Tiger Woods didn’t exactly sneak up on the golf world. He was considered the next big thing from the time he was on a national TV talk show at the age of 2. At every step—junior golf, college, amateur—Woods was expected to do exactly what he did, which was to become the greatest player of his generation and a record of major championship success second only to his boyhood idol Jack Nicklaus.
Jordan Spieth didn’t come out of nowhere. A native of Dallas, he was one of the nation’s top junior and amateur players, won two U.S. Junior Amateurs, went on to lead University of Texas to an NCAA title and was named Big 12 player of the year.
However, Spieth was unknown, except for golf insiders who follow the junior game, until he won the first of his two U.S. Junior Amateur titles in 2009, having barely turned 16. He got more notoriety the following year when he made the cut at the Byron Nelson Classic in his hometown and finished 16th.
Following his two successful years at Texas, Spieth turned professional and began the 2013 PGA Tour season with no status and hopes of making enough through sponsor exemptions to earn his Tour card that way.
He did, becoming the second player since Woods to begin a season with no status and qualifying for the Tour Championship.
Three top-10 finishes made him a special temporary member of the Tour and, later that summer, he made it permanent when he won the John Deere Classic. Spieth went on to qualify for the U.S. Presidents Cup team, going 2-2 at Muirfield Village.
Spieth had a solid 2014 season in which he didn’t win but contended deep into Sunday at the Masters and the Players Championship. Spieth also had an excellent week at the Ryder Cup, going 2-1-1 for the U.S. at Medinah.
The year 2015 brought about the explosion.
Spieth soared to the top of the World Golf Rankings when he won six times, including his record-tying 18-under 270 to capture the Masters (with a bogey on the 72nd hole, after he missed a 5-foot putt), the U.S. Open title at Chambers Bay and the Tour Championship, which also resulted in his winning the FedEx Cup.
But Spieth’s life hasn’t been the long run-up from toddler to Tour winner as was the case with Woods. More was known about Woods before his “Hello World” news conference in the summer of 1996: the dominant role his father Earl played in his development, the singular focus and intensity that came, in part from Buddhist teachings he learned from his mother, the reliance on long, majestic tee shots and uncanny clutch putting and the easy smile that actually belied a calculated distance he kept from fans, media and other players.
Winning three U.S. Juniors and three U.S. Amateurs also got Woods into the public eye long before he turned professional. Later, we learned more about Woods’s life than we wanted.
BUT WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT JORDAN SPIETH?
On the golf course, plenty—such as his four magical days at the Augusta National Golf Club in the 2015 Masters in which he shot 64 in the first round, 66 in the second, then refused to buckle with weekend rounds of 70-70 that gave him a four-shot victory over Phil Mickelson and Justin Rose.
Spieth won with the grace and poise of someone who had been there before. He went on to become the first player since Woods in 2002 to win the first two major championships of the season when he birdied the 72nd hole to win the U.S. Open.
After finishing one shot out of a playoff at the Open Championship at St. Andrews and fourth at the PGA, Spieth then captured the PGA Tour’s season-long points race at East Lake. Player of the year was a given, as were expectations for even more success.
Spieth’s response was to win the first Tour event of the calendar year at the Hyundai Championship in Kapalua, Hawaii. His seven victories to that point made him the third player in history to win seven PGA Tour titles at the age of 22, after Woods and Horton Smith. Spieth became the second player to ever have a score of 30-under par in a 72-hole Tour event.
We also know Jordan Spieth doesn’t overwhelm the game as Woods did. Spieth isn’t very long off the tee and doesn’t hit that many fairways or greens. What he has is the best short game and putting stroke on the planet and the ability to will the ball into the hole.
Fans also know the easy smile and Spieth’s quirk of talking to himself and his golf ball in flight. However, his choice of language is far tamer than Woods’s noted expletives when shots go awry. Spieth’s strongest oath might be: “Gosh darn it.”
But beyond that? Here is what Jordan Spieth is about. And there’s a lot to like.
JORDAN SPIETH IS RESPECTFUL
True story: Spieth was going toe-to-toe with Martin Kaymer during the third round of the 2014 Players Championship at the TPC Sawgrass Players Stadium Course. Both players hit their tee shots into the fairway at No. 15 and began walking to their balls. Spieth then veered sharply to the left and jogged through a patch of pine trees. His intentions were clear soon enough as he hopped over a three-foot-high white picket fence and began to walk toward the executive bathroom servicing a large hospitality tent.
