wouldn’t have been holding up that trophy had Dustin Johnson not developed a serious case of the yips at a most inopportune time and three-putted from 12 feet on the final hole. But it’s funny how these things work out. The great ones seem to have a knack for putting themselves in a position to be lucky, as Spieth did not only at Chambers Bay in Washington state over the weekend, but also at the Masters two months prior, when he turned Augusta National into a pitch-and-putt course with a record-tying 18-under-par score.

Spieth, a humble, affable, unflappable 21-year-old from Dallas, has two major titles in two tries this season. How rare is that? Well, in the history of golf, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan and Tiger Woods are the only golfers to have captured these first two legs of the Grand Slam in the same calendar year. And of that foursome, Hogan is the only one to have claimed the first three majors on the golf schedule, winning the Masters, U.S Open and British Open in 1953. Bantam Ben didn’t get an opportunity to complete the sweep because he opted to compete in the British Open qualifier, which was being held the same week as the PGA Championship that year.

Woods also won three majors in 2000—his only failure coming in the Masters. Bobby Jones is the only golfer to complete a Grand Slam in a calendar year. He accomplished the feat in 1930, winning the U.S. Open, British Open and U.S. and British Amateur Champ-ionships in those days before the Masters and PGA Championship. 

Speaking of Woods, many fans tuned in to this year’s Open hoping to see Tiger become Tiger again. But after he posted his second 80 in his last four rounds and missed the cut by a country mile, it’s obvious his career is limping to an ugly finish. I’ve been on record for a while saying that Woods never will win another major. Now, I don’t know if he’ll ever win another tournament, period. His game is in a world of hurt. Many theories abound for his woes, but sometimes we just have to accept the fact an athlete, even a great one, can’t do it anymore. Some are done before others. Woods looks to me like an old 39-year-old in the final holes of a marvelous career.

We will never see another golfer dominate the way he did. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t golfers out there ready to pique our interest. With four majors already, 26-year-old Rory McIlroy is entering the prime of what could become one of the greatest careers in golf history. And then there is young Mr. Spieth, who wrested our attention at the Masters by tying Woods’ tournament record low score, and further intrigued us with his grind-it-out Open victory.

“Jordanmania” is sure to reach a fever pitch on July 16 when the British Open tees off at St. Andrews in Scotland, the birthplace of golf. The wizards of odds have established McElroy as a 4-1 favorite and Spieth at 6-1. They say Spieth has a 30-1 chance of completing his grand slam with a win in the British Open followed by one at the PGA Championship at Wisconsin’s Whistling Straits in August.

I would tend to bet against him pulling it off, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he did. Spieth, who graces the cover of this week’s Sports Illustrated, appears to have the steely nerves and championship game necessary to make history. He doesn’t get rattled—even when adversity strikes, as it did when he double-bogeyed the 17th on Sunday. That could have been a meltdown moment. Instead, Spieth took a deep breath, composed himself and birdied the final hole to put himself in position to win or at least force an 18-hole playoff, which would have occurred had Johnson sank his second putt.

Spieth had to be encouraged with a five-under performance on a links-style course that drew the ire of most of the golfers because of its “unfairness,” especially on those nearly impossible-to-read greens. St. Andrews also is a links course, replete with high roughs, speedy greens and fairways and tricky sea breezes.

Unlike many of his peers at the Open, Spieth didn’t allow himself to get psyched out by the course. He proved he could handle the unique challenges it presented, and that should bode well for what he’ll face across the pond. He also has to be encouraged that he was able to win a tournament in which he didn’t have his best stuff. Rather than become flustered, the young Texan kept plugging away, displaying composure and maturity well beyond his years.

Spieth’s game isn’t necessarily going to wow you. He doesn’t crush his tee shots the way Woods did, forcing tournament officials to fret about having to “Tiger-proof” courses. In fact, Spieth is a medium-range driver, but his shot-making is brain-surgeon precise, and his clutch putting is reminiscent of Nicklaus in his prime. It’s going to be fun watching this golf phenom’s career unfold. And it will be interesting to see if we’ll be treated to a rivalry with McElroy that piques interest the way Nicklaus-Palmer, Woods-Phil Mickelson, Hogan-Sam Snead and Jones-Walter Hagen once did.

Scott Pitoniak is a best-selling author, nationally honored columnist, television correspondent and radio talk show host in his 42nd year in journalism. You can listen to him Monday-Friday from 3-7 p.m. on 95.7 FM, AM 950 or on-line at

6/19/15 (c) 2015 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email

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What You're Saying 

Ron Mack at 1:20:52 PM on 6/26/2015
Love this article. Scott is so accurate on his history of golf. For Example, few realize the conflict for Hogan in the British Open and PGA Championship. To carry it a little further, after Hogan had won the Master and US Open at Oakmont, he submitted his entry for the Bri...  Read More >

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