If you ever doubted that golf is a mataphor for life, your doubts must surely have been disspelled as you watched the FedEx Cup playoffs. The talent on display was awesome. But it wasn’t talent that determined the outcome, it was grit.
I know, you are going to tell me how talented Jordan Spieth is. But he doesn’t stripe it off the tee as far as Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson or Rory McIlroy. His iron play is impressive but not quite as crisp as Henrik Stenson’s.
There have been better ball strikers in the game, Tiger Woods in his prime, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson… I’m sure you can add your own names to the list, some perhaps who never achieved fame or riches.
I have to admit that Spieth may be the best putter in the world today. Especially under pressure. And, yes, in golf – as in life – we “drive for show and putt for dough.” But it isn’t just his skill on the greens that makes Spieth a winner, it’s his ability to apply that skill under pressure – at the moments that count most.
And it wasn’t his putting that won him nearly $12 million over those four days.
It was his character.
For the four days of the Coca Cola Tour Championship were a test of character. The weather in Atlanta was wretched. Under gray skies, often under drenching rain, the world’s best golfers struggled to keep on keeping on. The soggy fairways and even more soggy rough made striking the ball as much a test of will as of skill. And the wet fairways made the long, tough course play even longer. On the par-four fifth hole some of the most powerful players found it impossible to reach the green in two shots.
If you play golf, you know how hard it is to make a clean strike off muddy turf. Even the best players in last week’s tournament found the ball skidding erratically off the clubface, sometimes floating short of the target, sometimes taking off like a misfired rocket.
The great talents were ground down. Jason Day, who only days earlier was being lauded as the game’s latest superstar, crumbled. Rory McIlroy achieved spectacular moments but he, too, was beaten down by the relentlessly unrewarding conditions. And as his mano-a-mano battle with Spieth wore on, Stenson faltered, finally shanking the ball on his approach to the seventeeth green.
Through it all, Spieth kept grinding, always on task, giving each shot the best he could muster at that time. Patient. Stalwart. Undeterred.
No, this 22-year-old phenom is not the next Tiger Woods. He doesn’t have that kind of talent.
But I think he could be the next Ben Hogan. Like his legendary fellow-Texan, Iordan Spieth relies on the power of mind over matter – on an unsinkable will and relentless commitment as well as on talent.
And in golf, as in life, that’s what makes great and enduring champions.
Photo shows Jordan Spieth after sinking a 47-foot putt in the final round of the Tour Championship.