Driving Series

09/29/2015

He won the Green Jacket in record-fashion in April. June saw him reach heights no other 21-year-old has ever ascended to when he was the last one standing on the hills of Chambers Bay. He took the John Deere Classic when no one expected him to play out the tournament and followed up that win by coming within literal inches of lifting the Claret Jug.

A ho-hum second place at the PGA Championship in August cemented Jordan Spieth’s 2015 campaign as one of the great seasons in golf history.

And yet his latest triumph, a win at the Tour Championship and in conjunction the FedEx Cup Playoffs, may be his greatest victory to date.

Spieth looked equal parts relieved and exhausted down the back nine at Whistling Straits. As Jason Day continued to pound drives down the Lake Michigan shore’s fairways, the young Texan conceded the last Major of 2015. He was too many strokes back. He was too spent to put another charge into a Sunday finale. Spieth laughed and grinned easily as he accepted his fate as a runner-up. He hugged Day when the Australian sank his last putt.

Spieth walked off the course and struggled to keep his emotions together as he discussed the importance of assuming the No. 1 World Ranking. You could see it in his eyes: he was content. He was tired. He was completely satisfied with his efforts.

Of course, there was more golf to be played.

Never one to back out of a commitment—see the John Deere Classic—Spieth instead played indifferently through the first two legs of the FedEx Cup. He uncharacteristically missed two cuts while he quarreled, albeit briefly, with steadfast caddie Michael Greller. Spieth simply didn’t look like himself on the course.

And slowly, doubt crept into the public’s mind. Was he a flash in the pan? Did the true talent of this generation, Day, usurp Spieth before the summer went out?

The answer was much simpler for those who like to move on from silly questions. Which is to say, not the sports media in this increasingly twitter-driven, hot-take ridden world.

Driving Series

Spieth endured the most grueling period not only of his career but of his life from January to August 2015.

Any young player would have caved under the pressure as early as June. That Spieth reached the turn at the final round of the PGA Championship before settling down speaks to his ability and tremendous character. He earned an autumn swoon as much as anybody.

The trouble is, Day made him look bad, comparatively, in the process. The Aussie won four tournaments in a six-event stretch, including the Barclays and the BMW Championship as part of the playoffs. In doing so, Day reopened the dead and gone Player of the Year Debate.

Spieth was nowhere to be found.

That changed at East Lake. His two-under par 68 on a rainy Saturday punctuated a return-to-form for Spieth in difficult conditions. In the end, he won by four strokes over Danny Lee, Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson, three of the hottest players of the last two months. More importantly, he returned to the top spot in the world at the expense of Day, who finished T10.

And to hear Spieth say it, he didn’t even have his best stuff. That in itself makes the win so special. For much of 2015, Spieth had been praised for his robotic-like game. No one aspect stood out among the rest.

Sure, he hit a few more fairways and sank a few more putts, but in appearance, he lacked the indomitable quality of a Tiger, a Rory, or even a Day. Yet there he was grinding in Atlanta at a tournament he metaphorically limped into.

Spieth was able to offset the complacency that consumed his September in a competition most everybody—players, fans and media—dismiss as a sideshow to the true season.

spieth

It’s difficult to get up for a tournament like that in the same way it’s easy to get up for the Masters or the US Open. The FedEx Cup is a farcical attempt at a postseason.

Spieth won it anyway after he was already burned out. That’s the mark of a competitor who has staying power—win when it counts.

Win when it doesn’t.