Jordan Spieth came up just shy of joining Ben Hogan in the record books as one of only two golfers to win the first three major championships in the same year. Finishing one shot out of a three-way playoff for the Claret Jug Monday at St. Andrews, however, did little to tarnish the luster of the 21-year-old who’s on the brink of a superstar career the likes of which some in golf circles are comparing to the game’s best.
We are looking at the next Tiger or Jack. @JordanSpieth is amazing to watch.— Chesson Hadley (@chessonhadley) July 11, 2015
Watching for the sport’s next "It" guy is hardly an unusual pursuit since the last player golf nation turned its lonely eyes to was Rory McIlroy. Still the world No. 1, despite missing the Old Course festivities to nurse a blown ankle, McIlroy was touted as the "next Tiger Woods" after he clobbered Congressional on his way to an eight-shot laugher at the 2011 U.S. Open.
It’s Spieth’s turn now, though, and the wizardry he displayed at the iconic birthplace of golf turned the heads of some of the most jaded veterans, like that of Jim Mackay, Phil Mickelson’s longtime caddie.
Mackay has been on the bag for a few historic moments, so it takes a pretty special someone -- who’s not his boss and close friend -- to capture his attention. Yet there he was, after completing his rain-soaked, third-round looping duties on Sunday, back on the course to watch a competitor other than Lefty finish his day.
That someone was Spieth, the would-be, same-year Grand Slam champion who is, not surprisingly after winning two straight majors and losing a third by a hair, drawing comparisons to Woods and the guy with four more major trophies than those that occupy Tiger’s shelves.
Someday Spieth raising his putter w/ his left hand on 16 might remind of how Jack Nicklaus raised his on 17 at the '86 Masters— Ian O'Connor (@Ian_OConnor) July 20, 2015
Spieth failed on Monday in his bid to become the first golfer since Hogan in 1953 to win the Masters, U.S. Open, and Open Championship in the same season -- just as Arnold Palmer had in 1960, Nicklaus did in 1972, and Woods did in 2002. But finishing a stroke from extra innings should not diminish the praise for Spieth.
Just ask "Bones."
"I just think the kid is special," Mackay told Ian O’Connor on Sunday, some two hours after his man had carded a lackluster 2-under 70. "I think he's gifted between the ears. When I say gifted, I mean like Jack Nicklaus-gifted. Jordan is going to do amazing things because he's such a killer between the ears."
That Spieth was still in the running for the first calendar Grand Slam since Bobby Jones accomplished the feat in 1930 after a 37-putt, even-par second round that had him five shots back of Dustin Johnson’s lead was amazing to Mackay.
"Not many people thought you'd see his name leading the Open on Saturday," he said, "and there he is. Special."
Yes, Spieth was not there at the end, after a bogey on 17 and a chip shot that ended up in the Valley of Sin on 18 derailed his shot at history. Some even suggested that the two-time major winner choked the game away, but we’re guessing Mackay would not be one of them.
"Jordan's the closest thing to Tiger, mentally, that I've seen out here," said Mackay.
Golf Channel’s Frank Nobilo agreed.
"There’s that tactician’s mind of his that’s just sheer brilliant, up there with Woods and Nicklaus," Nobilo said on Monday after Zach Johnson had claimed the Claret Jug by outlasting Louis Oosthuizen and Marc Leishman in overtime.
In fact, with Woods the longest of shots to win a 15th grand slam event after missing a second straight cut at a major for the first time in his illustrious career, Mackay went so far as to suggest that Spieth could overtake Woods and Nicklaus for the all-time majors title.
"I don't think it's crazy at all," Mackay said about such a possibility. "I think anything's possible with Jordan. What I do know is he's going to be a guy who isn't going to run into any personal problems, he'll be incredibly popular with his peers, and he'll have a very enjoyable time out there.
"That combination," said Mackay, "will lead to great things."
SB Nation video archives: Urban golfing with a U.S. Open champ (2012)