Jordan Spieth, The Greatest? For How Long?
It has been several decades since a young Muhammad Ali screamed “I am the greatest!” and a lot of other prophesies at the world press. We know from ancient history what a dangerous habit that is, to declare one’s self the greatest before the fact, but funny thing – Ali made it stick. He delivered on the whole nine yards. However, I haven’t seen it work with anyone else in sports or games since, and Jordan Spieth is taking careful note of that fact whenever he is tempted to see himself holding a grand spot in the big picture of golf.
Spieth is on a roll that few have experienced in the game. He’s absurdly young, gaining maturity at the speed of wildfire, and winning time and time again while he should just be learning how to hold on in this whirlwind of a golf tour. And, he’s winning the big stuff, stuff that is supposed to make you immortal over time, not right now. As a example of how he is outdoing himself as the 2016 golf year begins, runner-up Patrick Reed beat his own winning score from last year in Hawaii, only to lose by 8 shots to Spieth’s fireburst of a golf week. The new star is playing at downright Tigerish proportions, and as the entire body of sports press suggests, comparisons are everywhere, on the lips of everyone who follows the game of golf.
With the sort of success Spieth is enjoying, the ego has to wander from time to time and try to see one’s self in the historical framework of its century. The people who have played like this? Jack, Tiger, Bobby Jones, Hogan while other do it from time to time – but the air is rarified at this level.
Spieth, however, is not just golf smart, or even just life-smart. He appears to be self-smart. He knows that he can compare himself to Tiger’s early career, but he also knows that to look two weeks ahead spells trouble for one week ahead. Spieth is a conscious human being. He knows that the game of golf can abandon its greatest practitioner at a moment’s notice, and for no apparent reason, only to suddenly return again three years later – or not. He knows the personal pressures of the tour, and the delicate balance of the private life. Most of all, he seems to know that as one who aspires to greatness among the greats, a vast body of work must be turned in over the years. Coupled with that is the knowledge that it has to be accomplished one step at a time, not looking too far ahead, not looking at past failures unless something can be gleaned from them.
Comparisons can be so apt, so appropriate, and yet so deluded and flat out untrue. I have, over the years, heard young golfers, Tigert included, asked to overtly compare themselves with Jack Nicklaus. What can a fellow truthfully say other than, “Ask me again when I’ve done what Jack Nicklaus has done?” What else is there? Â And yet, they try to answer.
Jordan Spieth is in what Italian opera teachers sometimes call a “stato di grazia.” It means a “state of grace.” He has found the regimen, the life view, the personal and professional balance and the technique with which to win and establish a short-term greatness. He found the combination, and now the trick is holding onto it on the tightrope walk. History will say what it will say. He doesn’t need to worry about it one bit. Keep his balance, and he might carry this crazy winning thing through the next twenty or thirty years. Lose it, and he could do a Tiger-style face plant. Greatness gets bored easily, and leaves without telling anyone. Jordan Spieth is smart enough to know that, and keeps his comparisons in perspective. Maybe he’ll look back one day and scream, “I was the greatest!”