AUGUSTA, Ga. — Once upon a time, Jordan Spieth’s father delivered a bulletin to his favorite all-time athlete, Michael Jordan, that caught the legend by surprise. They met for the first time at
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AUGUSTA, Ga. — Once upon a time, Jordan Spieth’s father delivered a bulletin to his favorite all-time athlete, Michael Jordan, that caught the legend by surprise. They met for the first time at the 2014 Ryder Cup in Scotland, where Shawn Spieth told Jordan that he had named his son after him.
“It was surreal to see the look on Michael’s face,” said Jordan Spieth’s dad.
The six-time Bulls champ didn’t explicitly tell the stranger that his 21-year-old son was already among his favorite golfers. “But that was the look on his face,” said Shawn Spieth.
Michael Jordan did say he loved how the kid competed on the golf course. Six months later, Jordan Spieth won the Masters by tying Tiger Woods’ record of 18-under, surely securing Air Jordan’s unchallenged respect forevermore. Spieth also won the U.S. Open in 2015, and then finished in the top five at the Open Championship and the PGA Championship. But the mental toughness Spieth showed in chasing a calendar-year Grand Slam was nothing compared to the mental toughness Spieth showed over the 1,351 days and 82 events he spent without a victory before winning the Valero Texas Open on Sunday, and before putting himself in position to win his second green jacket on Friday.
Do not be surprised that Spieth climbed from a deep and forbidding hole in his career to land at 5-under at the Masters after 36 holes, two strokes behind leader Justin Rose. Never blessed with the kind of firepower owned by the likes of Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, and Bryson DeChambeau, Spieth has forever come across as a lightweight specimen with a heavyweight’s heart.
“So there was never any doubt that he would overcome [the drought] in our minds, or his,” Shawn Spieth, a former Lehigh baseball player, told The Post on Friday. “But going through the process of learning how to fail, and what you do the first time it happens, he’d never really had that kind of struggle before. … There was never any doubt, but it was hard.”
Even harder than the shocking 2016 collapse at the 12th hole, after Spieth carried a five-shot Sunday lead into the back nine and seemed a mortal, death-and-taxes lock to join Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo, and Woods as the only players to win back-to-back Masters. Spieth’s wet and wild misadventures at Amen Corner made Greg Norman’s 1996 meltdown feel like a missed opportunity in the C-flight of your local member-guest. The player, his family, caddie Michael Greller and swing coach Cameron McCormick were all gutted by the golf gods. When Spieth, as defending champ, had to place the green jacket over Danny Willett’s shoulders, he looked like a kid who had just lost his dog.
“That was a tough night,” Shawn Spieth recalled. “There wasn’t something specific said because it was just really emotional at that time. Just being a parent, trying to be supportive of him. Cam, Michael, we all felt semi-responsible for the decision made to get a little more aggressive, and that was probably the difference that week. Just learn from it.
“And when he puts on the green jacket again, it will be that much more rewarding.”
It was telling that Spieth did not fire Greller or McCormick after the 2016 Masters, nor after the biblical drought that ended a day before the 27-year-old Texan arrived at Augusta National with a confidence he hadn’t felt in a very long time. How many world-class golfers wouldn’t have identified at least one fall guy to fire after more than three-and-a-half years of futility?
“I think I needed to look back and take responsibility,” Spieth said. “It’s part of the game.”
Like baseball, golf is a game of failure. Heartbreaking, mind-numbing failure. Spieth completely unraveled; his driver betrayed him as much as any club in the bag. But by keeping his head down, he found his way back to a place of weekend relevance at his favorite tournament.
“It says a lot about Jordan and his mental fortitude to come back and win again and compete in a major,” said Jordan’s younger brother, Steven, a former Brown University basketball player. “I’m proud of him.”
Asked if he saw his brother winning this Masters, Steven said, “One hundred percent. I don’t see any other outcome.”
Jordan Spieth lost another battle with the famous 12th on Friday, bogeying the hole and then throwing his ball into Rae’s Creek. But no, that didn’t temper his belief that he can win the tournament.
“I came in thinking that,” Spieth said. “I’m in position now to think that for sure. … I’m happy that the golf course has the opportunity to play more and more difficult over the weekend. I think that personally, I’m looking forward to that kind of challenge.”
Sounds like something an older golfer named Jordan might have said.
This story originally appeared on: NyPost - Author:Ian O'Connor