ATLANTA (AP) — Jordan Spieth took possession of his final two trophies on the deck of a hospitality chalet that overlooked the 18th green at East Lake. He turned to raise them to a crowd gathered below, and camera flashes under a gloomy sky made it feel like a rock concert.
Before long, he could hear the steady chant of “Jordan! Jordan!” from kids next to the clubhouse wanting his autograph.
The majors over, this was all he cared about. A victory in the Tour Championship meant his name on the FedEx Cup trophy, a $10 million bonus, a sweep of all the important awards and no argument on who was the best in golf this year.
“This one,” he said, “I cannot wait to celebrate.”
Make it quick.
The new PGA Tour season for some players begins in 17 days in California, and for Spieth in about six weeks in Shanghai.
He found out during the FedEx Cup playoffs, which he began by missing back-to-back cuts for the first time in his young career, that being billed as the next great thing only lasts until someone else does something better.
Spieth won the Masters and U.S. Open, the first time someone won back-to-back majors since, well, last year. Rory McIlroy won the British Open and the PGA Championship, with a World Golf Championship in between. Spieth set a PGA Tour record with just over $12 million in earnings, which comes out to $481,218 for each of the 25 tournaments he played. McIlroy, who splits time between the PGA Tour and European Tour, averaged $487,064 in his 17 tour starts last year.
Absolutely, Spieth needs to celebrate a season that was off the charts in so many ways.
But it doesn’t get any easier from here.
The reason some players, such as Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler, wanted to wait until the end of the Tour Championship before deciding on PGA Tour player of the year was because of Jason Day. Had he won at East Lake, that would have given Day six wins this year, including a major and three FedEx Cup playoff events against strong fields.
So the way Spieth closed out the season was important on more than just 10 million levels.
Still, it was another reminder not only that Spieth’s season was incredible, but that it will require no less work, no less magic, to do it again. Not since 1973, with Jack Nicklaus (seven wins) and Tom Weiskopf (five), have two players won at least five PGA Tour events in one season.
Spieth, Day and McIlroy are in a close race for No. 1, and they are just as close in Las Vegas. The Westgate Las Vegas Superbook lists Spieth at 6-1 to win the Masters next year, followed by McIlroy and Day at 7-1. The next best odds fall to Dustin Johnson and Watson at 15-1.
So what does he do for an encore?
“I don’t know how we sit down and try to improve on it, but we’re going to try,” Spieth said.
Spieth became only the 19th player in 120 years to win multiple majors in one season. Seven players did it more than once, with Nicklaus (five times) and Tiger Woods (four times) leading the way. But only eight players have followed a year of multiple majors by even winning one major. There are no flukes on that list — Woods (three times), Nicklaus (twice), Gene Sarazen (twice), Walter Hagen, Bobby Jones, Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino and Tom Watson.
Expectations will be higher than ever, and maybe they should be.
It’s worth remembering that at this time a year ago, Spieth had one professional victory and had dropped out of contention from the final group at the Masters and The Players Championship. He lost an early lead in his singles match against Graeme McDowell in the Ryder Cup.
What doesn’t get enough attention is the way he won the Australian Open late last year, closing with one of the best rounds he ever played. What also doesn’t get enough attention are two tournaments he lost.
Jimmy Walker should have been able to soak up an easy victory at the Valero Texan Open this year, except that he had to birdie two holes and save par with another putt down the stretch because Spieth ran off four straight birdies. The other was the British Open, where Spieth handled the enormous weight of going for the Grand Slam by missing a playoff by one shot.
He has the Presidents Cup next week, and the HSBC Champions might be little more than a victory lap for a year he won’t forget. He has title defenses in Australia and the Bahamas late in the year. And then he gets to start all over.
This leisure sport can be hard work.
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