accomplished something last Sunday that hasn't been done in almost eight decades in professional touring golf: he won a PGA Tour event
while still in his teens.
The victory at the John Deere Classic
that came in a playoff over David Hearn
of Brantford, Ont., and American Zach Johnson
could be viewed as a seminal moment based on how the 19-year-old Texan progresses in the coming years.
By virtue of the victory and a string of other high finishes this season, Spieth right now is farther along than Tiger Woods
was at the same age.
The comparison is awfully premature, but we do know this: for Spieth to ever get to that level of acclaim of Woods and a select few others, he will have to win the British Open, this year's version of which tees off on Thursday morning at Muirfield
in East Lothian, Scotland.
That's because the Open Championship is effectively the world championship of golf.
In North America, that salient fact hides in plain sight. Most golfers and golf fans in this part of the world consider either the Masters or the U.S. Open to be the world's most important tournament, but that way of thinking is at odds with pretty much everywhere else around the globe.
If touring pros in non-North American countries were polled, my guess is that about seven out of 10 would prefer to win the British Open over any other tournament, with the rest split evenly between the Masters and the U.S. Open.
More importantly, even most American players come to realize how important it is to play the British Open and how monumental a victory in it can be.
There is a straight line going back to Walter Hagen, Bobby Jones (who later co-founded the Masters) and others such as Sam Snead, Gene Sarazen and Ben Hogan, among the old-timers, and the modern greats such as Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino and Tom Watson, who all won the British Open to cement their legacies.
With the exception of Byron Nelson, who was deprived of a chance to compete in the Open during his best years because of the Second World War, in order to go down as a truly all-time great, you need to have your name on the Claret Jug.Muirfield playing fast
At its base, winning the British Open is the purest test of golf. It takes place on a links course where players have to use all manner of shots to get around.
In the U.S., course setups tend to play virtually the same way: target golf with a premium on ball striking and putting. The U.S.-based majors aren't much different from each other, though the USGA does do a good job at making sure the best player wins every time it conducts the U.S. Open. But even that approach -- referred to as "identifying the best player" -- is derived from forcing players to be accurate in all aspects of their game and punish them when they are not.
This week at Muirfield, the wind blows in a different direction seven times on the front nine alone based on the layout
of the course. The unseasonably warm summer that has bathed the entire British Isles in glorious sunshine has made the course firm and fast. That means that balls are expected to roll out at least 15 yards for all but the shortest of wedge shots. Drivers will stay in the bags of most players - and in some cases won't even be taken onto the course -- because tee balls are expected to run as much as 70 or 80 yards on Muirfield's sun-baked fairways.
In other words, shot-makers will be rewarded, not just good ball strikers. The best players will soon be known, and those who are not on their games, or who simply don't have the wide variety of shots needed, will be long gone by the weekend.
There was a glimpse of this type of shot-making at the John Deere last weekend when Spieth hit an extraordinary recovery shot to save par on the fifth playoff hole and cement his maiden win. Hearn and Johnson weren't able to match that recovery after they too were in trouble off the tee and they paid the price -- a rarity on the PGA Tour.
The difference this week is not unlike that of the carpenter who builds you a nice house, versus the fine carpentry that makes that house a home. To use a boxing analogy, it's a bit like a fighter who has knockout power but who can also adapt and use all the skills of the sweet science.
Whichever interpretation you prefer, on Sunday at Muirfield, the winner will be the best player in the field, the "champion golfer of the year" as tradition calls it.
A world champion too.
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