Tiger Woods left Stanford after his sophomore year to become the first golfer to launch his pro career with no PGA Tour playing card and land at the season-ending Tour Championship.
Several years later, Jordan Spieth, a Texas Longhorn for just one year, followed a similar path.
As the future superstar’s growing legend has it, the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year was also a college dropout with no status after failing to get beyond the second stage of Q-School in 2012 and was at the mercy of sponsor’s exemptions to start the 2013 golf season. Spieth finished runner-up at last season’s Tour Championship, so naturally, he became the flavor of the day as the heir apparent to Tiger Woods.
But the next Tom Brady?
Made perfect sense to Frank Nobilo, who opened Golf Channel’s coverage of Saturday’s third round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am by drawing a comparison between Spieth and the sixth-round draft pick, college "Comeback Kid," fourth-string rookie QB, and three-time Super Bowl champion, rather than the seemingly timeless correlation between Woods and the latest whiz kid.
Those are some huge shoes to fill, especially for a guy wearing spikes and not cleats.
Spieth entered last weekend tied with Jimmy Walker for the 36-hole lead at Pebble and in position to win his second tour event at an even younger age than Woods was when he chalked up No. 2 of his 79.
"It’s hard to imagine. I didn’t think I’d ever see anyone play golf to that level and actually exceed it, at such a tender age," said Nobilo.
By way of "The Brady 6," the GC analyst quickly switched gears to size up Spieth, the youngest winner on the PGA Tour in some 80 years after last year’s John Deere Classic victory, and Brady, the then-youngest QB to win a Super Bowl when he helmed New England’s improbable 2001 victory over the Rams. The ESPN program examined the half-dozen quarterbacks taken before the Patriots, with the 199th pick, called TB12’s number in the 2000 NFL draft.
Perhaps with the humble beginning to Spieth’s golf career in mind, Nobilo noted how unhappy Brady’s father was with his son’s draft-day snub.
"We had season tickets for the 49ers for 25 years and we were just hurt," Tom Brady Sr. told ESPN about the hometown San Francisco team bypassing the skinny, immobile, slow play caller out of Michigan whose boyhood idol was Joe Montana. "We kind of took it personally."
Brady, 36, successfully turned that long-ago disrespect into motivation to become one of the best of all time at his position under center.
"The one thing they [NFL GMs who bypassed Brady in the draft] never did with my son was cut him open," Brady Sr. said about what drove his superstar son, who’s also a decent golfer but missed the cut in last week’s pro-am contest. "If they did that, well, he would have been drafted in the first round."
At Pebble, Spieth flailed to a third-round 6-over 78 to take himself out of contention for that second W, much as he had done at Torrey Pines last month after missing by one stroke the top spot at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. Spieth rebounded with a 67 on Sunday at Pebble to finish tied for fourth at 8-under -- three shots back of winner Walker, who’s this week’s edition of the "next Tiger Woods."
Spieth ranks first in "smash factor" and approaches from 200 to 225 yards and 250 yards to 275 yards, among other stats, so he appears to have the "measurables" to make it big in his chosen sport. But then again, so did the immortal Giovanni Carmazzi, according to then-49ers head coach Steve Mariucci, who chose the Hofstra quarterback 134 spots ahead of Brady and never played him in a regular-season game.
"We didn’t open up his chest and look at his heart ... and what kind of spine he has and resiliency and all the things that are making [Brady] really great right now," Mariucci ruefully observed about his team's fumbling the ball in the Brady draft.
It remains to be seen whether the 20-year-old Spieth -- 10th on last year’s money list, with three top-2 finishes and nine top 10s, including his win -- has the Brady-esque inner fortitude to mount the tour equivalent of a three-time Lombardi Trophy career. Earning his tour card and full exemption for two years got the kid off to a great start but all bets are off until he wins a major.
"With Jordan Spieth, that’s the intangible," Nobilo said on Saturday. "We don’t really know what’s inside, but he’s got the skills and it’s going to be a fun ride to watch him -- not just this weekend, but in the future."
Nobilo will have another chance to evaluate Spieth’s intangibles and other qualities at this week’s Northern Trust Open, where he’ll attempt to thwart journeyman-turned-FedExCup-points-leader Walker from going back-to-back and winning for the fourth time in this wrap-around 2013-2014 season.