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Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024
The Observer

O'Connell: Spieth gives hope to American golf

Not since the rise and fall of Tiger Woods has there been a more compelling player — or a more compelling story — in the world of American professional golf.

As of the writing of this article, American youngster Jordan Spieth had reclaimed the top spot in the world golf rankings from Northern Irish-product (and current world No. 2) Rory McIlroy. Normally, this would not be huge news — the rankings change on a nearly daily basis, with the top ten in particular shuffling about in any number of permutations and combinations. But Spieth’s age, combined with his frank and engaging TV personality, have made him something of a media darling over the past few months.

A large part of his sudden fame can be attributed to his recent victories in the 2015 Masters and U.S. Open tournaments — Spieth won the latter by a contentious single stroke as runner-up Dustin Johnson failed to force a playoff with a missed putt on the 18th hole. Still, there is something about Spieth’s presence and personality that transcends his sudden success and grants him the possibility to step into the role as the champion of American golf on the international stage — a role that has not been filled since Tiger Woods’ subsequent legal troubles and fall from professional grace.

Whether Spieth’s success both on and off the course will continue is difficult to say. This is not the first time a young golfer has seemed to take the world by storm, shocking the likes of international powerhouses such as Louis Oosthuizen and Phil Mickelson and competed for the win in almost every tournament he appears in. It also would not be the first time such a figure fizzled out after his sudden, meteoric rise to the top of the golfing world.

That being said, Spieth’s continued success will be important to more than just his personal legacy in the annals of golf history. A long and successful career on Spieth’s part has the chance to revitalize waning interest in professional golf in America. Already a fringe sport when compared to U.S. staples like as football and basketball, maintaining a youthful interest in golf will be vital if the country hopes to produce youngsters that can compete on the professional level in the future. In Spieth, America has its first young gun in a very long time who possesses a legitimate shot at both multiple majors and an ever growing fanbase.

Other American golfers of Spieth’s caliber simply haven’t been able to hold the attention of casual golf fans. Phil Mickelson is too old, while Dustin Johnson is too plain. In Spieth, the youngest U.S. Open champion since Bobby Jones in 1923, we have a personable and relatable figure whose fans are not that much younger than he is. Born in 1993, Spieth is a spry 22-years-old with the potential for a great deal of golf ahead of him yet.

In the lightning-fast world of American sports, golf runs the risk of falling to the wayside in favor of its faster-paced competitors. But with a driver like Spieth behind the wheel of the sport’s future in the states, there may yet prove to be some untapped potential in the sport.