A cloud was cast over Gullane by Rory McIlroy’s football injury while wet and windy weather wreaked havoc at St Andrews. But there was “Sunshine on Spieth”. It lit up Augusta National and Chambers Bay as Jordan announced his arrival at golf’s top table. American golf’s new superstar will end 2015 as a worthy world No 1 as Tiger Woods, having slipped from 32nd 12 months ago to outside the top 400, faces up to uncertainty about his future after another annus horribilis.
It wasn’t just the fact Spieth won two majors that stood out as he enjoyed his annus mirabilis. The young Texan went about his business as though he’d been at the top of the game for some time, not the new kid on the block. He’s classy, on and off the course. His family values helped him lay the foundations for his career and there’s no chance whatsoever they’ll ever be forgotten. Like McIlroy, Spieth seems the type that will never get too big for his boots.
The main strength of Spieth’s game is with a putter in his hands. Nowhere was that more evident than Georgia in April, when, in an event that marked Ben Crenshaw’s farewell to The Masters after 44 years, the Lone Star state produced its next player to look destined to have a long love affair with the season’s opening major. Still 21 at the time, Spieth completed a wire-to-wire win. He was the first player in the event’s history to get to 19-under-par before finishing with a record-equalling 18-under-par total of 270. It earned him a four-shot win over both Phil Mickelson and Justin Rose.
“This is a momentous week in the history of our game,” said Nick Faldo at the time. “Along with Rory McIlroy, he is going to carry our game for the next decade and what an exciting time it promises to be.” A third name was to be added to the list before the season was done, but Spieth didn’t waste any time proving the Englishman right about that particular prediction.
The US Open’s first visit to Chambers Bay may well be remembered more for a course that drew stinging criticism for its condition and severity of the test, but it was another week that saw Spieth come out on top. Admittedly, he was helped by Dustin Johnson’s nightmare three-putt from 12 feet on the 72nd green. But, with a five-under-par total of 275, Spieth became the youngest US Open champion since Bobby Jones in 1923 and the youngest to win the Masters and US Open in the same year since a 26-year-old Tiger Woods achieved the feat in 2002.
While Spieth’s Grand Slam bid came off the rails at St Andrews, where the Open Championship finished on a Monday for the first time since 1988 due to play being suspended on two separate days, first by heavy rain then very strong winds, he gave it his all. Despite giving himself precious little time to get to know the intricacies of the Old Course after honouring a commitment to play in the John Deere Classic the previous week, Spieth came within a shot of getting into a four-hole play-off for the Claret Jug.
It ended up in Zach Johnson’s hands after the American holed a 15-foot putt on the last green for a closing 66 and 15-under-par aggregate of 273 then beat South African Louis Oosthuizen and Australian Marc Leishman in the shootout. It was Johnson’s second major success, having landed the Masters in 2007, and who was there to congratulate him at the end? Yes, that man Spieth. Told you he’s a class act.
So, too, is Jason Day and there wasn’t a single person in the sport that would have begrudged the Australian his major breakthrough in the US PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in August. It came after he’d knocked so many times at the door in big events. It came just a few months after he’d collapsed at Chambers Bay after being struck with vertigo. It came with a record-breaking 20-under-par total, beating the mark set by Woods in the 2000 Open Championship at St Andrews.
Three shots behind in second, Spieth finished the year 54-under-par at the majors, also surpassing Woods’ record from 2000. As he ended the season with a real flourish, recording four victories in eight weeks, Day made a late charge to try and steal some of Spieth’s limelight. There can surely be no doubt, however, that 2015 belonged to the American and golf will undoubtedly be the winner as it looks forward to a new golden era led by Spieth, Day and McIlroy, for whom it was a season that, more than anything, will have seen him learn a valuable lesson.
It’s one thing wanting to remain “one of the lads” and enjoy a kickabout with them. Doing it so close to an Open Championship defence, especially at the home of golf on a course where he’s got a decent record, was a mistake, as a ruptured ligament in his left ankle proved. It also ruled him out of the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open’s first visit to Gullane, which was a disappointment to both him and the paying customers, though seeing Rickie Fowler come out on top wasn’t exactly a bad outcome for it, was it?
Though he never really got into the mix in the three majors he played, McIlroy signed off his season on a high, winning the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai to be crowned as European No 1 for a third time. He’ll also want to regain the world’s top spot in 2016, when we won’t have to wait long for the first of many exciting battles as the Northern Irishman and Spieth prepare to lock horns in Abu Dhabi in the third week of January.
What 2015 will also be remembered for is Lydia Ko becoming the youngest player, male or female, to reach world No 1 at 17 then claim yet another record by winning a major – the Evian Championship in France – at 18; Great Britain & Ireland’s amateurs putting a strong-looking United States team to the sword in the Walker Cup at Royal Lytham; and GB&I’s club professionals claiming a first PGA Cup success on American soil in a match that came down to the last putt at CordeValle in California.
Roll on 2016, when an anchoring ban comes into effect on 1 January; the sport makes its return to the Olympics after an absence of 112 years; the Open Championship at Royal Troon will be the first to have Sky Sports, not the BBC, as the R&A’s main broadcaster for the game’s oldest major and, of course, a Ryder Cup at Hazeltine.