Golf’s new poster boy

Jordan Spieth’s real strengths are course strategy, nerve and an otherworldly touch on the greens

Somewhere post the Tiger Woods era, it became unfashionable to be gracious in competitive golf: a killer instinct does not make allowances for grace in defeat and cuss words on the course—as incongruous as they may be with public personas who are role models for youngsters—have almost become de rigeur. Which is why the various versions of the word ‘gosh!’ that Jordan Spieth has been recorded uttering during the course of the season have endeared the rookie to different generations of viewers—certainly the traditional ones in whose image this young man from Texas appears to have modelled himself on.

Spieth’s model behaviour on- and off-course is even more conspicuous because he’s got a heck of a lot to be cocky about. Shooting one’s age is an accomplishment usually reserved for Senior Tour players in their 60s and 70s.

There’s no way to predict if Spieth will be able to shoot, say, a 65, when he turns 65 years old, but the 22-year-old kid has posted an astonishing number to beat his precocious years on the planet—$23 million, more than one for every year. That’s how much the good-natured kid from Dallas, Texas, who won five times this season, including two Majors—Augusta Masters and the US Open—the season-ending Tour Championship and the big one—the FedEx Cup—took home. And it could have a been a lot more considering he missed making the playoff at the British Open by a shot and finished second in the PGA Championship.

If you want reference to just how ridiculous that sort of money is, then look no further than Woods. If a breakthrough year is defined as one in which a player wins a Major championship, then for Woods that was 1997 in which he won $2.3 million from 21 events out of which he won four. Of course, that figure, once adjusted for inflation, would be higher, but nowhere close to Spieth’s jackpot. And play for play, Spieth played 25 events and won five in the season. Golf Digest Magazine tweeted that Spieth had made $3,623 for every shot he hit in competition this season!

Spieth doesn’t know it and I’m not sure if he’d be particularly thrilled if he did: at an informal gathering of golf hacks from around the world (including your columnist), who were in Muscat for the European Challenge Tour’s season-ending NBO Classic last month, Spieth won unanimously as the ‘most successful player with the most unimpressive golf swing!’  It’s seldom in golf that a top player isn’t a gorgeous swinger of the club, which, let’s face it, Spieth isn’t. What his action is, though, is spectacularly robust, repeatable and one he trusts. But as everyone now knows, Spieth’s real strengths are course strategy, nerve and an otherworldly touch on the greens.

Incredible as they may be, none of Spieth’s victories top my showreel for 2015. That would have to be the phenomenal back nine on the final day of the Player’s Championship by Rickie Fowler. For a guy who’s so flashy, puts it all on the line when he plays and has often been accused of being more show than substance, Fowler’s emphatic come-from-behind win at the ‘fifth major’ was goosebumps-inducing stuff:  five birdies and an eagle over the last eight holes of the tournament—don’t even bother looking up the odds. A lot of people lost a lot of money that day.

On the Continental tourney, Rory Mc Ilroy reminded the world just why he’s considered the best golfer on the planet: beset by injuries in the first half of the year, the Ulsterman came back strongly to win the European Tour’s season-ending DP World Tour Championship, Dubai, last month, which ensured he successfully defended his Race to Dubai crown—an honour he also claimed for the third time in four years. The Spieth-Mc Ilroy contest never really took off in 2015 and is a tantalising  prospect for golf fans in 2016.

But like all other Indian fans, I will be checking leaderboards every weekend in 2016 to keep track of the fascinating exploits of Anirban Lahiri. The Bengaluru lad did not just win the Asian Tour’s Order of Merit, he decimated it. With over a million dollars won—more than twice of what Scott Hend, the second-place finisher in the rankings, made—Lahiri was peerless amongst players from Asia this year. He’s the fourth Indian after Jyoti Randhawa, Arjun Atwal and Jeev Milkha Singh to have won the award.

Talking of Singh, the wily veteran will wear a different cap as the first Indian ever to captain a side in an international matchplay contest. At the time of writing this column, Singh has just announced his 12-man line-up (that includes Lahiri) for the Asian squad that will take on a European contingent in the EurAsia Cup next month. The ‘Ryder Cup of the East’ promises to be a nail-biting affair and, if it were still needed, an affirmation of Asia’s rising prominence in the game. Six of Singh’s team picks are ranked in the top 60 in the world and the 12 players have a combined 92 victories around the world. The scales of power and prominence in world golf are shifting inexorably towards Asia. This is where the future of the game lies.

A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game

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