Jordan Spieth’s victory at the 2017 Open Championship at the Royal Birkdale was great fun to watch. After losing the lead (which he had held since the first day) during the last round he stormed back to play the last five holes at five strokes under par to win by three against a determined Matt Kucher (who was also playing some of the best golf of his career).
With this victory Spieth joins the great Jack Nicklaus as the second man to win three major championships before the age of 24. While I’m not a good golfer by any stretch of the imagination (I’m lucky to break 90), I think I know greatness on the links when I see it.
Spieth also seems to be a person of faith with a healthy perspective on life. In the post-final-round interview after his Open triumph he spoke of his priorities as “My faith and then my family, and then after that, you know, this is what I love to do.” That’s pretty impressive for a 23 year old, and I’m guessing that sense of perspective has helped him come back from his disappointment at the 2016 Master’s.
But this post is about longevity—an odd topic, perhaps, when discussing a 23-year-old golfer on the cusp of what seems destined to be a wonderful professional career, but something worth discussing nevertheless.
The game of golf has changed dramatically in the last few decades. Some well-known pro golfers of the past were better known for 12 oz. curls than for lifting dumbbells, for hoisting tankards than for squat reps. Now, physical conditioning has become paramount, with weight lifting taking up as much time as practicing wedges. When you see a Dustin Johnson or Jason Day or Rory McIlroy walking a course on Sunday afternoon, the time spent in the weight room is obvious.
The physics of golf is all about the turn, the uncoiling of the body that helps to create the club head speed needed to drive a golf ball the length of three football fields or more—and if you want to see the cartoonish effects of extreme weightlifting on golf, just watch a long-drive competition!
But with this increased emphasis on physical conditioning has come an increase in golf-related injuries. The problem is that the additional leg, core, and upper body strength generated by extreme physical conditioning regimens has stressed the bodies of many golfers to the breaking point. Backs and knees are giving out. Just think of Tiger Woods—without doubt the most dominant and gifted golfer of the last few decades—and his many back and knee surgeries. Sad to say, Woods’ golf career was effectively over before he turned 40 due to injuries.
Back to Jordan Spieth. Sure, the guy is in shape, but he doesn’t come across as a musclebound doofus. He’s currently tied for only 95th on the tour in driving distance. He doesn’t try to overpower a course the way, say, a Dustin Johnson does. Rather, he wins with finesse and smarts. When he’s on, Spieth has the best iron and putting game on the tour—skills that were on display at The Open Championship this year to wonderful effect. That’s the sort of game that can win tournaments not only now but for decades to come.
In other words, longevity counts. Here’s hoping that Jordan Spieth is still winning majors at age 46, the same age that Jack Nicklaus won the 1986 Master’s Tournament for his 18th and final major win.