A female security guard, who was sitting near the entrance to the area about 30 yards away, stopped Spieth in his tracks. “Young man,” she said. “You can’t use that bathroom. It’s only for people who have passes to this tent.”
Spieth stopped and said politely: “I’m a player—would it be all right if I used the bathroom?” The guard eyed him for a few seconds and then said, “Well…all right. But when you come out, come down here and use this gate. Don’t jump over that fence again. It’s not safe.”
Kaymer and Spieth’s caddie, Michael Geller, were waiting in the fairway. The battle between Kaymer and Spieth was being aired on NBC. But Spieth took the time to say two words to the guard: “Yes ma’am.” And when he came out of the restroom, he walked the 30 yards to the opening in the fence and then had two more for her: “Thank you.”
At a time when too many PGA Tour professionals feel entitled, especially during tournament weeks, Spieth’s simple brand of courtesy was symbolic of one aspect of his upbringing by his parents, Shawn and Chris Spieth, who have been getting compliments from fans and tournament officials about Jordan’s decorum since their son began winning junior events.
Spieth is polite to everyone. He still reflexively calls older male adults “sir” and we already know “yes ma’am” is a big part of his vocabulary. Volunteers are thanked, sponsors are shown gratitude and playing partners are respected.
“Jordan is so beyond his years,” said six-time Masters champion Jack Nicklaus to masters.com. “I like everything about him. He’s polite, he’s humble, he handles himself so well, on and off the golf course.
JORDAN SPIETH IS A FAMILY MAN
Her name is Ellie, she’s 14 years old and she is autistic. She’s Jordan Spieth’s younger sister who has become famous in her own right because of the numerous Instagram pictures their mother posts of the two of them together. Since he hit the national radar, Spieth often has referenced Ellie’s struggles with day-to-day life as one reason he stays humble.
When Ellie is able to travel to an event her brother is playing in, it’s hard for anyone to beat her as she sprints toward Jordan after a round for a hug. They have a tradition: If he doesn’t win the tournament, he takes her shopping or brings her a gift.
Spieth has said, “Ellie is the best thing to happen to our
If anyone wonders where Spieth gets the humility, just look at a photo of him and Ellie together. If there’s one where both of them aren’t smiling, it hasn’t yet surfaced. Spieth says one of the reasons he’s pleased with his success on the PGA Tour is that it has given him the financial means to establish the Jordan Spieth Family Foundation, which will focus much of its energy and resources on charities related to special-needs children.
Aside from giving his sister credit for grounding him, Spieth remains slightly uncomfortable talking about it and once gave an answer that carried wisdom far beyond his years: “My speaking about humility is very difficult because that wouldn’t be humility,” he said. Name another 21 year old in the world who thinks on that level.
Spieth takes humble to new levels. He displays very few trophies or memorabilia of his championships because he doesn’t want to appear to be bragging. “What good does it do for me to have my friends over and just flaunt it?” he says.
Spieth has two other special people in his life besides his parents, Ellie and his brother Steve, who plays basketball at Brown. His two grandfathers, Donald Spieth, a retired music teacher, and Bob Julius, a retired electrical engineer, are both Pennsylvania natives where their children met and married. Julius, 83, gets to a few more tournaments, mostly on the East Coast, when he drives himself and then sees much of the action on a motorized cart because of an artificial knee.
Both were at the Masters the week their grandson won. But Donald Spieth said it was more like a family gathering when everyone left the golf course. “You get together at night and play ping-pong and pool and it’s just a regular family,” he told Lehigh Valley Live after the tournament. “But the next morning you’re on this big stage and it’s really incredible.”
Another of Speith’s frequent companions is Annie Verret, his girlfriend. And this hardly comes as a shock as they’ve been dating since high school.
Spieth’s best friends from Jesuit College Prep in Dallas, Eric Leyendecker, Hays Myers and Blaine Simmons, are also important people in his inner circle. They were the friends he took to Las Vegas for his 21st birthday and were in Augusta during the week of his Masters victory. When they’re together, there are two rules: no golf talk and no golf on TV. There are no rules when it comes to trash talking, such as their nickname for Spieth in view of his receding hairline: “Bosley,” a hair replacement company that advertises nationally. Spieth wouldn’t have it any other way.
