Golf’s latest supernova Jordan Spieth finished one stroke away from a three-man playoff at the British Open on Monday, offering a crushing blow for a 21-year-old who sought to become just the second player in the Masters Era to win the year’s first three majors in history.
And while Spieth’s admitted how difficult the loss was, there’s little room to suggest the Dallas, Texas native’s star will burn out anytime soon. In fact, Spieth may have only just begun a trophy-rich career.
For one, other than his bogey-laden second round, Spieth once again displayed the kind of maturity and ice-water veins rarely seen from a veteran, let alone someone just days away from his 22nd birthday.
Referring to his double-bogey on No. 8 in the final round, Spieth took the loss in stride and still maintains the attitude that earned him four titles this year including the record-breaking rounds at the Masters and U.S. Open.
“Although we came in wanting to be two shots better than what we finished, with everything that went on this week and the momentum we came in with it, yeah, I'm very pleased with the way we battled,” Spieth told USA Today. “Today was a really tough day. Just made a mental mistake on No. 8, and it seemed to have cost me as well on 18, just not giving myself a chance. … I just wish I had given myself a little better opportunity.”
Spieth fired off a tournament-best 24 birdies all over the Old Course at St. Andrews, capitalizing on the shorter holes like a more advanced player and struggling on the most difficult holes like every other player does. His roughly 45-foot putt to save birdie on 16 in the final round was unfortunately negated by the bogey on 17, but it’s the kind of result fans and analysts have seen from the likes of Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott.
Winding up tied for fourth, Spieth’s letdown hasn’t negatively affected his all-around incredible play this year. He’s still first in the FedEx Cup standings, almost doubling No. 2 Jimmy Walker, and Spieth’s lead appears almost insurmountable. He’s played well the entire year, not just in stretches, garnering a PGA-best 12 top 10 finishes with British Open-winner Zach Johnson next up with eight.
Spieth’s still tops in scoring average (68.8 strokes), second in strokes gained from tee-to-green (1.7), and first in total strokes gained (2.3), the kind of all-around dominance rarely seen in any sport, let alone one as difficult to rule over like golf.
Spieth’s tabbed as an ultra-competitor, but his sportsmanship shined through when he congratulated Johnson after his playoff victory.
"He's a really good friend of mine," Johnson said to reporters. "Granted he's 18 years younger than me, which puts things into perspective.
"I can't describe the magnitude of what he was going through [pursuing the grand slam], because I've never been in that position and we haven't really seen that, with the exception of Tiger [Woods].
"To have a champion like Jordan to take the time on the 18th hole to give me his best wishes speaks volumes as to what he is.
"He's a phenomenal talent and I'm telling you right now, he's a better person than he is a golfer."
Clearly, Spieth is making fast friends on the tour, and garnering support from his contemporaries. But as he develops his game and challenges for the world’s No. 1 ranking, what could really push Spieth over the top is a rivalry with Rory McIlroy.
A harrowing and unfortunate ankle injury kept McIlroy from defending his British crown, and auspiciously cleared Spieth’s most dangerous competition out of the field. Even though Spieth came two strokes away from the title, a Spieth-McIlroy pairing in the final round could have set the golf world ablaze.
And it’s having that close rival that’s pushed so many athletes to the top of their respective sport. In golf’s case, McIlroy and Spieth might be on par with Jack Nicklaus’ battles with Arnold Palmer, or Tiger Woods going up against Phil Mickelson. McIlroy’s only Spieth’s senior by roughly five years, and each has branded their names on the tour with seminal performances on the biggest stages.
Assuming McIlroy is healthy by the time the PGA Championship rolls around next month at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin, the matchup could be the start of something special for golf and Spieth.