History will quickly gloss over the Royal Birkdale rollercoaster of Sunday. Social media will spew out enough images of the 13th hole, or GIFs of “Go Get That,” that fans will be saturated by midweek. What will last is the victory, a win that may have more historical significance the farther away Jordan Spieth gets from it.
He went wire-to-wire (with ties) to win. He shot four rounds in the 60s. He became the second youngest to win three legs of the Grand Slam. But you already knew that.
The quietest two-win season just got really loud with win No. 3, as Spieth becomes the front-runner for Player of the Year and has validated the incredible promise of 2015. The run isn’t over.
Jordan Spieth will go down as the greatest golfer of his generation and the likeliest candidate to join the one-name pantheon of Jones, Hogan, Arnie, Jack and Tiger. That fact has as much to do with what has been accomplished as it does with the reality of his future.
It seemed fitting that this Open Championship week began with Golf Channel’s tribute to the importance of the 1976 championship. The breakout performance of Seve Ballesteros changed the trajectory of golf. Forty-one years later, the second coming of Seve reaffirmed his place as steward for the game.
What Spieth lacks in Seve’s flare, he equals – perhaps exceeds – in short game. That talent and skill travels to all corners of the world and overcomes age. It will make him relevant and a favorite at every Masters and Open Championship for the next two decades.
Spieth’s peers will physically wear down long before him. That’s the reality of the modern golf swing. Spieth appears timeless and content for more.
“This is as much of a high as I've ever experienced in my golfing life,” Spieth said after winning, “I'm going to enjoy it more than I've enjoyed anything that I've accomplished in the past.”
Within that statement is the elephant in the room: scar tissue. With every pulled putt, swiped drive and loose iron shot, layers of scar tissue started piling on a frame that seemed invincible just 15 months ago.
“As you can imagine, thoughts come in from my last scenario when I was leading a major on Sunday,” Spieth admitted in the aftermath. “All of a sudden it creeps into your head. I was so confident and all of a sudden, the wheels have kind of come off everything. And how do we get back on track to salvage this round and just give yourself a chance at the end? It took a bogey to do so.”
That is the differentiator. The utter nonsense of the 25-minute ruling was so humiliating under the microscope of a major moment that Spieth had only two vastly different ways to respond: Get pissed or get gone. He chose the former and awakened a beast.
Under a carefully crafted armor, Spieth burns with a competitive fire that may only be matched in his generation by his international team partner Patrick Reed. At only 23, how he channeled that fire was still a product in development. Each failure was extinguishing that fire. The 13th hole relit it and then dumped a Claret Jug of kerosene on the inferno.
“When that putt went in [on 14] it was my first vocal appreciation of the day,” Spieth reflected. “And I knew that this was -- we had momentum on our side and we were tied. And all of a sudden I felt and believed that I could win that golf tournament, when 30 minutes prior and really the entire day after the 4th hole I didn't feel that way.”
Jordan found belief. Will he have nerves again in the future? Probably, but to overcome for the first time felt like something bigger than one golf tournament.
Spieth has now validated his own place in the game. What others had already given to him, he hadn’t accepted. The back nine at Royal Birkdale changed that.
He now has the complete package, a marriage of transcendent talent and killer instinct. There will be other individual performances that best him at times but the greatest has arrived.