AUGUSTA -- It feels like we’ve seen this before.
The hot new name, the prodigy set to take over the golfing world, is poised to have his moment, the kind of moment a 21-year-old Tiger Woods had at Augusta National Golf Club in 1997.
Jordan Spieth, a 20-year-old phenom, will have the chance Sunday to become the youngest Masters winner in history. If he does so, Spieth will change the way golf is marketed and manufactured for consumers. He will become the “new name” for a golfing world desperately seeking the next Woods. ESPN will focus on when and where Spieth is playing next, and we’ll get updates scrolling across our television screen every time he’s on the course. He’ll get those cushy afternoon tee times in majors to ensure he receives ample television time.
But we should be careful before anointing the kid with a championship-friendly first name as the savior of a post-Tiger golfing world.
We all jumped the gun just three years ago when the similarly marketable Rory McIlroy led after each of the first three rounds of the 2011 Masters. McIlroy, who was 22 at the time, carried a four-shot lead into the final round and held the lead entering the back nine late that Sunday afternoon.
McIlroy’s collapse still conjures strong memories. He triple-bogeyed No. 10, hitting the ball in places we’ve never seen at the Masters. He finished with an 80 and tied for 15th. He recovered quickly, winning the U.S. Open at Congressional just two months after his Masters meltdown and added the 2012 PGA Championship to his trophy case. Winning two majors is nothing to look past, but McIlroy hasn’t morphed into a Tiger-like golfing machine. McIlroy didn’t win at all in 2013, and he has yet to win this year. Macon’s own Russell Henley denied McIlroy his best chance at victory this year in a playoff in the Honda Classic. McIlroy sagged from No. 1 in the world to No. 9.
Spieth’s sample size is way too small to accurately predict how he will handle himself Sunday, much less past Sunday if he becomes the first owner of a green jacket who isn’t old enough to legally celebrate with an adult beverage.
But the Texan’s pedigree is impressive. He finished tied for 16th in his first PGA Tour event as a 16-year-old. He has made 18 cuts in 2013, finishing in the top 10 in ninth of those events. He won the John Deere Classic last year, then played in all four FedEx Cup events, finished 10th on the PGA Tour money list, made the American Presidents Cup team and won PGA Tour Rookie of the Year.
Spieth is young and energetic. He plays the game with his emotion oozing with every swing of the club. He seems comfortable on the course and afterwards fielding questions from the media. His older peers speak highly of him. He seems ready for his moment, the one that didn’t suit McIlroy here in Augusta.
Win or lose Sunday -- particularly with a win -- Spieth will be considered a savior of golf and a worthy successor to Woods. Perhaps just letting him exist as the next Jordan Spieth will work out just fine for both the golfer and for the future of American golf.
Contact Jonathan Heeter at 744-4400 or firstname.lastname@example.org