The 22-year-old Texan made history by winning the first two majors of the year (the Masters and the U.S. Open), and he has taken home more than $11 million in winnings this season. But more impressive than his accomplishments on the course are the way he carries himself and his devotion to his family.
Why does everyone love Jordan Spieth? Maybe because he's so young, being practically a kid at the tender age of 22. We love Spieth (which rhymes with good teeth) because he has already accomplished amazing things. As a teenager he became only the second player to win multiple U.S. Junior championships, joining Tiger Woods. At the University of Texas, Spieth led the Longhorns to their first national championship in 40 years. Now as a pro he is busy making history: At this year's Masters he blew away the field, tying Woods's tournament scoring record of 18 under par. Then Spieth followed that up by winning the U.S. Open, becoming only the sixth player ever to take both tournaments in the same year.
But maybe the biggest reason that the whole world loves Jordan Spieth is that he's such a nice, down-to-earth guy. He is still dating his high school sweetheart, and he volunteers in the classroom of his teenage sister, Ellie, who has autism. He has been known to surprise his fellow pros by addressing them deferentially, as in "Hello, Mr. Mickelson." When Spieth made a hole in one at a tournament outside Chicago this year, he later celebrated by paying for drinks and dozens of pizzas to be delivered to reporters and the event's volunteers. Asked the source of his humility, Spieth offered the perfect answer: "Me speaking about humility is very difficult, because that wouldn't be very humble."
ALWAYS A WINNER
Spieth's good-guy virtues — and his athleticism — owe a lot to his family. Both his parents were college athletes. His mother, Chris, played basketball and field hockey at Moravian College, and his father, Shawn, was a first baseman and pitcher at Lehigh. Jordan was lucky to get their good genes, but he learned to compete on his own. He grew up having intense battles in every sport versus his brother, Steven, who is two years younger but now five inches taller. (The 6'6" Steven plays guard at Brown University; he averaged 9.9 points and 4.7 rebounds per game last season as a sophomore.)
Growing up in Dallas, Jordan was a very good basketball player — he loved to shoot three-pointers — and a quarterback who rarely ducked out-of-bounds. "He liked to take the hit," says his boyhood friend Jeff Schoettmer, who now plays linebacker at the University of North Carolina. Before Spieth decided to focus on golf at age 12 (the year he shot an amazing 62), his best sport was baseball, in which he was a pitcher with a filthy curveball and effective changeup. "He didn't throw hard but he had great location, and he knew how to pitch and how to compete," says Schoettmer. "It's so relevant to his golf game now."
Spieth can still offer play-by-play from many of the championship games of his youth. He was always on the same teams as Schoettmer and another excellent athlete, Brian Wetzel, who has caught 32 career touchdowns as a wide receiver at Fordham University. "We hardly ever lost at anything," says Spieth. "Winning has been a big part of my life since I was five years old."
Even as he won so many trophies, Spieth kept a healthy perspective thanks to his relationship with Ellie. He was seven years old when she was born with a neurological disorder that forced her to spend the first month of her life in the hospital, fighting for her life; Jordan visited her every day. Ellie still has special needs. Jordan grew up knowing that his parents were proud of his golf accomplishments but that taking care of Ellie would always be their priority. "In my family it's never been about me," he says.
Ellie loves going to her brother's tournaments, and Jordan says he plays better when he hears her enthusiastic cheering. She certainly had a lot to shout about during the 2015 season. The Masters is the most glamorous tournament in golf, and Jordan's victory there established him as a superstar. There are dozens of players on the PGA Tour who pound the ball a lot farther than he does, but Jordan has many other strengths: He is very accurate in hitting shots with his irons; he is an excellent chipper; and he is the best putter in the world. He made so many putts during the Masters that one of the other pros, Geoff Ogilvy, said, "He's putting as well as anybody ever has."
For all of his physical skills, Spieth's greatest attribute is probably his mental toughness. He never loses confidence in himself. At the U.S. Open he held a three-stroke lead with only two holes to play, but when he suffered a messy double bogey on the 17th hole and another player made birdie — poof! — Spieth's lead was gone. He kept fighting, though, and birdied the last hole to earn a gutsy victory.
So where does he go from here? In 2015, Spieth has earned nearly $11 million in tournament winnings, and even more in endorsement deals. But his only real splurge was on season tickets for his beloved Dallas Cowboys.
He says that all the success has not made him satisfied but instead motivates him to see how good he can become. "I just want to keep winning as many tournaments as possible," he says. "And I want to do it the right way, conducting myself with class and setting a good example."
You can be sure that many more victories will follow. But Spieth won't forget that there are more important things in life than winning.
Photos: Thomas Lovelock for Sports Illustrated (swing), Robert Beck for Sports Illustrated (course, trophy)
Jordan Spieth is a Champion On and Off the Course
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