The great thing about sports is that the memorable moments always seem to come without warning.
We all know about the hype before an event. Most of the time the action falls short of the hype. The hype doesn’t have anything to do what transpires. The hype is about expectations. There’s always plenty of that. But the drama that sticks, sometimes, forever, kind of sneaks up on you.
That was the case with the British Open Golf Championship last weekend. This is the last time I will refer to it as the “British Open” because the good golf folks across the pond want it simply known as “The Open”. I can accept that.
So here we were following 23-year old Jordan Spieth carry a three-shot lead into the final round. I’m not about to describe the basics of the final round since the result and the accompanying stunning events are now old news.
What I will do is offer thoughts as to what was occurring at the moment. As well as perspective.
So, Spieth bogeyed three of the first four holes and saw his lead evaporate in a hurry.
The final round basically developed into a duel between Spieth and Matt Kuchar, in what was the final pairing of the day.
The Open, to me, has always been fascinating to watch. The courses always appear as if you’re viewing the sport as it looked when it was invented. The views of the long grass, called gourse, the pot-bunkers in full view almost everywhere, the twists and turns of each hole, and most important, the ever-changing weather conditions make it the most romantic a golf setting as there can be. Add to all that, the sight of the crowd, wearing jackets, and rain gear to protect them from the conditions. Not well-to-do country club-types. Just your average bloke. Out to see great golfers perform. Royal Birkdale in northern England had all that.
On Sunday, what set out to be a terrific finish was moving along.
Then came the unforgettable 13th. Spieth sent his drive on the par-4 hole about 100-yards to the right. He was in trouble. His drive landed over a sand dune, then off the head of a spectator into an unplayable lie. What followed, we may never see again.
Here was Spieth, granted line of sight relief, meaning he could go back as far as he could, keeping his line of sight toward the green. But he was so far off, he was walking around the pavement where the equipment trucks were parked.
Imagine, this contender for a championship in one of the four majors, yelling instructions to his caddie standing at the top of the dune, calmly motioning to fans, just walking and gesturing like a traffic cop, speaking as if he just wandered by. Unruffled, and in charge.
He then hit a 3-wood he didn’t like, which landed short of the green, leaving himself a difficult chip on a downward slope. Double-bogey was in the cards, And with Kuchar waiting patiently and heading for a par, faced with a two shot deficit with five holes to play.
But Jordan Spieth executed a marvelous chip, then made an 8-foot bogey putt. Maybe the most dramatic bogey in golf history.
Now trailing by one shot, Spieth nearly made a hole-in-one on the 14th. His birdie was just the start. What followed was a 70-foot eagle putt on 15, a 30-foot putt for birdie on 16, an 8-footer on 17 and ultimately a victory which spoke to to the fortitude, the ability to turn possible disaster into triumph quickly, and the mental focus that marks this brilliant golfer.
I’m not sure what impresses me the most.
The sheer talent of Jordan Spieth who became only the second player to win three majors before the age of 24 (Jack Nicklaus being the other).
Or the Jordan Spieth, a throwback to a different era, where being polite and exhibiting consideration to others was the rule and not the exception to what we see in so many of today’s professional athletes.
I’ll never forget his tribute to Kuchar, who was also a star in that final round, apologizing for taking nearly 30 minutes to play that 13th hole. Consideration that didn’t go unnoticed.
There has to be many reasons why Spieth is cut from a different cloth in the way he presents himself with class and an overall manner which makes those who view him so proud.
He had to have superb upbringing. His parents had to set the tone.
Then there is his sister. Ellie, who is 8 years a younger, was born prematurely with a still undiagnosed neurological disorder that left her developmentally challenged.
Jordan calls her “the best thing that ever happened to our family”.
So, Ellie, who Spieth admits has kept him grounded, is the star of the family.
Not the golfer, who has never been put on a pedestal.
So as we absorb the indelible memories of Jordan Spieth’s achievement at The Open, we also can appreciate the character of this youngster who is a true champion in more ways than one.