Jordan Spieth Will Be Back

 

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Editor’s Note: This story has been updated.

Two years ago this weekend, Jordan Spieth arrived. He finished second at the Masters way before he had any business edging out the likes of Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott as a cherubic 20-year-old just a year removed from leaving Texas to turn pro. Last year—same early-April timeframe and also at Augusta National—he made a leap, winning his first major. Late yesterday afternoon, Spieth felt the pitfalls of being on top.

He was criticized for his slow play this weekend. He melted down at the 12th hole on Sunday, quadruple bogeying and squandering his slim lead (ESPN called it the most shocking of its type in golf history. It isn’t.). He caught flack for asking a cameraman following him after that meltdown to leave him alone. He became the latest victim of the ubiquitous Crying Jordan meme. He looked less than elated handing off the green jacket to winner Danny Willett.

Jordan Spieth is 22. In his last three Masters tournaments, he has been beaten by exactly two people.

It was an odd day for Spieth, punctuated by that nightmare on 12, which evoked traces of Greg Norman’s infamous collapse 20 years ago at Augusta. Deadspin theorizes that alien activity is possible. But it’s that last moment, a quirk of Masters tradition, when the previous year’s winner presents the weekend’s champion with that sartorial manifestation of immortality, that blew up on social media. It’s not every year that the previous winner falls apart on Sunday, only to have to concede to his opponent minutes later. Imagine if the Warriors lose the NBA Finals this season in a close Game 7 and Steph Curry has to hand the Larry O’Brien trophy to a grinning LeBron James. The internet would collapse under its own weight, clogged by Crying Jordans in Golden State jerseys.

Here’s the thing people should keep in mind: Jordan Spieth is 22. In his last three Masters tournaments, he has been beaten by exactly two people. He is going to be hard on himself when he comes up short because, simply, he was born in 1993 and he hasn’t been alive very long yet. He also expects greatness. So far, he’s achieved it or come so close he can taste it. As the face of professional golf, he’ll hear the criticism whether he wins or loses. This was a rude awakening for Jordan Spieth, facing such intense criticism. There’s no doubt the people closest to him will be nudging him toward further media complicity in the future, even if Spieth reacted the way most of us would. Feeling bad about our failures is precisely what makes us human.

This weekend marked Jordan Spieth’s unceremonious welcome to the harsh reality of sports media hot takes. His critics were even divided on the occasion of his post-tournament interview, in which he candidly discussed the heartbreaking loss. After dismissing the cameraman earlier, the perception of the media-friendly Millennial shifted, so when he gave a real interview later, he was praised. Of course, this elicited comparisons to Cam Newton’s hasty post-Super Bowl interview, with former NFL player Mark Schlereth tweeting about how “classy” this was. Spieth certainly showed humility, but just because Newton didn’t stick around for much of his interview doesn’t make the golfer a hero, nor the quarterback a pariah.

Still, that Spieth is even part of this conversation means this: Millions of people are paying attention to how the former Longhorn great acts (and reacts) at all times. Even when Spieth acted as humbly as he could have after the loss, many critics simply used him as a symbol for what they think is wrong with other athletes, instead of merely congratulating him or, because Spieth was simply just doing his job, not mentioning it at all. Either way, Spieth is, as they say, “in the conversation” permanently now, even if on this Sunday the conversation wasn’t as good as he might have liked. Thankfully for us, he has lots of Sundays left in him.

Image courtesy UT Athletics.

 

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