By Patti Putnicki
There are a lot of 20-something gifted athletes; phenoms who play their sport with a precision that defies logic. We’re drawn to them. We, as fans, elevate them. And, sometimes, we watch them plummet from a catapult to greatness into a “Darn, why the heck did you have to do that?” moment. The proverbial fall from grace. A crash and burn. Proof positive that the attention and the limelight can bring the best and brightest to their knees.
And then, there’s Jordan Spieth—the undisputed golf phenomenon whose candor off the course is as consistent as his swing. At the age of 21, he is the good guy, the nice guy; one of the fortunate few who remain authentic despite the continual spotlight. A golfer who continues to focus on the game and not the fame, at an age where oh-so-many sports celebrities fumble.
What’s his secret?
We decided the best way to find out was go to his mom, Chris Spieth. What we found was an individual as genuine and personable as your next-door neighbor; a parent, who, with her husband, focused more on her three children’s well-beings than their next big wins.
“We joined Brookhaven Country Club in Dallas when Jordan was eight years old. That first year, we put Jordan and his younger brother, Steven, on the swim team, because we didn’t want them sleeping their summer away,” explained Chris Spieth. “I could sit with our daughter, Ellie, who was an infant at the time, and the boys could get some exercise. Jordan thrived on the competition. His brother, Steven, wasn’t quite as thrilled.”
As much as Jordan loved the swimming competition, another sport was calling him. It was the golf course, visible from the pool area; that captured his attention.
“At the end of the summer, Jordan asked us, ‘Do I have to do this next year, because I think I’d rather be out there,’ and he pointed to the golf course. Remember, he’s eight years old, and the kids he sees out there are 14 or 15,” Spieth said. “My husband, Shawn, had taken the boys to the driving range because he liked to go, but neither of us were big golfers. I played basketball, Shawn played baseball; golf was a hobby but never a real sport on our radar.”
But, Jordan persisted.
“He kept bugging us about playing golf. He said that’s what he wanted to do. We had three kids to take care of; so we couldn’t all head out to the golf course. So, the following summer, I’d drop him off at the Club and trusted him to do what he said he was going to do—go out and play golf,” Spieth said. “It didn’t take long to find out that we could trust Jordan. We got great feedback from the pros and the members, who told us that he never went to the pool or goofed off—he spent his entire day on the course. Eventually, he started playing with the older kids—he wanted to beat them. Jordan wanted to play golf every day in that summer.”
That’s where he met Joey Anders, who Spieth calls “Jordan’s first real golf instructor besides his dad.”
“Joey was always great about helping Jordan, and his brother, Steven, on the range,” Spieth said. “Joey’s a good guy, and a good instructor. I think he always knew Jordan’s potential.”
A Great Swing, A Great Arm—Choosing a Focus
The challenge was, Jordan was good at a lot of things.
“He hung up his golf clubs during football and baseball season—he was a quarterback and a pitcher—two pretty big roles. Then, he’d pick up golf again when summer rolled around,” Spieth said. “It wasn’t like he excelled in one sport over the other. He seemed to have a gift for them all.”
But, Jordan knew his own favorite early on.
“Jordan told my husband and me that he wanted to quit football and enter golf tournaments with the North Texas Junior PGA (NTPGA). He started working with Cameron McCormick, who is still his golf coach today–and in what felt like no time, he started winning,” Spieth said. “He competed in the American Juniors Golf Association (AJGA) tournaments, and Legends Junior Tour, and kept advancing to the next level of competition.”
Still, no one really thought he’d end up as a professional golfer.
“We honestly thought baseball was Jordan’s ticket to college. He was a left-handed pitcher, he was picked for the select traveling team,” Spieth said. “Jordan told us that he wanted to focus on golf, but the baseball coach didn’t want to lose him as a pitcher. But, while he was sitting in the dugout every weekend, waiting to pitch his two innings, he really began to miss golf.”
Finally, Jordan convinced his parents to let him give up baseball.
“We wanted to make sure he didn’t focus on a ‘loner’ sport too early, because there’s a lot that can be learned from competing as a team. I think having that experience really grounds you and prepares you for other things in life beyond sports,” Spieth said. “I think, sometimes, when kids show an aptitude for golf at a young age, their parents push them into spending all of their time on that one sport. They get burnt out and they don’t have the opportunity to explore all the other things out there.”
It was actually Jordan who pushed his parents to let him focus on golf.
“He wanted to play at a higher level, against older kids. We kept telling him, ‘you know that means you’ll play 18 holes instead of nine, and that you’ll have to carry your own bag and no one will be allowed to help you.’ He still wanted to do it,” Spieth said. “We’ve always let Jordan make his own decisions, with guidance, including his decision to turn pro. Of course, he got a lot of input on that decision from Cameron (McCormick) and his dad, but the final decision was his.”
Staying Grounded in the Spotlight
Since going pro, Jordan has had an amazing run, showing poise, confidence and the clutch shots needed to keep him at the top of the leaderboard. He’s the talk of the media; a guy who’s continually in the spotlight. Yet, at the ripe old age of 21, he seems to handle it with pure, unadulterated grace.
“I think the reason that Jordan has stayed so grounded is that when he’s at home, he’s never been ‘the phenomenal Jordan.’ He’s Steven’s and Ellie’s brother, our son. It has never been all about Jordan,” Spieth said. “You’re not going to find a lot of golf trophies in our house. We do have his John Deere trophy here because he doesn’t want to fill his house with golf trophies. That’s the place he goes to get away from golf, to just be a regular person.”
On the rare occasions that Jordan is back in Dallas, he calls and asks his mom, “What’s for dinner?” More often than not, he prefers to eat with his family; far away from the limelight of celebrity.
“That brings me to the biggest reason I believe Jordan is so grounded. He has a special needs sister. Ellie was born with a neurological disorder and she has always been number one from a needs basis,” Spieth said. “Neither of our sons craved attention because they both knew that Ellie was the one who needed our attention. It was; it is, the necessity. I can also say that Ellie is both Jordan’s and Steven’s biggest fan. And they may be hers.”
The Spieths also gave equal weight to all of their children’s’ events, whether it was in a local gym or a national stage.
“If Steven had a basketball tournament and Jordan had a golf event, I went to one and my husband went to the other. We always divided where we would go because, to us, whatever our kids were doing was equally important,” Spieth said. “My husband ended up going with Jordan more often because it was easier for me to stay at home with Ellie. Steven’s in college now, and we have a great sitter for Ellie, so I’m going to be able to go to more of Jordan’s events now. But, as a parent, you want to be there for all of your children. You want them to look in the stands and see you there.”
If you go into the Spieth’s house in Dallas, you won’t see the latest magazine with Jordan’s picture on the cover sitting on the coffee table. In fact, unless you connect the name to the golfer, you’ll just think that they’re an average, loving family with three great kids.
“A famous sports celebrity told Jordan never to read anything about himself—and he doesn’t. He doesn’t scour the Internet like some golfers because if you do that, it will get into your head, particularly if things aren’t going well,” Spieth said. “I remember when the press bopped him for slamming down a club at the Masters and talking to himself. He talks to himself when his game isn’t going right; it’s his form of meditation. For him, it’s about playing golf well, not about the fame that goes with it. He appreciates his fans, he appreciates the opportunity, but he learned early on to let his clubs do the talking.”
Most importantly, Jordan surrounds himself with people who love him for who he is. The golf part is inconsequential.
“Jordan has a strong team behind him: a great financial advisor, agent, golf coach, and his dad—they help him made good decisions about his career,” Spieth said. “But, it’s equally important that he has a tight-knit group of friends who don’t golf. He’s had the same core group of friends since the beginning of high school. When you think about it, Jordan is supposed to be a senior in college this year, a junior last year, a sophomore the year before. Those are some of the best years of anyone’s life. He’s taken a different path but is still connected with those people who don’t really care about ‘Jordan the golfer.’ They like Jordan the person. They keep him grounded in the real world, too.”
Parenting a Prodigy: Sound Advice from Someone Who Knows the Ropes
So, if you have a budding sports prodigy, how do you help him or her become a Jordan Spieth, instead of the one of the multitude who let fame cloud their judgment—culminating in the headline-grabbing fall from grace?
“We did not raise our kids to be one-sport athletes. What if something happened and they couldn’t play? You have to let them explore options; you have to realize that if something happens to crush their dream, you may not be around to help them regroup. You have to make sure they know that life is more than one sport, or one goal,” Spieth said. “No question, Jordan is a perfectionist. He was the kid who had to have all A’s in school; he wants to win, whether it’s a PGA tournament or a putting contest in our game room. As parents, we have to temper that sometimes, because golf is a humbling sport. It is not easy to win a PGA event! But, as parents, we have one job that goes well beyond any competition or any profession. In the end, you want your kid to be happy. If you can raise a person who has a happy life, he or she has had a good life. To me, that ought to be the real goal.”
As great as Jordan Spieth is, it looks like the real phenom here just might be Jordan’s parents. All we can say is, “well played.” And, thanks so much for sharing.
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