By Art Spander
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — The room, the interview room for the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, had been chock-a-block full. Then Jordan Spieth was finished, and even though another major champion was ready to sit down, most of the media also were finished. Jason Day, the new guy, only shrugged at what at best was disregard and at worst an insult.
But first Day showed he had a sense of humor. “I think Jake Owen pulled most of those people in here,” said Day about Spieth’s amateur partner, the country and western singer — and two handicap golfer. Then after a pause, Day added a rhetorical, “Didn’t he?”
Certain performers, athletes, entertainers and politicians have the “it factor," charisma, a quality that, well, fills rooms, TV screens, front pages and their bank accounts. Not that Jason Day, one of the top three in the World Golf Rankings, hasn’t made the big bucks. What he and many others haven’t made is the big splash.
Arnold Palmer was the first and perhaps still the most memorable. Arnie was just a guy who liked people and could hit a ball a mile. And that’s what golf needed, still needs, because golf has no team loyalty.
Thousands of people can make birdies. Arnie made us pay attention, pay homage. So did Jack Nicklaus. And certainly Tiger Woods. And now Jordan Spieth.
And if Spieth isn't yet Tiger as far as history — Woods has more wins than anybody besides Sam Snead, more majors than anybody besides Nicklaus — or in personality, Jordan is heading in the right direction as far as results. His personality always has been sunnier than Tiger's.
Two majors in 2015 for Spieth, seven victories before age 25. But no less important, confidence without a scintilla of arrogance and an ability to give long, thoughtful answers to questions, a rare virtue in a hurried, impatient world.
“It doesn’t worry me,” said Day of the people fleeing before his interview. “It just needs, it just shows I need to work harder, and hopefully a couple more people will fill the room after that.” Unfortunately, it’s not so easy. Or understandable.
A star isn’t always born or developed. The progression begins with talent. Lady Gaga’s rendition of the Star Spangled Banner to open the Super Bowl was an event unto itself. She already had a reputation, a career, then left us with a memory. Perfect timing, the biggest event of any year in the United States and wham, she left us gasping. Wow.
As did Spieth, already heading toward greatness by becoming only the third in a half-century, next to Arnie and Jack, to start the year with wins in both the Masters and the U.S. Open. He gave the Grand Slam a run, just missing a playoff in the British. Wow.
We used to call Tiger “The Man.” Spieth, then, is “The Man II.” Although he appears embarrassed by the comparison. To Spieth, at 22, fundamentally half as old as the 40-year-old Tiger, Woods is an inspiration, not an association.
His climb into the No. 1 place in the rankings, a position long held by Woods and more recently by Rory McIlroy and Day, is seen by Spieth as an opportunity rather than verification.
It isn’t “Hey, look at me,” it’s “You know what I’ve been able to do?”
Such as play against Woods, and even shoot 63 on the North Course at Torrey Pines, in 2014. Such as being introduced to one man he long has admired from his hometown Dallas Mavericks, Dirk Nowitzki.
“I grew up living half a mile from him,” said Spieth of the 2007 NBA most valuable player, “and he was my hero growing up in Dallas. I never met him. The other day I got to take pictures and hang out with him. And I thought that was pretty awesome. I wouldn’t say that’s probably an advantage to the position we’re in, but with (the No.1 ranking) it becomes a responsibility for sure.”
The key in life, we’re told, is to take your job and responsibilities seriously, but not yourself. Spieth has full comprehension. He can needle and joke with others, unworried what they might say in response.
Owen, the singer, sitting next to Spieth, said Colt Knost, another Texas pro — and winner of the 2007 U.S. Amateur at San Francisco’s Olympic Club — told him, “When Jordan talks to the ball, the ball listens to him.”
In Singapore, Spieth hits a ball to the edge of a bunker, yells, “Just give me a normal bounce,” and the shot ends up in the middle of the fairway. “That’s a normal bounce?” questioned Owen.
Nothing’s normal for Jordan Spieth. “But you haven’t changed in the four years I’ve known you,” said Owen to Spieth, “as far as your graciousness to the people around you and the way you handle yourself ... I really admire that.”