August 4, 2017

Reflection / Sean Gallagher

Young professional golfer keeps his priorities straight, achieves success

Sean Gallagher“Here we go again.”

That thought went through my mind on July 23 as I watched final round coverage of The Open Championship (also known as the British Open).

When the final group reached the 13th hole at Royal Birkdale Golf Club in Southport, England, Jordan Spieth was tied for the lead with Matt Kuchar at 8 under par.

Spieth had led the tournament from its start, and had a three-shot lead going into the final round. That lead disappeared early on as Spieth bogeyed three of the first four holes.

At 13, Spieth hit a horrible tee shot. It looked like Kuchar might have a two- or three-shot lead going to the 14th hole.

The situation was much like what the golfing world saw Spieth do in the famed Master’s Tournament in April 2016. He had a five-stroke lead going into the last nine holes of the tournament. But after a disastrous three-hole stretch, Spieth trailed by three strokes and eventually finished second.

So I thought that Spieth might be putting on a repeat performance of “choking away” another victory at one of golf’s four major tournaments.

But he scrambled at 13, and lost the lead by only one stroke.

Now down one shot to Kuchar, Spieth birdied the 14th hole, eagled the 15th hole and scored birdies on the 16th and 17th holes. In a four-hole stretch, he went an amazing 5 under par and led Kuchar by two shots. He ended up winning the tournament by three shots.

In all my years of watching professional golf, I have never seen such an amazing finish to a major.

And all this was pulled off by a young man who is only 23. After having won the Master’s and the U.S. Open in 2015, Spieth joins only the great Jack Nicklaus in winning three of golf’s four majors before turning 24.

If Spieth wins the PGA Championship, which will be played on Aug. 10-13 at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, N.C., he will be the youngest player ever to win all four majors.

One might understand that a golfer who has reached such heights at such a young age might be filled with a lot of pride, put the focus on himself and see himself as so much better than others. Even if it wouldn’t be praiseworthy, it would be a natural human reaction.

But that’s not the way Spieth has approached the greatness he has achieved. In remarks on the 18th green after winning The Open Championship, he spoke about just about everybody but himself, thanking his caddie, the fans, tournament organizers, groundskeepers and Kuchar.

When asked after the tournament what was more important to him than golf, Spieth answered without hesitation, “Well absolutely, yeah. My faith and then my family, and then after that, this [golf] is what I love to do.”

Faith. Family. Career.

This young man, who is Catholic and was a student at a Catholic grade school and high school while growing up in Dallas, has his priorities straight.

How many of us who don’t have the limelight to lure us like Spieth does can say the same?

If, with the help of God’s grace, he keeps those priorities straight as he gets older, I’m sure he’ll amaze golf fans with more wondrous victories.

Even now, Jordan Spieth dramatically reminds us that, while we’ll not always be victorious in this world, we put ourselves in a good position to succeed here and now if we keep the eye of our heart focused on the world to come.

(Sean Gallagher is a reporter for The Criterion.)

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