AUGUSTA, Ga. – Golf got its best possible result Sunday at Augusta National.
No, there was no sudden death playoff. No one holed out to win it on 18. And yes, someone not named Tiger, Phil or Rory took the green jacket.READ MORE: Authorities Have Identified The Suspect Who Attacked Author Salman Rushdie
Instead, a Texas kid, who heading into the weekend the casual sports fan couldn’t have picked out of a lineup, went wire-to-wire to cement his status as the next big thing in American golf.
At 21, Jordan Speith already had a pair of PGA Tour wins and a near-miss at the Masters on his resume. He’d played internationally in a Walker Cup, a Ryder Cup and was part of the winning team at the 2013 Presidents Cup.
Now he’s the second-youngest golfer ever to win the Masters.
Viewers who tuned in Sunday to watch the stars of golf’s past make a run, instead were treated to the game’s future.
Speith displayed nerves of steel, whether it was rolling in a 10-foot birdie putt on number one or refusing to lay up on 13. Walking off the 18th green, he was equal parts humility and disbelief, multiple times putting his hands to his head as if to say, “What in the heck just happened?” After he sailed his tee shot on 16, a course-side microphone picked up Speith shouting a four-letter epithet in disgust…”Dang!”
Dang, indeed. Not only does the kid have all the tools and the demeanor to be the next big thing, he’s got the back story to win over America, as well.READ MORE: Anne Heche's Son Mourns His Mother
One of the best moments each year at the Masters is the greenside reception with family and friends. Whether it’s Tiger and Earl, Phil, Amy and the girls or a tearful Bubba hugging his mom, these are the most human and enduring images of the entire tournament.
Jordan Speith’s reception Sunday was as good as any of them. He got a long hug from one of the proudest grandfathers you’ll ever see. His mom and dad – high school sweethearts, as CBS reminded us over and over and over again – standing alongside, beaming with pride. Speith’s girlfriend – his own high school sweetheart – was there with a kiss. Then there were the pictures of Speith’s 14 year old special needs sister, who he credits for his success, watching back home in Texas.
The game is there, the story is there and – just as important for golf – Speith is American as apple pie.
If tennis has taught us anything over the past decade, it is that your sport can slip completely out of the realm of relevancy if it lacks a viable, young American star.
Rory McIlroy is young. He’s the number one player in the world after winning the British Open and PGA Championship last year. But he’s Irish. He plays more tournaments in Europe and Asia than he does here in the States. That won’t do much for the PGA Tour.
As for the U.S., Tiger and Phil have been the faces of our game for going on 20 years. But at 39 and 44 year old, respectively, there’s no way either one of them carries the torch into the future.
There are two Americans ranked in the top 10 in the world. Both are young and both have bright futures. But Dustin Johnson is coming off a suspension “leave of absence” for reported drug use and ESPN just did a hatchet job on Bubba Watson, calling him a fake and “the least-liked player on tour”.MORE NEWS: Florida Students Return To Schools Reshaped By Gov. Ron DeSantis' Anti-'Woke' Education Agenda
There are no such qualms about Jordan Speith. And that’s good, because – ready or not – the future of golf is here and he’s no longer flying under anyone’s radar.