Major trophies are just one measure of a golfer’s status. Another would be the number of reporters jammed into the media tent at the Open Championship. The gathering for Jordan Spieth here was Tiger-massive, standing room only, and when Spieth spoke reverence hung heavy in the air.
The emergence of Spieth challenges the view that St Andrews has witnessed all there is to see in the 143 years since it first hosted the oldest major in golf. That one so young can hold an audience as cynical as this, can draw from wizened, old hacks not only respect but enthusiasm for what he brings to the piece, is an achievement almost as remarkable as the victories he has claimed.
His is indeed an epic tale to write, and one that, should he hit the back of the Old Course net, might yet become the greatest narrative to roll across the fairways. Easy with the hyperbole, old chap, I hear you say. That is never bad advice. The problem presented by Spieth is one of scale: how do you hype wins at the Masters and the US Open by a 21-year-old boy? The hype is written by him.
Spieth has yet to live a life. Most kids his age have just sat their finals and are planning the gap year from a beach in Ibiza. Tonight they will be three sheets to the wind, smelling of Hawaiian Tropic and lust as they migrate from bar to bar dressed in togas. Forgive the stereotype, but you get the point.
Spieth delayed his arrival here, a move many experts thought poorly judged, to win another title on the PGA Tour, believing the crucible of competition, albeit at the lowly-regarded John Deere Classic, more valuable than filling the yardage book with notes from a strange place. Having played St Andrews only once four years ago, Spieth reasoned that a few days here and there were not going to make that much difference. It takes years to learn this links in all its beguiling guises.
So he came instead with a head free of clutter, a mind open to new experiences, eager to enjoy the learning process and saturated in the romance that settles on every soul passing through these gates in Open week.
“I’ve watched the Open Championships here at St Andrews, and I don’t think there’s anything more special in golf than playing an Open Championship at the home of golf,” he said to his rapt audience. “I have fond memories from playing here a few years back, vivid memories, one of those courses you play where you don’t really forget much.
“There’s only a couple of those courses maybe in the world. I think here and at Augusta National are my two favourite places in the world, and I’ve really enjoyed our time getting back here, even in a shortened week. I still got a lot of holes in, and our preparation is almost complete, and I feel really good about last week heading into here, and over the past couple months heading into here. All in all, I’m extremely excited. It would mean the world to me to try to win this championship and to do it here would be even more special.
“I don’t think anybody is going to argue with a win, and that was what we set out to do last week, to feel the pressure, see how we could adjust for major championship pressure. I think coming over earlier certainly could have helped. I just liked the fact that I could go somewhere where I could play hard and possibly win a PGA Tour event in preparation.”
The last point takes us to the heart of the Spieth proposition. Despite his late arrival there won’t be many better prepared than him, and when he puts the tee in the ground, his thoughts will not be detained by the atmosphere surrounding the place, no matter how sensitive to it he is. Nor will he be distracted by the prospect of the unprecedented acquisition of all four majors in a calendar year.
“I like to study the history of golf, and I think it’s extremely special what this year has brought to our team and to have a chance to do what only one other person in the history of golf has done doesn’t come around very often. I’m sure embracing that opportunity, but by the time I start on Thursday, it won’t be in my head. It’ll be about how can I bring this Open Championship down to just another event, get out there and try and get myself into contention.”
Spieth’s understanding of his nascent place in the order of things is also impressive. Ordinarily youth confers on the incumbent an inexhaustible capacity for bombast and its corollary, embarrassment. There is none of that in Spieth, only the civility that comes with years he doesn’t have. Attempts to couple him with the greats of the game, in this example Woods, are politely knocked back.
Three players who can challenge Spieth at St Andrews
Three players who can challenge Spieth at St Andrews
1/3 Dustin Johnson (US) 11-1
Bristling at his US Open failure despite protestations to the contrary. Long and straight, the American has got the tools to ruin St Andrews – if his nerve holds
2/3 Branden Grace (SA) 40-1
Grew up playing in the wind at Fancourt in South Africa. Took it to Spieth and Johnson on the last day at the US Open recently. Always up for the fight
3/3 Hideki Matsuyama (Japan) 40-1
The Japanese is a talent universally acclaimed. Flights it high and low, and putts like a dream. Will win a big one at some point, and sooner rather than later?
