The Associated Press has been awarding athletes with the honor of being “AP Athlete of the Year” since the year 1931.
In that time, we’ve learned a few things. We’ve learned that the AP votes in favor of athletes who play individual sports. The AP also, very much, prefers athletes who are American.
Of those who play individual sports, the writers have not shied away from golfers, especially during the sport’s most dominant seasons. Nine times a male golfer has been named AP Athlete of the Year, while 24 times a female golfer has won the award. Considering only 6 NFL players have ever been honored this way by the AP, it seems as though the individual stage (and golf’s robust history) gives it a somewhat advantage.
[bctt tweet=”Nine male golfers in 83 years is good for 10.8%. “]
In the 83 years of the award–an award voted on by sportswriters nationwide–only 22 instances (both male and female) have the athletes not been American (some 13%). Five straight of those were female golfers from the years 2003-2007, when Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa were commanding forces on the LPGA Tour.
On the men’s side alone, only 5 of the 83 have been non-American. That’s a 93.9% American winning percentage. 2015 will award another American.
Other notable winners in golf have been Tiger Woods (a four-time winner), Lee Trevino, Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson (two-time winner) and Gene Sarazen. The list is fairly short.
Interestingly enough, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, nor Gary Player had ever won the award, an astonishing thing when you think about it.
Perhaps Spieth’s honor in 2015 will help make some of that right.
4 Reasons Jordan Spieth Will Win
2015 AP Athlete of the Year
#1: His Dominance on the Course
In the majors, Jordan Spieth had a year for the ages.
With his two wins at both the Masters and the US Open, his nearly closing out the third leg at the British (narrowly missing the playoff) and his running away with the PGA Championship in a two-horse race between he and eventual champion Jason Day, Spieth’s major championship season was quite the upgrade from the youngster who had the best season in the majors in 2014, Rickie Fowler.
In total, Spieth posted an accumulative total score of 54-under par, while the total for the four champions combined was 58-under. He finished 4th or better in every major he played. Only 4 golfers beat him in the majors– all season long.
The list of incredible statistics from his 2015 can go on, and on, and on.
Even Jack Freaking Nicklaus never had a majors year like Justin Spieth's 1-1-4-2 in 2015 … His best was 1975: 1-7-3-1. #GoldenHeir
— Rick Reilly (@ReillyRick) August 17, 2015
Even outside the majors, Spieth’s season was unmatched. He was the youngest player in PGA Tour history to post a 5-win season, something he did at the ripe age of 22. Only Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, and Spieth have done it in the 2000s.
He was also already named the PGA Player of the Year, in a vote that should have been almost unanimous.
.@JordanSpieth finishes at -20. This will be his 17th top-5 finish in his last 30 worldwide starts.
— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGC) December 6, 2015
In total, he earned $22 million on the golf course in 2015, a record for the sport.
He dominated a sport filled today with young, budding superstars.
[bctt tweet=”Neither Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, nor Gary Player have won “AP Athlete of the Year.””]
#2: His Weak Overall Competition for the Award
Spieth’s week-to-week competition on the PGA Tour is more stout than that of the award for 2015 AP Athlete of the Year. No offense to the seasons of both Steph Curry or American Pharaoh, but relatively speaking, the competition for this year’s award is weak.
Look at seasons past on the men’s side. The list is filled with all-time performances, even recently.
It’s Michael Phelps and his throng of Olympic golds. It’s Lance Armstrong and his incredible (now tainted) run as a cycling champion. It’s Tiger Woods’ and his stamp on golf. It’s Tom Brady and Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers all setting passing records in the NFL. And it’s Jimmie Johnson posting NASCAR’s most impressive season ever.
Steph Curry, no matter how much I like him, is not in that class of athletes when it comes to historical performance. Aside from the fact he can shoot a three very, very well, Curry’s performance in 2015 didn’t transcend as historical. At the same time, I have no doubts he could cross up Jimmie Johnson in a bad way.
I’ll get to discussing the animal here in a second.
But Spieth is the cream of this year’s crop in the AP voting. Given the comparison in age, experience, and measurable accomplishments, Spieth beats out Curry by a significant margin. Spieth is some five years younger than Curry with four years spanning between their rookie seasons.
Spieth became the youngest two-time major champion in history. Curry became the youngest, well, nothing in 2015. Not to undermine Curry’s incredible season, but it wasn’t transcendent the way Spieth’s was. Spieth challenged a sport with a pack of young, talented players. Curry triumphed during a season where the league’s best players were either aging (Duncan, Nowitzki, Wade, Bryant), injured (Durant) or in transition (LeBron).
Spieth took on the sport, and dominated, while it was at its best.
I know I brought up age, so let’s ignore the fact that American Pharaoh is only 3.
[bctt tweet=”Steph Curry could cross up NASCAR’s Jimmie Johnson in a bad way. “]
#3: His Relationship with the Media
Is there an athlete in the last 20 years with a combination of youth, charm, and honesty better than that of Jordan Spieth? The media adores him.
As an athlete, he connects with the young golfers through his style, his look, and his play. He’s cool. At the same time, he resonates with the older crowd, who see his level of respect and humility as rare in today’s age. Show a picture of Jordan hugging his sister Ellie, who lives with Autism, after his rounds to your wife or girlfriend and they’ll instantly be clamoring for more information about the young champion.
This wide range of appeal leads to demand. It’s the media’s job to fill that demand. And unlike those who went before him *cough, cough Tiger*, Spieth gives the media everything they want.
He answers their questions with honestly. He banters with them. He discusses golf history with them. He’s as much of a fan as he is a record-setter.
His rapport with the media will go a long way in the voting of this award.
And if he doesn’t have the award locked up by now…
#4: He’s Going Against a Horse
Horses are athletes, but they’re not, let’s be real.
Last week during a pheasant hunt in South Dakota, I witnessed three small deer leap over a fence with a simple bound. Perhaps they should be nominated for a national award of some sort. Put them in the 400-meter hurdles? No.
This in no way discredits the achievement of American Pharaoh in 2015, against other horses. For horses, he was nearly unbeatable. After an incredible 2015, he is valued at some $20 million and netted $8.5 in earnings through the racing season. He was the first Triple Crown winner since 1978, a feat that should not go unnoticed.
It’s just not worthy of the AP Athlete of the Year.
Secretariat didn’t even win the AP Athlete of the Year in 1973, as he was beat out by O.J. Simpson–thankfully.
Jordan Spieth or a horse, for the athlete of the year?
The answer should be obvious.
Regardless who is announced as the winner this coming Saturday, Under Armour might leave as the biggest winner of them all.