Jim McCabe: Jordan Spieth shows there’s still a place for honour and loyalty

In the surrounds of the richest golf ambiance anywhere and on the threshold of the oldest championship the sport knows, it probably isn’t the proper time to ask if you’ve ever heard of the Greater Milwaukee Open or the Quad City Classic or something called the BC Open, or even the LaCantera Texas Open.

Jim McCabe: Jordan Spieth shows there’s still a place for honour and loyalty

Chances are you haven’t, especially given that two of them no longer exist and the other two have been renamed.

But for the record, they are (or were) lower-tier tournaments on the American PGA Tour, events with smaller purses that don’t attract the marquee names, yet exist quite nicely, thank you, with strong support from towns starved for professional sports. Go beyond those similarities and there is also something else that unites those four tournaments.

They all extended exemptions to Tiger Woods in 1996 at a time when he desperately needed invites, given that he had just turned professional, and he repaid each and every one of them by never going back to those towns again.

Now, the combined $184,294 that Woods won in his finishes in those tournaments sounds like a pittance when stacked against the tens of millions he earns in a typical golf season nowadays, endorsements included, but back then, that money went a long way toward establishing his PGA Tour security.

In other words, there were levels of gratitude owed by Woods to the folks of Milwaukee and Silvis, Ill, and Endicott, NY, and San Antonio, Texas. True, he helped sell tickets and tournament officials benefited from his presence, but most roads in life are two-way, and he profited greatly, too.

But Woods never felt beholden to those tournaments and by 1997, he was already established into a routine of only playing the majors, the World Golf Championships, tournaments run by icons such as Byron Nelson, Arnold Palmer, and Jack Nicklaus, and those out-of-the-way places in Asia or the Middle East that forked over millions in appearance fee money.

The out-of-the-way spots in the US? They were out of sight, out of mind. Such a shame, but such a testament to how so little value is placed on loyalty.

All of which helps introduce the wonder that is Jordan Spieth. In an athletic world that feels filled with fewer and fewer players who are grateful and more and more athletes who act as if they are entitled, the 21-year-old from Dallas, Texas, showed immense character and for doing so he got skewered by ill-informed members in the media.

For background, Spieth — having already won the Masters and the US Open — opted to keep a commitment to something called the John Deere Classic the week before the 144th Open Championship. So, instead of being in St Andrews to prep for the Old Course and his chance to win the third leg of the vaunted Grand Slam, Spieth played what could be considered a second-tier PGA Tour stop, one that used to be called the Quad City Classic.

In doing so, Spieth was following a thought process that should resonate loud and clear. Back in 2013, he accepted a sponsor’s exemption from the John Deere folks, won, and earned status on the PGA Tour. He has shown great gratitude by coming back in 2014 and 2015 to say thank you, which is to say he has demonstrated a loyalty that escaped Woods’ grasp years earlier.

At another time we could perhaps examine how Spieth was raised differently than Woods, but for now, let’s return to the careless criticism tossed at the youngster for choosing the Deere over prep work at the Old Course. Are people mad?

The young man wins the Masters, then wins the US Open within two months — something accomplished by only five other players, four of whom are named Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and Tiger Woods — and media folks suggest they know better than he about getting ready for a big tournament? Is loyalty that irrelevant?

Spieth may or may not win the Open at St Andrews and may or may not keep alive the dream of a Grand Slam.

But there’s little doubt he’s cemented himself a young man of great character. Call me old-fashioned, but that matters greatly.

More in this section

Sport Newsletter

Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up
IE_logo_newsletters

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox