Power sports and golf: frontrunner Jordan Spieth’s losing battle

by Max Kanefield | 4/24/16 5:12pm

A little more than two weeks ago, Jordan Spieth was running away with the lead at the Masters. The 22-year-old phenom had just finished out the ninth hole at Augusta National with his fourth straight birdie, vaulting him five shots ahead of the field with just nine holes to play. The reigning Masters champion, the youngest to win the tournament since Tiger Woods, looked primed to fill the massive void left by Wood’s descent.

With golf’s popularity and success often tied to a preeminent player drawing people to the sport, the golf world turned to Spieth in hopes of returning to the modern peak of golf’s popularity under Wood’s reign. What followed in the next few holes, however, grabbed the spotlight for all the wrong reasons for golf, ultimately allowing the power sports — basketball, football and hockey — to refocus the public’s attention in the week that followed.

The smallest crack appeared on the 10th hole, with a misguided iron shot leading to a bogey. On the 11th, an errant tee shot found the pine straw off the fairway and behind the trees, leading Spieth to his second bogey in as many holes. On the 12th hole, the cracks gave way and exploded.

Spieth plunked his tee shot into the water twice on the par-3 12th before hitting into the sand beyond the green. He finished the hole with a seven, which dropped him from first to third and rattled him enough to prevent a comeback.

It was an opportunity lost for the rising star. Spieth shattered records in 2015 — becoming the youngest player to win the FedEx Cup playoffs, securing the most wins on the PGA Tour and becoming the youngest player to reach $20 million in career earnings. The golfer, who rubbed shoulders with Tony Romo and Steph Curry and recently signed a new 10-year deal with Under Armour, lost out on a chance to grab the spotlight of the national sports scene. In the week that followed, Spieth’s collapse, the Masters, and the world of golf became buried under an avalanche of big-ticket news from America’s marquee sports.

The basketball world was the first to overshadow the Masters with two massive storylines. First, it was the Golden State Warriors’ final game in their quest for a record-breaking 73 wins in their bout against the Memphis Grizzlies. The game had all the trappings of an NBA playoff game, with the fans dressed in a blue-out as Steph Curry did Steph Curry things and led the Warriors to their win, surpassing the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls’ 72-win season.

Yet somehow, even with the Warriors breaking a decades old record and cementing themselves as the greatest regular season NBA team in history, a game featuring a then-40-41 team eliminated from playoffs and one of the league’s worst teams overshadowded the historical game.

What happened between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Utah Jazz that night, the final contest of Kobe Bryant’s career, can be described only as a spectacle of extravagance. The night featured pregame speeches and video montages befitting a championship celebration. And once the game began, the Lakers’ mission was clear — feed Bryant the ball and get out of the way. The 37-year-old put up 60 points, the highest total of the year for the league, on 50 shots — the most in the modern era.

It was, truly, the only way for the man universally known as the world’s biggest ball hog to end his career. As Bryant carried the Lakers, aching knees and all, to a come-from-behind win, the nation took notice. The ratings for the game, which featured zero playoff teams stood at 3.4 million viewers — just .2 million behind the Warriors.

Bryant did not only capture people’s attention. He also captured their wallets. His final game at the Staples Center generated $1.2 million in merchandise sales, the most ever for a one-day event at any arena. He beat out rock and roll legend Led Zeppelin, who held the previous record with $1 million in sales during a 2007 reunion concert in London.

Not to be outdone, the NFL quickly followed the NBA’s big day with a massive announcement of its own. After delaying their announcement for a day “out of respect for Kobe Bryant playing in his final NBA game,” the Los Angeles Rams and Tennessee Titans announced a trade that sent the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft to the Rams. In a deal many pundits are calling a win-win for both teams, the Titans received a treasure trove of draft picks including the Rams 2016 and 2017 first rounders — among many more.

Finally, the NHL kicked off its playoffs alongside the NBA. With several high powered teams, the return of superstars Alex Ovechkin’s and Sidney Crosby’s teams to the top of the hockey world, and recent powerhouses Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks in the mix, it’s shaping up to be an electric postseason for the National Hockey League.

The world of sports is one with constantly emerging headlines, but it was Spieth’s collapse that signaled golf’s return to the shadows behind America’s power sports.