Even when Jordan Spieth weaved right as the arm-chair analyst and 19th-hole historians argued that he should have hooked left in 2015, he emerged as a singular voice of reason.
With his best Opie Taylor shrug, Spieth dismissed the notion that he should have skipped July’s John Deere Classic to better prepare for the Open Championship, where he was poised to become just the second player to win the first three legs of the single-season Grand Slam.
“When I get over there, whether I play well or don't play well has nothing to do with what I did the week before,” Spieth said at TPC Deere Run. “I will certainly have enough energy. I will certainly have enough rest, and I will be as prepared as can be, as I am for any other event, by the time I tee it up at St. Andrews.”
Spieth would win his second John Deere Classic title in a playoff against Tom Gillis, but not the coveted claret jug and yet his pre-Open detour through middle America was never revisited.
After the history and headlines he made this year, why would it be?
In 2015, the man dubbed the “Golden Child,” a nickname he abhors, by the way, proved to have the golden touch both on and off the golf course on his way to the best major championship season since Tiger Woods nearly ran the Grand Slam tables in 2000.
But even that comparison, one of many between Spieth in ’15 and Woods’ litany of accomplishments, is not exactly an apples-to-apples examination.
In 2000, Woods began his major championship season with a fifth-place showing at the Masters and closed with three consecutive victories at the U.S. Open, Open Championship and PGA Championship.
On paper, Spieth’s 2015 season – which included maiden victories at Augusta National and the U.S. Open and a tie for fourth at St. Andrews and second at the PGA – runs a respectable second to Tiger’s year in 2000, but there is something to be said for the degree of difficulty the third-year Tour player faced in his major quest.
Spieth bolted Chambers Bay, where he beat Dustin Johnson by a stroke, with history looming at St. Andrews.
Only Ben Hogan had won the Masters, U.S. Open and Open Championship in the same season, in 1953, but the Hawk never had a chance to complete the sweep because the PGA Championship and British overlapped that season, and Woods was not competing against the calendar in 2000 after finishing fifth in the year’s first major.
“I like to study the history of golf, and I think it's extremely special what this year has brought to our team and to have a chance to do what only one other person in the history of golf has done doesn't come around very often,” Spieth said at St. Andrews. “I'm embracing that opportunity, but by the time I start on Thursday, it won't be in my head.”
Spieth endured the pressure, and multiple weather delays, at St. Andrews and began the final round a stroke out of the lead, but he bogeyed the 17th hole, which ranked as the toughest par 4 on Tour in ’15, and failed to convert a birdie putt at the final hole that would have lifted him into a playoff that was eventually won by Zach Johnson.
For all the news Spieth made on the course this year, however, it was his maturity that stretched well beyond his 22 years that helped make him much more than another celebrated champion.
It was a testament to Spieth’s unique sense of perspective that he bolted the scoring area after finishing his round in Scotland to watch the playoff and was one of the first people to congratulate Johnson.
“To have a champion like Jordan take the time on 18 to give me best wishes speaks volumes as to what he is,” Johnson said. “He's a phenomenal talent, and I'm telling you right now, a lot of you guys know him, he's a better person than he is golfer.”
After finishing second to Jason Day at the PGA Championship he settled for a historic consolation prize, becoming just the fourth player – along with the likes of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Woods – to win the year’s first two majors.
“For him to play St. Andrews for the very first time and to see it under different winds like he did and be able to play it that well was very impressive,” Woods said.
By the time Spieth finished his year with a victory at the Tour Championship to shatter the single-season earnings record ($12 million) and become the youngest FedEx Cup champion the comparisons to Woods’ past dominance were not just accurate but also inevitable.
Spieth joined Woods as the only players since 1940 with four Tour victories before age 22, he played 16 major championship rounds in 54-under par; and with his runner-up finish at Whistling Straits became the second-youngest player to ascend to No. 1 in the World Golf Ranking, behind only Tiger.
Spieth is normally reluctant to spend much time digesting the accolades that his play produces. But even he acknowledged the similarities between his play this year and some of Woods’ accomplishments. Spieth also pointed out – as only he could – that while 2015 was Tiger-like, it was just one year.
“What we were able to do this season [Woods] did for 15 years straight. It took a lot out of us this year, and to imagine doing that, which is what obviously is the goal, it's really special,” Spieth said earlier this month at the Hero World Challenge.
It’s that kind of humility that made Spieth the top newsmaker in 2015 as well as the best story.