PALM HARBOR, Fla. – Jordan Spieth has character. It should be noted that this is inherently different from many up-and-coming young golfers who are characters or have a favorite cartoon character or have at some point served as a character witness.
Character is defined as “a complex of mental and ethical traits marking a person,” but Spieth’s character can be defined by four recent actions, results of an intangible quality that doesn’t show up on any scorecard.
Character Defining Moment No. 1: As a two-time winner of the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship – joining Tiger Woods as the only multiple champions in tournament history – Spieth considered turning pro last summer before making the decision to return to the University of Texas.
That’s not what defined his character, though. No, that came a few months later, toward the end of the first semester of his sophomore year.
Knowing that he was about to join the play-for-pay ranks on Dec. 14, Spieth didn’t stop attending classes or blow off his final exams. In fact, he did just the opposite. He wrote lengthy papers as final exams for classes in English Literature and Rhetoric. His last act before turning pro was to hand in an eight-pager in the latter course, which received a grade of 95.
“I actually did a really good job on that paper” he said. “I took it deep – literally and figuratively.”
Plenty of young golfers are considered to have character, but there aren’t many who would continue working so hard in their classes when a clear path was already paved ahead of them. They may argue otherwise, but that would be considered – as Spieth knows all too well – rhetoric.
Character Defining Moment No. 2: After opening his season – which includes no status on any tour – with a missed cut at Torrey Pines and a T-22 at Pebble Beach, Spieth started playing in events on the developmental Web.com Tour.
He finished T-7 at the Panama Claro Championship and T-4 at the Colombia Championship, leaving him just $4,649 shy of special temporary membership for the remainder of the season. Many people pushed him toward competing in the next week’s tournament in Chile, where a top-30 result would secure that status for the year.
Spieth had other plans. He had already committed to the PGA Tour’s Puerto Rico Open after tournament chairman Sidney Wolf offered a sponsor’s exemption. For someone whose message is “gratitude” – toward those who watch him play, toward those who have helped him and certainly toward those who have offered exemptions – he didn’t feel right about forgoing the tournament in favor of reaching a more personal goal.
And so in another character defining moment, he traveled to Puerto Rico last week.
The share of second place? That was less about character and more about him being really good at golf.
Character Defining Moment No. 3: At one point during the final round, the 19-year-old Spieth found himself atop the leaderboard in an attempt to become the second-youngest PGA Tour winner ever.
He then posted six pars and a bogey during a seven-hole stretch before closing with a birdie to vault into a share of second place. The finish left him just $101,295 shy of special temporary membership on the PGA Tour, making him dangerously close to earning that status on both sanctioned tours.
“Being able to look at the leaderboard and be on the top with a couple other guys, it was a new experience and I enjoyed it and felt like I played really well, felt like I controlled my emotions and hit good shots,” Spieth explained. “I would have obviously taken second going in and I'm going to take a lot of confidence going forward. I still have a lot of work to do to have a permanent place to play.”
All of which leads to this particular character definer.
After finishing in second place, after nearly becoming the second-youngest champion ever, after almost being able to forget about where and when to play and trying to earn status, Spieth came away from the tournament angry.
Rather than content with his performance, he was disappointed in himself that it wasn’t even better.
Character Defining Moment No. 4: Technically, this one hasn’t happened yet, but just the fact that he’s planning on it speaks volumes about Spieth’s mindset.
One of the reasons he worked so hard on those end-of-semester final exam papers and studied enough to receive grade point averages of 3.75, 3.5 and 3.5 in his three semesters at Texas is that even though a full-time membership on the world’s most elite professional golf tour is now well within his sights, he still plans to graduate college in pursuit of a communications degree.
“Way down the road, I’d like to get into broadcasting someday,” he said. “That was my thought process going in and I’m definitely planning on finishing.”
There are plenty of characters, players who like cartoon characters and character witnesses at the game’s highest level, but there’s always room for more guys with character. Expect Jordan Spieth to fill that niche sooner rather than later. His game is good enough to play here and his character is strong enough to keep him around.