UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. — Jordan Spieth loves golf history, which is appropriate for someone quickly becoming part of it.
Spieth was a freshman at Texas when he first went to St. Andrews with the rest of the Walker Cup team. They played the Old Course, soaked up the vibe at the home of golf and then headed north for their matches at Royal Aberdeen.
“It’s one of my favorite places in the world,” Spieth said Sunday evening. “I remember walking around the R&A clubhouse and seeing paintings of royalty playing golf, and it was dated 14-whatever. I’m thinking, our country was discovered in 1492 and they were playing golf here before anyone even knew the Americas existed.”
That was only four years ago, when not many outside golf circles knew Spieth. He’ll get more attention next time he arrives at St. Andrews.
The 21-year-old Texan, who slipped into a green jacket in April, hoisted the silver U.S. Open trophy Sunday at Chambers Bay.
Not since Tiger Woods in 2002 has anyone won the Masters and U.S. Open in the same year, and it gets even more impressive to hear the short list of players who have: Jack Nicklaus. Arnold Palmer. Ben Hogan twice. Craig Wood.
Elite company? Sure, and there’s more.
The last guy to win the U.S. Open by one shot with a birdie on the final hole? That would be Bobby Jones in 1926. The only other player to win different major championships before turning 22? A guy named Gene Sarazen in 1922.
The names kept right on coming, and Spieth listened to them with a gleam in his blue eyes and the gold medal draped around his neck.
“I didn’t think that those names would be mentioned like that,” he said after his one-shot victory over hard-luck Dustin Johnson and hard-charging Louis Oosthuizen. “That’s a piece of golf history, and as a golf historian, that’s very special and it gives me goose bumps. It’s amazing. And it gets better every week with our team. Those names are the greatest that have ever played the game, and I don’t consider myself there.
“But I’m certainly off to the right start in order to make an impact on the history of this game.”
When Spieth gets to Scotland this time, he’ll face massive pressure as he pursues something none of those historic names ever won: the Grand Slam.
“I’m just focused on the claret jug now,” he said. “The Grand Slam is something that I never could really fathom somebody doing, considering I watched Tiger win when he was winning whatever percentage of the majors he played in. And he won the Tiger Slam, but he never won the four in one year. And I figured if anybody was going to do it, it would be him, which he still can.”
For all major champions, it takes time for the magnitude to sink in. This might take even longer considering how it ended.
The winning moment should have been that 25-foot birdie putt on the 16th hole that, coupled with Branden Grace hitting his tee shot onto the railroad tracks for double bogey, gave Spieth a three-shot lead with three holes to play.
But Spieth made double bogey on the 17th. Oosthuizen finished with six birdies in his last seven holes. Johnson, who had missed five putts inside 10 feet on the back nine, finally got a short one to fall on No. 17 to join them in the lead.
At the final hole, Johnson had a 12-foot eagle putt for the win. Even if he missed, it would be an 18-hole playoff Monday.
He three-putted for par and lost.
As thrilled as he was for his shiny trophy, Spieth was gutted for Johnson. Nobody wants to win that way, especially after a week in which players grumbled about greens so choppy that it felt like putting on broccoli.
“This was just an odd deal — very odd,” Spieth said. “I very much feel for Dustin. He deserves to be holding the trophy just as much as I do.”
The youngster with so much polish and poise is on a fast track. And while his name was linked to so many greats in the past, there was one other name from the present that can’t be ignored.
Rory McIlroy, whether he wants one or not, has a rival.
McIlroy and Spieth are No. 1 and No. 2 in the world. They have won the last four majors, the first time that has happened since Lee Trevino and Nicklaus in 1971-72.
The rivalry will have to wait. Spieth is chasing something far more important.