Open: Jordan Spieth says success won’t change him

Jordan Spieth gets his eye in during practice ahead of today's first round of the Open. Picture: Jane Barlow

Jordan Spieth gets his eye in during practice ahead of today's first round of the Open. Picture: Jane Barlow

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TWO majors in the bag already and with more money and fame than most guys his age could dream of; certainly more than many could cope with, Jordan Spieth remains a thoroughly nice lad. He’s polite, he’s articulate, he’s level-headed and while he has been quick to rise to the top of the game, he still possesses a patience and sense of perspective almost alien to a generation which craves immediacy.

The assumption is that sometime soon things will change. As the majors multiply and his star continues to rise, some predict that the easy, open demeanour and the friendly smile will be replaced by a look of weary frustration prompted by the increased demands and constant hunger for information. Every shot will be scrutinised, every word examined as his choices are questioned and any mistakes are magnified and he will come to resent it, they say, or his head will be turned by the adulation.

I think the parallels that are drawn between me and Tiger are unfair

Jordan Spieth

It is a hypothesis the 21-year-old was quick to challenge as he looked out, composed and relaxed, at a few hundred members of the media yesterday who all wanted to know what he was thinking as he heads into the third major of the year, where he has the chance to equal Ben Hogan’s record of bagging all of the first three in the same year.

“Why should I change?” he asked, unable to see the correlation between extra attention and the need for a personality bypass. “I don’t think that changes a person. I think that it changes the amount of time that you have, and maybe that gives some people the wrong idea if you don’t have time for people that you’ve been able to make time for in the past. Since I love to play the game of golf, I want to be as best prepared for tournaments, and so I now may not be able to give as much time elsewhere. But no, I don’t think that anything should change about a person based on their success and what they do, whatever it is. I figure we’ve gotten where we are right now from who our team has been now; why should our entire personality change? It’s been working, so may as well keep it that way.”

It is an overview devoid of arrogance that once again belies his age and must warm his parents’ hearts. It is the same with so much of what the young Texan says and virtually every aspect of his behaviour and his play.

One consequence of his growing success is the limit it places on his time with his family. They are the people who have helped make him the young man he is. His parents were sporty themselves and have always supported him and a sibling rivalry, in all sporting endeavours, with his brother Steven honed his competitive edge. But, aside from that, life with an autistic sister taught him he had to consider more than himself. With that came the perseverance, the patience and understanding and a wider view of the world. It also taught him to appreciate his lot and the opportunity he had to maximise his ability.

He has dedicated efforts to fundraising for children with special needs and volunteering at Ellie’s school in the past, but now finds that difficult. “I was her grandparent on grandparents’ day earlier in the year! That’s the last time I’ve been in her class,” he said. “Sure, it’s frustrating. You don’t have the time you do in high school to go in there. But any time I’m home I’m spending time with Ellie. I take her to school, pick her up, spend time at my parents’ house or she’ll come over and hang out, my whole family will. But I knew that that change was coming and I am embracing it and wouldn’t change the position But one of the hardships is less time seeing the people that you love and care about.”

Everything is considered with remarkable perspective for someone so young, so talented and undoubtedly fawned over. Dedicated to preparing correctly, he talked about the decision to stay in the States to play the John Deere Classic in conditions as far removed from the rain and gales which are expected to make a nuisance of themselves during the 144th Open Championships. But he wasn’t narked when some questioned the value in that. He even accepted that those who had arrived earlier and wrestled the winds during practice could consider that an advantage. He was willing to accept that his choice may prove to be the wrong one – stating that “more time on this golf course couldn’t ever hurt anybody” – but it was a reasoned one, he explained.

“I don’t think anybody is going to argue with the win, and that is what we set out to do last week, to try and feel the pressure over the weekend and try to perform my best, see what tendencies I got that we could adjust for major championship pressure, and that’s exactly what we did,” he said.

For years it was Tiger Woods who shouldered that burden and, given Spieth’s age and the searing early pace he has set in the race to gather as many titles as possible during his already-burgeoning career, comparisons between the two are being drawn. “I think the parallels that are drawn between me and Tiger are unfair,” he said, approaching the topic not with irritation but with that impressive sense of perspective. “It’s something I don’t think can be compared until at least midway through his career and when people ask me about those kind of parallels I try and shake it off. I’m extremely happy how we’ve been able to compete and win a couple of majors at my age, but at the same time, I certainly have an appreciation for how Tiger could continue and continue and continue to keep winning majors at just an incredible percentage.”

The mere presence of Tiger on the first tee used to unnerve his rivals, such was his metronomic ability to win, now he is someone Spieth simply hangs about chatting to on the 16th during practice rounds. But he just laughed at the suggestion that he possesses a similarly daunting reputation now, having won as a front runner and triumphed through tenacity. “I don’t know about that, I don’t look like an intimidating person!”

But his golf is. His lack of obvious weaknesses, as a person or a competitor, elevate him in the minds of his peers, the media and the public and he is learning to value himself almost as highly. That manifests itself in assured performances on the course and in the media room. But his personality remains as grounded as ever and he says it always will.

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