The Newest Green Jacket

Posted at 1:21 pm on 06/25/2015 by Buddy Martin

By Buddy Martin April 12, 2015
The Masters blends generations, celebrates its past champions, but always provides a stage for its future stars. And on the grandest stage in golf, a young Texan looked like the grandest star of all.

The Masters is old and it is new. Bob Jones, meet Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. Arnold and Jack, meet Ben Crenshaw. And Ben Crenshaw, meet Jordan Spieth. The Masters blends generations, celebrates its past champions, but always provides a stage for its future stars. And on the grandest stage in golf, a young Texan looked like the grandest star of all.

Today the Masters feels new, even at age 79 -- brand new, with sparkling 21-year old cover boy champion Jordan Spieth. He is about to take the throne of golf vacated by Tiger Woods and inspire a whole generation of fans to follow a game which, frankly, has begun to slip into the anonymity section of sports pages. And none too soon for a sport with flagging popularity.

Spieth is the freshest face to come along in sports since, well, Tiger. His movie star good looks, hyper-focused game, courteous nature and joy with which he plays the game have hastened his popularity with the social media crowd. And even though he dropped out of Texas after his freshman year, having helped the Longhorns win the NCAA title, he is still a very big star with the Hook-‘Em-Horns Nation.

Dan Jenkins (@danjenkinsgd)

Jordan Spieth left college early. Now it looks like he's going to make enough to buy one.

His family keeps him grounded. Jordan's 14-year-old sister Ellie was born with a neurological disorder that places her on the autism spectrum. His mom thinks her special needs daughter has helped shape the character of her brother.

He is handsome, humble, gentle, kind and caring. How many other Masters winners played cards with their 81-year-old grandfather while leading the tournament?

Ushered onto hallowed ground of Augusta National last year by fellow Texan and two-time winner Crenshaw, Spieth and his caddie had the advantage of downloading all the information from Ben and his caddie Carl Jackson. With all that in hand, plus a commitment that he would gain retribution for blowing a chance to win the 2014 Masters, he set foot on that ground again with total resolve.

As a one-man wrecking crew of Masters records, he quickly shot up to No. 2 in the World Rankings, just behind Rory McIlroy, who turns 26 next month and came to Augusta looking for his fourth major that would have given him a career slam. Instead, he got slammed by his newest rival.

“America wanted their superstar, and they got one very soon, at only 21-years-old,” said Englishman Nick Faldo of CBS, himself a three-time Masters champion.

“The first time I met him and looked into his eyes, I thought I was seeing Wyatt Earp,” Crenshaw said. With those coldblooded eyes, Spieth stared down the barrel of his clubs Sunday and shot the eyes out of Augusta National, becoming just the fifth player in history to go wire-to-wire in winning.

He never laid up, not even with a comfortable lead. Instead he kept firing at the pins, including the ones at the treacherous 13th and 15th holes.

"Nerves of Titanium!" exclaimed David Feherty of CBS.

Pat Forde (@YahooForde)

Spieth. Onions. Whole bag of 'em.

He may have won by just four shots, but it felt like he lapped the field, because at 18-under it tied Tigers’ all-time Masters record.

There were so many crucial moments in his final round, and he answered the bell on all of them. His bold second shot at No. 13 was fearless, and accurate. He could have laid up at No. 15 and taken bogey out of the equation, perhaps clinching a win, but stayed true to his promise never to take his foot off the gas. At 16 he might have brought somebody back within striking distance with a bogey, but scrambled back with a 10-foot putt for par which he calls “maybe the most important putt of my career.”

He was virtually flawless, except for one minor hiccup. Closing with a 2-under 70, Spieth missed a 5-foot par putt on the final hole that would have broken Tiger Woods' record of 18-under 270 for the tournament.

Bud Elliott (@TomahawkNation)

OK, so Spieth is running up the score. Love it.

And now he is officially in the Green Jacket club and will dress in the champions room.

The Masters hangs on to its heroes. Men in green jackets, golf royalty, accorded heavy reverence as such. Like a pantheon of golf gods, they meander through the dogwoods and azaleas to the serenading cheers of admirers, even long past their prime. Finally, there is that nostalgic trail of tears up the 18th fairway. And then they live in the legacy of their grand achievement as perpetual icons. All of them bleed green.

They never really leave Augusta. They come back for ceremonial teeoffs. They gather for the annual brotherhood supper, the Dinner of Champions. They laugh and imbibe and feast on Southern cuisine from a menu chosen by the reigning champion. (Looks like in 2106 they’ll be serving Texas barbecue.)

And though they do hang up their spikes eventually, they live in the hearts of Masters loyalty for an eternity, even if only as whispers among the hollows and the swales of 2004 Washington Road, Augusta, GA 30904.

We saw another dramatic exit from competitive Masters play Friday when Ben Crenshaw tapped in his last shot, then hugged a tall black man in a white Masters caddie suit, almost like when he’d done the same thing in real time 20 years ago.

I must confess I teared up Friday as I watched the gracious Crenshaw leaving stage left, all the while throwing bouquets of thank yous to his friends, family, fans and fellow players. It was déjà vu, seeing Crenshaw bury his head in the solace of Carl Jackson’s shoulder, much as he did in 1995 when he burst into tears after winning as a final footnote to an emotional week following the funeral of his teacher/mentor Harvey Penick.

I did not always see eye-to-eye with Ben. He once charged into the pressroom in New York, newspaper in hand, to confront me over the column I had written about the less-than-stellar field for the Westchester Classic. None of the superstars were in the field.

“Ben Crenshaw is a good player,” I wrote – and please note this was before he’d won a Masters – “but he is no Jack Nicklaus.”

Red-faced and so vocal that veins on his neck were visible, Crenshaw demanded to know my reasoning and my sources for the column, but I declined to offer it. Finally, having sufficiently reamed out this miscreant columnist, Crenshaw blurted out: “WELL! I may not be Jack Nicklaus! But you’re sure as hell are no Herbert Warren Wind!”

Herbert Warren Wind, of course, being the New Yorker essayist, author and sometimes Sports Illustrated contributor who had actually nicknamed “Amen Corner” at Augusta National.

Crenshaw, the consummate historian of golf and great admirer of golfing literature, nailed that one like a pure 3-iron shot off a plush green Augusta fairway.

Years later when we became better acquaintances, I came to respect Ben even more and not only admire his success at the Masters, but greatly appreciate his contributions to the game and the rich story lines he provided to those of us scrambling on deadlines as Herbert Warren Wind impersonators.

And now Ben has handed off the baton to golf’s next messiah.

It is the passing of the torch which connects the past to the future, forevermore bonding that link of men which, Ben Crenshaw notes, “had to make brave choices” and then make good on them.

That’s exactly what happened Sunday. The newest Texan, indeed, made brave choices, and made good on them.

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