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Family Guy: Spieth maintains priorities

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AUGUSTA, Ga. – Shawn Spieth stood in the shadow of the clubhouse at Augusta National early Sunday evening with his  eyes glistening and his heart swelling.

His son was about to be whisked away to Butler Cabin to slip on the green jacket as Masters champion.

Jordan Spieth won with an 18-under 270 total only equaled by Tiger Woods in the 79-year history of the Masters.

Standing there, surrounded by reporters, Shawn’s mind raced back to all the disappointment his son left the Masters with a year ago. The depth of Jordan’s satisfaction winning this Masters goes back to last year’s failure. As a parent, Shawn saw the ache in his son driving away from Magnolia Lane a year ago. Shawn felt it. The entire family felt it leaving the property with Jordan. That’s what made this day, this moment all the more glorious.

Whatever heartache Jordan felt losing a two-shot lead to Bubba Watson last year, he didn’t dwell on it. That’s what Shawn remembered most leaving Augusta National. He remembers the resolve.

“After last year, Jordan was convinced he would win this year,” Shawn said. “Right after we walked off that green and went back to try to find a way to have some dinner, and move on, right then, he felt he’d win this year.”

If there’s a secret to Jordan Spieth’s success, that might be it, that resolve his father pointed to in the aftermath of last year’s failure.

At 21, Spieth has already fended off some hard, competitive blows as a professional golfer, setbacks that could have wounded a young psyche, that could have created the kind of dispiriting doubt that derails youthful ambition. There was the failure to get through second stage of PGA Tour School after turning pro. That’s a potentially game-changing setback when you’re supposed to be a can’t-miss star. There were failures to close on giant stages at the Masters last year and again at The Players Championship. That intense scrutiny creates a chorus of doubts about not having the fiber to close.

There was resolve shown getting through all those setbacks.

Sunday morning, with the long wait for Jordan’s afternoon tee time, Shawn wanted to talk about the challenge ahead. He wanted to talk about what the day might require. So even though the family made a point not to talk about golf in their time together in the housing they shared this week, they did talk golf.

“I wanted to have a quick conversation,” Shawn said. “It’s such a long wait. I thought it might help a little bit, just maybe to calm me, if not him, to have a quick conversation, about what I thought was important.”

Shawn reminded Jordan to expect to face some adversity in the final round.

“He knew it, from other big moments,” Shawn said. “Last year, he wasn’t quite ready for it. We just talked a couple minutes about this, and the fact that this is the greatest game, and it’s the Masters, but it is still just a game, as opposed to something more critical in our world. I don’t know if it helped.”

If not the words, surely the spirit of the message helped.

In the aftermath of Sunday’s victory, you could see how important family and friends are in Spieth’s life.

He hugged Shawn, and he hugged his mother, Chris. He hugged his younger brother, Steven, who plays basketball at Brown University. He hugged his grandfather, his girlfriend, three of his closest friends. The hugs seemed to go on forever.

Spieth’s appeal goes beyond his skills.

Ben Crenshaw, the two-time Masters winner, said Spieth reminds him of Wyatt Earp.

“He wants to gun you down,” Crenshaw said.

But there’s another dominating element to Spieth. He also reminds you of Bobby Jones. There’s this gentlemanly spirit tempering Spieth’s competitive nature.

Spieth wants to win. He wants to win, badly. You see it and hear it in this commanding stage presence he’s developing, in his confident stride, in the certainty of his gestures, even in the way he talks to his golf ball. The appeal is how he is learning to temper this edge. There’s a Texas gentleman’s firm hand on all this.

C.S. Lewis, the author and professor of Oxford University fame, once described chivalry as the ability to be tough to the nth degree and gentle to the nth degree. That’s Spieth’s appeal. He’s chivalrous.

This really comes through in Spieth’s relationship with the one family member who wasn’t there Sunday. Ellie, Spieth’s 13-year-old sister, was born with a neurological disorder. She is a special needs child. He adores her, and she adores him.

“She puts everything in perspective for him in life,” Shawn said. “As great as this is today, it’s still golf. There’s nothing that’s going to change the world, other than the way players handle themselves out here.”

Jordan talked about wanting to call Ellie after his victory. She’s back in Dallas with other family. Jordan usually Facetimes with her when he’s away, so she can see him. She always asks him if he won when he calls.

“When I speak to her, she's going to probably tell me to just bring something home, bring a present home to her,” Jordan said. “I'm sure she was watching and was excited when she saw how happy I was with my family there at the end. Probably got a little jealous at that point. But she's just going to be happy that I won.  You know, after each round last week, she was out there at the Shell Houston Open, and after each round, she said, `Jordan, did you win?  Did you win?’ And I said, `Not yet, not yet ... no.’  I can tell her I won now (laughter).”

Spieth won with a resolve he learned at home.

“I just learn from example," he said, "and I have some great examples before me.”