Date: November 18, 2016
Author: John Huggan

THE GUN: Spieth still the man to beat


Amidst the sea of stylistic sameness that increasingly dominates the upper echelons of professional golf, Jordan Spieth stands out. Where the likes of Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson are similar in the vast distances they all hit the ball off the tee, the 2015 Masters and US Open champion is different. Spieth’s is a game built around a peerless ability to score.

  Such distinctiveness is ironic. The first thing you notice about this 23-year old Texan is that there isn’t much really noticeable about him. He’s tall, but not too tall. And he’s a fresh-faced, good-looking lad, but Hollywood probably wouldn’t give him a second glance. There is one thing though. Already, his hairline is already receding. Watch him when he takes off his cap at the end of every round; the first thing he does is pat down what little hair he has left.

  The best thing about Spieth, however, is his unfailing politeness, without ever appearing either false or overly gushy. On the eve of the 2014 Emirates Australian Open he would win with a final round of 63 that must surely qualify as the best 18-holes of competitive golf played that year, Spieth sat down to chat in the locker room at the Australian Club in Sydney. The interview was supposed to last 20-minutes but stretched to 35, the soon-to-be Masters and US Open champion perfectly happy and comfortable chatting about anything and everything golf.

  It’s been said before and will be again, but the presence of his sister, Ellie, in his life has surely helped make him the man he is. The teenager has special needs in life – she was born with a neurological disorder – and has given her older brother a perspective unfamiliar to many of the PGA Tour’s spoiled and pampered elite.

  “It’s definitely humbling to see how she is and how she lives her life,” he says. “At this point, she is very much improving and holding conversations. She has her own personality and is not so reliant on other people. But she still has every day struggles. She can’t hang with her friends in the way my brother and I do, for example.

  “When I think of that, I know how tough she has it. But she is happy. She smiles every day and does what she wants to do. It has helped me enormously as an individual. Just having her part of my life since I was seven has been wonderful. I have learned so much from her. She doesn’t worry about what others think. She expresses herself with absolutely no hesitation. And she gives us so much love. She has no insecurities. I think that is awesome.”

  These are not the words of a cosseted multi-millionaire. Unlike so many of his peers on tour, Spieth has seen both the bright and the dark sides of life. Which is at least partly why he is already such a fine spokesman for his sport. Mature beyond his still tender years, the Dallas resident talks a good game as well as playing one. And in doing so, he sets a great example for any of his direct contemporaries tempted to follow the morose and secretive lead of Tiger Woods when dealing with fans and media.

  His golf isn’t too bad either of course.

  “I feel like my game has improved each year I have been on tour,” he says. “In every aspect. Plus, as we all know, golf is all about getting the ball in the hole. I do that pretty well. I take those sorts of question as a compliment though. People are always asking me what part of my game stands out most and I can never give them a clear and definitive answer. I go through months were certain parts of my game are right on. And I peak for certain rounds and certain tournaments. Plus, I can hold the bad rounds together because nothing gets too far off.”

  Today was just such a round. Yes, he made five birdies (including four in succession from the 6th) but a brace of sixes – the second a sloppy double-bogey from the middle of the fairway at the par-4 16th – meant he left Royal Sydney a disappointed man. It was a day which could and should have yielded a lower score. But you know what? Four shots back, he remains the man to beat in this Australian Open.