Faith, family and friends are most important to me. I also love, tremendously, what I do for a living. Beyond those things, it’s fair to say I have one ridiculous hobby.
As a teenager, my grandfather introduced me to the game of golf – something I always thought was reserved for poor souls in search of boredom. Before I grabbed a club in Papa’s back yard for the first time, the only thing I knew about golf was that monotone announcers were more effective than tranquilizers after a Sunday meatloaf lunch.
For more than two decades, I have followed and played the game with avid idiocy. It’s the competition I love most – with friends and myself. It’s the off chance you’ll hit a shot you’ve never hit in your life. It’s the trees and the water and the smell of fresh Bermuda. It’s starting a round with anticipation; ending one with hopes of a better score next go around.
Golf, for those who have neither the time nor desire, is a soothing walk interrupted by maniacal effort, and I love it.
I also love watching the game, as senseless as that may sound. I am astounded at the athletes – and yes, they are athletes – who have the mental and physical discipline to recover from missed shots over and over again. And I’ve always been fascinated by the men and women who play the game.
You see, most professional golfers grew up around a country club, and they all look like it. They are almost too clean, too polished, too rigid in their posture and conversations. They know the right words to say and (see Tiger Woods) probably aren’t what they appear to be on camera.
That’s exactly why I’m so excited about what happened last weekend.
Even if you don’t follow golf, maybe you know the most tradition-rich major tournament of the year was held in Augusta, Ga. The Masters, which sports fans call an annual rite of spring, was won by a 21-year-old named Jordan Spieth.
Spieth grew up in Dallas, played golf at Texas and turned professional before he was old enough to drink a Lone Star beer. To say this kid – because he is one – has been successful would be comparable to saying Michael Jackson could dance. No kidding.
Since 2013, Spieth has earned more than $14 million on the golf course. Off it? My guess is you can triple that number. Almost instantly, Spieth – and Spieth alone – has made Under Armour a reputable golf brand. He is now the face of AT&T’s golf relationship. He has deals with Rolex and Titleist, and I get a weird feeling he has 50 sponsorship opportunities standing outside his door.
But I’m not excited about the accumulation of Spieth’s personal wealth. I am excited because of what this young man represents.
Over the past week, sports fans, in general, have heard all the clichéd accolades. Spieth is a good person. He’s humble. He is a real person. He’ll look you in the eye and shake your hand.
What’s better about this young man is that he appears to be everything a father wants in a role model for his young son.
In an interview last year, Spieth’s mother, Chris, was interviewed about the success of her son.
“He’s done everything the right way,” she said. “He’s stayed humble. He’s stayed exactly how we brought him up to be… He doesn’t crave the attention…, which is great.”
I was reminded of something else about Spieth’s family during lunch with a friend this week. When Spieth walked off the final green of the Masters, he embraced his family. Then his father grabbed him and pointed to a row of people his son needed to go thank.
During the trophy presentation, Spieth stood in front of the patrons at Augusta National and thanked everybody from the cooks to the volunteers at the tournament.
And if all of that isn’t as refreshing as Spieth’s smile, his closest friend and fan is his 14-year-old sister, Ellie, who has a neurological disorder and attends school with other special needs students. Those who know Jordan Spieth say he’d just as soon be at the school volunteering as he would be on a golf course chipping.
You can read all the headlines for yourself, but what pushed me to write this column has absolutely nothing to do with Spieth’s golf acumen.
Too many of our headlines today center around self-made stars who dress and undress for personal attention. Whether they are Kardashians or creeps, our society pays too much attention to people who deserve none. Meanwhile, young people like Jordan Spieth are caught on camera with thoughts like this:
“I’m a professional golfer, but what I do on the course I want to be secondary to what I do off the course.”
Can you imagine hearing one of today’s social media purported stars uttering such class?
On Sunday, something special happened in the den of my house. My precious son and I were playing with some of his toys with the Masters on in the background. As Spieth walked to the 18th green, the crowd on the TV set exploded in cheers and my son, Hank, stopped in his tracks. Somehow, I was able to grab a quick picture at what seemed like the perfect time.
It gave me pause as a father, and maybe one or two of you can take away what I realized: I don’t give a flip if my son becomes famous. I don’t care if he loves or hates golf, because I can’t control those things. All I can control is raising my son the way Spieth’s family has raised him – with humility, grace and compassion.
Fame too often finds its way to destruction. I get a feeling Spieth’s family won’t see that happen, and good on them.