“It’s only a matter of time.”
That’s the general sentiment pertaining to Jordan Spieth and major championship victories, now that Spieth has begun his Masters career with a T-2 finish at the ripe age of 20. A player that has exceeded all realistic expectations for more than a year did so again last week at Augusta National, and the question of him landing a maiden major title appears to be not if, but when.
It’s an understandable stance after Spieth held a two-shot lead at one point Sunday, and only nine months after winning on the PGA Tour as a teenager. He’s now the ninth-ranked player in the world.
His jaw-dropping debut on a major stage, though, seems somewhat familiar.
The year was 1999. A rising star with boyish charm took galleries by storm during the final round, only to fall short to a player who went on to claim his second career major title.
Sergio Garcia was 19 when he finished runner-up to Tiger Woods at the ’99 PGA Championship, but like Spieth he had a decorated amateur career (Garcia won the British Amateur and European Amateur, while Spieth took home two U.S. Junior Amateur titles and an NCAA championship at Texas). Like Spieth, he already had a victory among the professional ranks, having won the Irish Open earlier that summer.
Spieth’s rise up the OWGR since early 2013 has been impressive, but Garcia’s was as well. Turning pro after earning low amateur honors at the 1999 Masters, Garcia was ranked No. 354 in the world for his professional debut. He cracked the top 100 with his win in Ireland, and after a runner-up finish at the PGA Championship was inside the top 30 in the world – just four months into his pro career.
When Garcia and Woods left Medinah that week, it appeared a burgeoning rivalry had been gifted to the game. Woods’ rise had been foreseen for years, but here was a precocious teenager ready and willing to give him a run for his money, all while wearing his heart on his sleeve. The majors – plural – would soon follow.
Fifteen years later, Garcia’s next major title will be his first. He has not lacked for chances – another defeat to Woods at the 2002 U.S. Open; then a pair of runner-ups to Padraig Harrington, first in a playoff at the 2007 British Open and again at the PGA the following year. He’s had a distinguished career, one that saw him reach No. 2 in the world after a win at the 2008 Players Championship, but many will suggest that the promise that began at Medinah has, to this point, gone largely unfulfilled.
As is often the case in sports, a series of close calls do not equate to victory, and golf is the ultimate “prove it” game. There’s a reason why Greg Norman wasn’t at the Champions Dinner last week in Augusta, why Arnold Palmer has never lifted the Wanamaker Trophy and why the spot on Phil Mickelson’s shelf marked “U.S. Open” remains vacant.
Does Spieth possess the talent to win majors? Certainly. The game that took him to the top of the standings Sunday is one that few can match. But before trademarking “Heir Jordan” and projecting whose major haul he’ll most likely match, let’s allow Spieth to find his footing on his own terms. After all, sometimes the earliest estimations are the ones that go the most awry.
Just ask Sergio.