U.S. golfer Jordan Spieth won the Masters golf tournament April 12. The 21-year-old attended St. Monica's Catholic School and Jesuit College Prep in Dallas. CNS photo/Mark Blinch, Reuters

Jordan Spieth proves nice guys can finish first

  • April 23, 2015

With his wire-to-wire win at the Masters golf tournament this month, Jordan Spieth proved an old adage wrong: Nice guys don’t have to finish last.

Spieth, 21 and less than four years removed from Jesuit College Preparatory School of Dallas, is, by all accounts, one nice guy. Being raised in a Catholic home and educated in Catholic schools helped in this regard, but that’s not the only reason he’s a nice guy.

Seeing all the players and caddies staying to congratulate him after his win at the Masters speaks volumes to the character of the young man. Watching him consistently congratulate competitors on good shots shows his sportsmanship. Listening to all his old school chums say he’s the real deal and his celebrity won’t change him is refreshing. And hearing him talk about his younger sister Ellie, who has autism, tells you that he is not some spoiled athlete constantly asking the adoring public to “look at me.”

As New York Post columnist Mark Cannizzaro wrote: “You’ll have an easier time holing a downhill putt on Augusta’s ninth green than you will finding anyone to utter a negative word about Spieth.”

He’s a breath of fresh air. And it’s worrisome what might happen to him in this celebrity driven culture of the 21st century.

We live in a society that seems to celebrate winning above all else. And we seem to love to build up heroes and then tear them down. And for some strange reason, when this happens, we give far more leeway to the black hats than the white hats.

Right now, Spieth is the toast of the town, as well he should be, but how long will it be before the media and public tire of the nice guy stuff? Hopefully never if Spieth remains unchanged. But the media have a way of looking for new angles, new stories.

Spieth became the second-youngest winner of the Masters, after Tiger Woods. He also shared the lowest total score for the tournament with Woods. There is a lot to compare between Spieth and Woods.

Like Woods, Spieth was a child prodigy. He actually made the cut at a PGA Tour event when he was only 16 years old. The first time Spieth played with Woods, Spieth shot a hole in one. He earned the nicknamed “Golden Boy.”

But Spieth detests that nickname. When asked why, Spieth said simply: “I wasn’t raised that way.” He was also once asked to comment on his humility and he declined, citing any comment would not be humble at all.

Was Spieth naturally born a nice guy or did his mom, dad and Catholic upbringing make him a better person? When he won the biggest tournament of his life, and after emotional hugs and kisses, Spieth’s father, Shawn, asked his young son to take a moment and go back out and thank the cheering golf fans around the 18th green at the Masters. Without hesitation, and with humility, Spieth went back and clapped his hands in honour of the golf fans, thanking them for their support.

It’s difficult to imagine Tiger Woods doing that. He always wanted his fans to honour him like Herod the Great wanted the Jews of Jerusalem to honour him with respect and awe.

“Tiger will do more than any other man in history to change the course of humanity,” his father, Earl Woods, once famously said. How wrong he was.

Being told such things from an early age, there’s no wonder Woods acts not unlike Narcissus from Greek mythology. The more he barks out F bombs and the more excuses he flings, the more tragic a figure he becomes. The fact is, we’re all more a product of our parents than we care to admit and Earl’s opinion that his son was bigger than Gandhi, Mandela or Churchill speaks volumes. How can one not feel a little sorry for a person who has lived his life with such pressure?

Woods was raised by a former Green Beret who served in Vietnam. He was instructed to take no prisoners on the golf course and stomp on the competition. For a decade or so he did just that. His game was awesome; his personality not so much.

The narcissistic era of Tiger is coming to a close. Perhaps we’ll return to a time like Jack Nicklaus’ era when he finished second in 19 majors and heartily congratulated the winners each and every time. Maybe the era will be one of Rory McIlroy against Jordan Spieth in tough, but gentlemanly, competition. Both Spieth and McIlroy appear to be great sportsmen.

Nicklaus won the most majors ever at 18, and McIlroy — who has four majors at age 25 — and Spieth have something else in common besides being gentleman golfers: They’re all Catholic. Just a coincidence? I don’t know, but I’m just sayin’.

(Brehl is a writer in Port Credit, Ont., and can be reached at bob@abc2.ca or @bbrehl on Twitter.)

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