DESPITE seeing his Grand Slam bid come unstuck, Jordan Spieth showed true class by being one of the first to congratulate his fellow American, Zach Johnson, after he became the 144th Open champion at St Andrews.
Bidding to set up the chance to become the first player to win all four majors in the same season, Masters and US Open winner Spieth agonisingly missed out on the three-man play-off won by Johnson over South African Louis Oosthuizen and Australian Marc Leishman.
However, the 21-year-old masked his disappointment by making a point of giving Johnson a pat on the back after the 2007 Masters champion bridged an eight-year gap to become a major winner again.
Writing on Twitter shortly after Johnson had triumphed in the four-hole play-off by a shot from Oosthuizen with a one-under-par aggregate, Spieth also said of his 39-year-old com-patriot: “Very proud of a role model and friend of mine.”
Johnson himself was equally complimentary about Spieth, who endeared himself to the Scottish golfing public as he produced a phenomenal effort in his bid to become the first player since Ben Hogan in 1953 to win the season’s opening three majors. “He said congratulations and that he was proud,” said Johnson of their exchange afterwards. “He is a peer of mine but also a really good friend. To have a champion like Jordan take the time to give me best wishes speaks volumes as to what he is.
“He’s a phenomenal golfer but I’m telling you right now – and a lot of you guys know him – he’s a better person than a golfer.” Johnson’s victory saw him become the event’s first millionaire. He picked up a cheque for £1.15 million while Oosthuizen, who made a valiant attempt to repeat his 2010 win at the same venue, and Leishman both picked up cheques for £536,500.
“I’m humbled right now because of what’s in my lap [the Claret Jug] and the names etched on that piece of metal are very special,” said the new champion, whose previous best finish in 11 appearances in the event had been sixth at Muirfield two years ago. “It’s the who’s who in the game. It’s the guys that paved the way. It’s the individuals that are historic in the sport. I’m honoured to have won it and it’s still beyond surreal.”
Johnson, who denied any knowledge of a spike-tapping incident on the 15th green in his closing 66 for a 15-under-par 273 total, added: “I feel like God gave me the ability to play this game. I try to take it seriously, but I realise it’s just a game. I’m just a boy from Iowa that has been blessed with a talent and this great game provides great opportunity.
“I’m going to relish this, but it isn’t going to define me or my career, at least I hope it doesn’t. It’s not my legacy. I’m humbled by this, but my legacy should be my kids, my family, that kind of thing.”
Spieth missed out on the play-off after taking a bogey-5 at the 17th, then seeing a birdie attempt at the last from the Valley of Sin just miss on the left. Earlier, he’d four-putted the eighth for a double-bogey before hauling himself into contention with three birdies, including one from 40 feet at the 16th.
“With everything that was at stake for me this week, I’m very pleased with the way I battled,” said the 21-year-old Texan. “I just wish I had given myself a little better opportunity at the last, but it won’t hurt too bad. It’s hard to close out tournaments every single time, so I won’t beat myself up. Apart from a mental mistake at eight, I played a great round of golf today. In fact, I’d have won the US Open by more than a shot if I’d played how I did here. It’s just that others in the field have played some special golf this week – it’s been a hell of a major.”