JORDAN SPIETH IS A TEAM PLAYER
The only “I” in Jordan Spieth is the third letter of his last name. He rarely refers to himself when it comes to winning a tournament or even executing a shot. Words such as “we,” “our” and “team” are his favorite ways to describe the joint effort of family, his agent Jay Danzi, his caddie Michael Greller, a former middle school math teacher, swing coach Cameron McCormick and trainer Damon Goddard. At the moments of his greatest triumphs, Spieth credits them as much as a winning NFL quarterback credits his offensive line.
“Our team did an unbelievable job this year,” Spieth said after winning the Tour Championship at East Lake. “Everything was exactly how we needed it to be to peak at the right times. If we can continue to do that, then we’ll have more seasons like this. It is a team effort. A lot of behind the scenes work goes in when we’re at home, when we’re in the early stages and on course here.”
Spieth constantly interjects plural pronouns into interviews. For example, after winning the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, he mentioned that “our game seemed to be rounding into form.” Later in the interview, he noted: “We putted the ball great.”
Spieth is a pretty young CEO, but he’s already picked up on a good business practice: Hire good people and let them do their jobs. Spieth has worked with McCormick since he was 12 years old. Greller is the only caddie he’s used since 2011, when he helped Spieth win the 2011 U.S. Junior Amateur at Gold Mountain near Seattle, where Greller was moonlighting as a looper.
Spieth has used only Titleist products as a professional and, as of early 2016, had no plans to change. His corporate team keeps expanding. He was the first golfer to attract the interest of Under Armour. AT&T was next. Then came Rolex and NetJets. In 2015, Spieth made $53 million in combined on- and off-course income, making him the top earner in golf.
The lengths of contracts show Spieth trusts that loyalty will go both ways. He signed a 10-year deal with Under Armour in 2015 and joined Coca-Cola in early 2016 for a multi-year deal.
JORDAN SPIETH SAYS HE’S NOT TIGER—YET…
From the moment his final putt dropped in the hole at Augusta National to win the Masters, Spieth has been compared to Tiger Woods. That likely will continue the rest of his career because there already have been too many parallels: winning at Augusta at an early age, playing on NCAA championship teams, the only players to have won multiple U.S. Junior Amateurs and the last two players to win the Masters and U.S. Open in the same season.
But Spieth isn’t worthy to be compared to Woods yet. Just ask him—and he’ll throw Phil Mickelson in there for good measure. “The more you look at Tiger, you look at Phil, you start realizing how far away you are from one of the best players to ever play the game,” Spieth said after winning at Kapalua. “And if you look at that, it keeps your head small. When they’re sitting there with 42 [victories for Mickelson] and 79 wins [for Woods] and major championships…it keeps me a little smaller.”
While Spieth says it is “premature” to compare him to Woods he’s nonetheless flattered. “I understand comparisons are going to be there,” he says. “I hope they continue to be there…that means I’m in the same ballpark as he is. I grew up watching. I know what he did. I just find it hard to believe that it [Woods’s record] can be matched. I’m certainly going to strive for it. But what he’s done for the game of golf is something special and I just don’t feel I deserve to be necessarily compared to him right now.”
Woods, when asked about Spieth, says he’s on the same track. “I like Jordan a lot. I’ve watched his career. He’s got all the talent in the world. And it’s going to be fun to watch him grow and mature into the player that he will become.”
During one news conference late last season, one reporter pointed out to Spieth that he had already met the victory requirements to be considered for nomination to the World Golf Hall of Fame. All he lacked was another 18 years to meet the age requirement. “That’s obviously a long-term goal,” he said. “I believe we can get there. But we’ve still got a long way to go.”
Spieth would simply like to stay in the moment and his biggest moment to date was at Augusta National in 2015. Spieth may be uneasy with comparisons to Woods and talk of the World Golf Hall of Fame, but he has no difficulty placing his first Masters title as the highlight of a young life.
“What am I most proud of this year? The Green Jacket,” he said without hesitation after winning the Tour Championship. “That was the one you grow up every single day going out to your practice green with your buddies, saying you have the last putt in the putting contest, it’s all tied up, this is to win the Masters.”
And in his dreams, how many times did Spieth make that putt?
“I made it a lot…I missed it a lot,” he says. “And fortunately, I was able to miss it this year [on the final hole] and still tap it on in.”
This article appears in the Masters 2016 issue of Augusta Magazine.