“I think the parallels that are drawn between me and Tiger are unfair. That’s not something that in my mind is necessary. That’s something that people are looking for but is not there with anybody right now because it’s something I don’t think that can be compared until at least midway through their career.
“This is an early time- table. When people ask me about those kind of parallels I try and shake it off because it’s not the same. I’m extremely happy with where I’ve been and how we’ve been able to win a couple majors at my age, but at the same time, I certainly have an appreciation for how Tiger continued to keep winning majors at just an unbelievable percentage, because it’s not easy.”
All will be revealed across the next four days when the wind is forecast to blow and the rain is to come in sideways. Links golf is a game of uncertainty on a sunny day. When the weather hits, it is a different order of challenge, and judging by his commentary one Spieth is relishing.
“If we wanted to get good weather we’d go play in California. We come over here because we want to embrace the opportunity of handling these conditions,” he said.
Doubling up: Winning the first two of the season
Jordan Spieth is aiming to emulate Ben Hogan in winning his first three majors of a calendar year – his fellow American doing so in 1953.
Won first two majors in year (Modern era):
2015 Jordan Spieth (US)
2002 Tiger Woods (US)
1972 Jack Nicklaus (US)
1960 Arnold Palmer (US)
1953 Ben Hogan (US) [went on to win Open as well]
1951 Hogan (US)
1941 Craig Wood (US)
Selected tee-off times, TV and weather
(GB & Ire unless stated, all times BST)
6.32am T Bjorn (Den), G Owen, R Pampling (Aus)
7.38am S Lyle, C Hoffman (US), K Na (US)
7.49am S Lowry, R Goosen (SA), K Streelman (US)
8am L Donald, H Mahan (US), C Pettersson (Swe)
8.11am B Horschel (US), V Dubuisson (Fr), R Fisher
8.22am O Schniederjans (US), W Simpson (US), G McDowell
8.33am E Els (SA), B Snedeker (US), T Watson (US)
9am B Watson (US), I Poulter, C Schwartzel (SA)
9.11am L Westwood, Sergio Garcia (Sp), Patrick Reed (US)
9.22am M Manassero (It), R Langasque (Fr), D Clarke
9.33am H Matsuyama (Japan), D Johnson (US), J Spieth (US)
9.44am K Kisner (US), P Lawrie, Ryan Palmer (US)
9.55am L Oosthuizen (SA), J Day (Aus), T Woods (US)
10.17am S Cink (US), B Curtis (US), D Duval (US)
12.39pm L Wen-Chong (China), P Harrington, M Warren
12.50pm J Daly (US), J Dufner (US), M A Jimenez (Sp)
1.01pm Z Johnson (US), B Wiesberger (Aut), T Fleetwood
1.23pm G Ogilvy (Aus), F Molinari (It), B Haas (US)
1.34pm M O’Meara (US), R Henley (US), G Yang (S Kor)
1.45pm B Langer (Ger), T Lehman (US), J Leonard (US)
2.12pm M Kaymer (Ger), J Walker (US), A Scott (Aus)
2.23pm J Donaldson, Y Ikeda (Japan), K Bradley (US)
2.34pm M Kuchar (US), P Mickelson (US), H Stenson (Swe)
2.45pm R Fowler (US), J Rose, Sir N Faldo
2.56pm B Grace (SA), J Furyk (US), P Casey
3.29pm E Molinari (It), R Wattel (Fr), J Morrison
Weather Cool and overcast, with a chance of sun in the afternoon. Maximum temperature: 15C
Odds 7-1 Spieth; 12-1 D Johnson; 18-1 Fowler; 22-1 Oosthuizen, Scott, Stenson; 25-1 Rose; 35-1 Casey, Day; 40-1 Garcia, Kaymer, Matsuyama, Watson, Woods
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