A Masters classic


AUGUSTA  —  It was a classic Masters, made so, in part, by a young Texan with class, manners, etiquette, a sense of place; a soft-spoken style and a boyish smile, all of which will make him a popular champion who will never have to worry about making his VISA card payments.

Jordan Spieth looked good and played well in winning the 2015 Masters. His peers are thinking about their final year in college: Fraternity parties, that last football season of their campus days before finding a job. Fun and games are still very much a part of their lives.

What’s on Spieth’s agenda? Primarily the U.S. Open in June at Chambers Bay, the British at St. Andrews in July, the PGA at Whistling Straits in August and what he will order for the champions dinner which he will host at Augusta a year from now. It was a fellow Texan, Ben Hogan, who originated the Masters champions club, and you probably are guessing, as I am, there will be barbecue on the menu when he picks up the tab at the Augusta National a year from now.

Life is different when you are a precocious talent. Before his first prom, he was playing in the Byron Nelson Classic in Dallas as a teenager. Sage observers were predicting back then that the golfing world should keep an eye on him. Sunup Monday, he was the toast of the golfing world.

With the pressure to perform and meeting all the demands in his life, his patience will now be tested. The irritation factor will accelerate, but I see him as a champion in the mold of Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus with an ability to control his emotions and not allow people and circumstances get under his skin. He will conduct his life with an emphasis on avoiding controversy. He won’t be short with the media. He won’t throw a club in anger, which is something that Tiger Woods has not been able to get out of his system.

Then again, we should remember that the world and its demands make life a challenge to manage. It takes a certain amount of competitive arrogance to compete at the highest level. Some say you don’t exceed without it. The exceptions come from the very special champions, like the aforementioned Palmer and Nicklaus, who were always under control.

I remember the scene when Ken Venturi, dramatically won the U.S. Open at Congressional in 1964, playing the final 36 holes gallantly in the face of a heat stroke. At the end of the round, Venturi was taking respite under a shade tree, weak and dehydrated when slipping into view of the television camera was Arnold Palmer to offer congratulations. Venturi did not like Palmer who, with his remarkable play, kept Venturi from winning the Masters. Something tells me that Spieth will be an Arnold Palmer, but his life is about to change. Here’s to precociousness segueing into seasoning and a life to be well-lived.

In Dallas, Spieth has a laid-back, humble reputation which would suggest that he has his feet firmly in place for the forthcoming public onslaught. The Tonight Show will be calling. Friends will be calling. Teachers at Jesuit High in Dallas will be calling. Charities will be knocking on his door. Corporations will be ringing him up for endorsements. His agent will be overwhelmed. Life will never be the same, but the forecast from those who know him is that he will be able to handle it all, just as he managed himself around the Augusta National Golf Club this week with aplomb.

Not overpowering off the tee, his short game with the deft touch is what sets him apart. His driver was sometimes wayward, but he has plenty of assets: Golf course management, stiffening composure in the face of pressure, a champion’s demeanor and an ability to connect with the fans who follow him. There is no chip on his shoulder, but a grand opportunity to win multiple majors.

As another fellow Texan, Jim Nantz, said late Sunday, Spieth represents the next generation of golfing greats. He might just lead the U. S. to dominate world golf again. The Masters champion has a modest bent — how nice!

[For 36 years the sideline radio reporter for the Georgia Bulldogs, Loran Smith now covers a bigger sideline of sports personalities and everyday life in his weekly newspaper columns.]