Let’s talk about Jordan Spieth, the heavy favorite to win this week’s Open Championship and simultaneously hold the first three major titles of the year — something that hasn’t happened since Ben Hogan’s brilliant season back in 1953. (Hogan didn’t compete in that year’s PGA Championship.)
At the apparently-not-very-tender age of 21 — an inescapable number in the Spieth legend, and rightly so — the magnitude of his back-to-back wins at the Masters and U.S. Open has rocked the golf world.
The impact can’t be overstated — it’s precocious, it’s mind-blowing, it’s historical.
Last year, through a season of close calls, he made us believe there was a wonderful career waiting off in the misty future. But a strange thing happened — he never relented. Suddenly, far sooner than anyone expected, that future arrived with a bang, and it hasn’t slowed down. Young or not, he’s implacable in his march to greatness.
The usual rules of golf don’t apply to the American wunderkind — youth isn’t a hindrance, inexperience gives his opponents absolutely no advantage, there are no “bad” courses for his game, and he doesn’t let a busy schedule break him down.
A Rory-esque moment
When I saw him go two-over through 12 holes at the start of the John Deere last Thursday, I thought for sure we were seeing a Rory-esque “foot off the pedal” moment — the kind that comes after a huge win, and serves to save a little energy.
I had no complaints. He did a selfless thing by even showing up to the event where he first tasted PGA Tour victory. Nobody could expect more – the debt of gratitude was repaid, and he’d earned the right to a missed cut and an early trip to St. Andrews. Considering the stress that comes with the heightened exposure he’s received, it was almost expected.
— Jordan Spieth (@JordanSpieth) July 13, 2015
A play-off win over Tom Gillis in the John Deere Classic on Sunday (coming from four shots down with six to play) added the latest feather to his cap. And some of those feathers are bright, polychromatic, ostentatious king-of-all-peacock feathers. Each represents a jaw-dropping milestone, such as: He’s the youngest player since Gene Sarazen in 1922 to win two major titles.
Digest that one. And while you’re digesting, consider the names I didn’t mention: Jack Nicklaus. Rory McIlroy. Arnold Palmer. Ben Hogan. And, yes, Tiger Woods (below). There’s a lot left to be written in Spieth’s career, but it’s pretty amazing that he’s already eclipsed Tiger in one critical aspect — the hot start.
Believe the hype
Even more amazing, he’s already eclipsed him in hype, at least at St. Andrews. Hype is Tiger’s renewable resource — he commands it, and has done so for the better part of the last 20 years. It doesn’t matter what else is happening in a tournament, or how he’s playing — all eyes turn to him.
Now, incredibly, the kid is the bigger story. Which result would produce a crazier reaction around the golf world: Tiger winning, or Spieth winning? The answer is as obvious as it is surprising — of course it’s Spieth!
If he won, he’d be rolling into Whistling Straits looking for the first calendar grand slam! There’s just no debate.
Which means that Spieth stands to get more attention than Tiger for the same result — winning. I defy you to name another golfer who could say that since 1997. It hasn’t happened. Rory probably came the closest at Augusta this year, when a win would have have completed his career grand slam, but even then, the possibility of a Tiger win mattered more.
That truism ends this week Tiger’s reign as golf’s foremost needle-mover is kaput, and Spieth fired the fatal bullet. This is golf’s equivalent of a palace coup.
So let’s ask the tough question: Spieth’s greatness aside, should you risk real money on the idea that he can actually win? Is he worth the gamble at single-digit odds?
Here are six reasons the doubters will give you to say ‘No’:
1. He has far less on-course prep than many of his peers having only one played one round at St Andrews back in 2011.
2. The John Deere is basically the opposite of a links-style course, and everyone – including winner Rickie Fowler (above) – who played the Scottish Open last week will have an edge.
3. He’ll have to contend with jet lag, with very little recovery time.
4. St Andrews benefits the bombers.
5. The pressure is going to be crazy if he gets close.
6. It’s the Open Championship – there are too many others with insane talent who could get really hot for four days.
Those may be convincing arguments, but even taken together, are they convincing enough?
For my part, I’ll just say that if someone put a gun to my head and made me pick the winner this week, under penalty of death – I’d have to say Spieth. I want to live!
That being said, here are four other players with a terrific shot at winning at the Home of Golf at a bit of value at Monday’s odds in a tournament where Paddy’s paying 7 places each-way.
Louis Oosthuizen: 22/1
Hits the hell out of the ball, was the best player at Chambers Bay from Friday through Sunday, and won at St Andrews in 2010. Nobody in the field has a better argument.
Jason Day: 30/1
His game is perfectly suited for St Andrews, and he has to break through at a major eventually, right? RIGHT?! Tell me I’m right, guys, because I’m starting to panic.
Jimmy Walker: 50/1
In my mind, he’s the most complete player in the professional ranks right now, and he always seems to excel on courses where a really, really low number wins. St Andrews is that course.
J.B. Holmes: 80/1
I love this pick so much. Nobody really knows Holmes, but he’s quietly been one of the steadiest golfers in the world for the past year. He’s top-10 in PGA Tour driving distance, and even though he’s not a great putter, he can get streaky-hot on the greens. At 80/1 on Monday, he’s severely undervalued here.
And if you’re asking who I’ll be swerving: Dustin Johnson 12/1 (can’t get his Major fails out of my memory), Tiger Woods 30/1 (don’t trust one decent result), Martin Kaymer 33/1 (been a dud all year), and Bubba Watson 35/1 (lingering bad karma from all his embarrassing moments overseas).
Shane Ryan is the author of the new book: ‘Slaying the Tiger: A year inside the ropes on the PGA Tour’ on golf’s young guns, revealing the stories that the insiders know, but rarely share.
You can follow @ShaneRyanhere on Twitter