We’ve all got front row seats now to the majors.
In fact, we’re all invited a little closer to all the game’s big events.
That’s what it feels like with Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy separating themselves at the top of the game, with Spieth and McIlroy combining to win the last four majors, with McIlroy and Spieth reigning as Nos. 1-2 in the Official World Golf Ranking.
This new era unfolding in the game isn’t just younger. It’s different in another way, too.
Spieth, 21, and McIlroy, 26, are making it feel more accessible, more intimate even, more open to all of us.
Each in his own way has reached out a hand, invited us to share their journeys in meaningful ways. They’ve welcomed us to closer glimpses of how and why they do things. They both do this in news conferences. They’re already two of the best interviews in the game, insightful and even precociously wise. They do it hanging around for scrums after news conferences end, giving us extra time to explore topics, to pick their brains about the way they’re thinking.
There’s a gravitating charm in these two, undeniable but also distinct.
There’s the Texan’s charm in Spieth.
“I thought I was looking at Wyatt Earp,” Ben Crenshaw said of the look he saw in Spieth’s eye in a practice round at the Masters this year. “He looks like he wants to gun you down.”
That’s only half the amalgam. There’s also the chivalry ingrained in Spieth, and we mean that in the way C.S. Lewis defined chivalry, in an ability to be tough to the nth degree and gentle to the nth degree. We see that in Spieth’s relationship with his little sister, the way he adores Ellie, a special needs child born with a neurological disorder.
And there are the charms of the Northern Irishman, gifted with the eloquence the Irish are so famous for. When he’s opening up on a topic, McIlroy has the ability to make you feel like you’ve both got a pint of Guinness in front of you, bellied up to the bar at a local pub. He has that disarming, earnest and engaging nature.
Spieth and McIlroy will practically write stories for you in their interviews, revealing opinions, beliefs or insights that change the nature of what you planned to write.
Spieth engages us beyond interviews. It feels as if he’s talking to us when he’s playing, when he’s chastising his golf ball, or bouncing ideas off his caddie, or muttering to himself. The way he corrals and wrestles disappointment over mistakes, it’s more than fun to watch. It’s fun to listen to. He commands a stage in his own engaging way.
When McIlroy is striping it, he walks in a way you want to emulate, with a confident gait and bob of the head, like a fighter pilot on his way to his jet.
Of course, there’s no escaping the shadow the game is emerging from, the once overwhelming but now fading presence of Tiger Woods, whose reign was so towering, so majestic and yet often so cold and forbidding. This isn’t meant as a criticism of Woods. Nobody’s stage presence in the history of the game compares to his. His march through the game’s history books was electric, crackling with unforgettably brilliant moments. His footsteps landed so hard they echoed through time, his fist pumps summoned thunder, his glare and smile mesmerized, but he always made sure he was more than an arm’s length from us. In fact, he often stiff armed us. He was more like Ben Hogan than Arnold Palmer, with an intimidating aura he seemed to like to cultivate. That was Tiger’s style, and it worked for him, though we’re seeing a gentler side of him now.
But that brings us back to Spieth and McIlroy, who are almost Palmer-esque in the way they engage us, in the way they let us in.
Tiger was like the Beatles were, a storm of brilliance, with a breathless, chaotic swarm of energy always chasing after him. Spieth and McIlroy are showing more the brilliance you see in singer songwriters, performers motioning for us to pull our chairs a bit closer to enjoy their music.
Spieth and McIlroy aren’t perfect. Who is? They’ll reveal human frailties. They’ll make mistakes along the way, but there’s something refreshing in the charms they’re bringing to the majors, to the top of the world rankings. Here’s hoping we all continue to enjoy having front row seats.