MCCARTHY: What draws us to Jordan Spieth?

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The most exhilarating moments in sports are when there is no reasonable explanation for what you just saw. The stunned pause when your brain doubts your eyes and your heart skips a beat.

It’s Wayne Gretzky floating a pass nowhere only to have the play magically materialize around the puck. It’s Michael Jordan hanging in the air forever before finally deciding to switch hands and lay it in. It’s Tony Fernandez or Ozzie Smith going deep, deep into the hole and making the play.

Nowadays there seems to be, or has to be, an explanation for everything.

How did he leap so high? Well, check out his box-jumping routine on Instagram. How did he hit it so far? Just look at his TrackMan numbers. And is there even a hole in baseball anymore?

In the push to measure and quantify everything, some of the magic of sports has been lost.

Enter Jordan Spieth.

The past two weeks on the PGA Tour have reminded fans that golf is better with a little mystery. No player makes you wonder what’s going to happen like Spieth in contention. It’s not a question of whether Jordan will start Spiething, but when, how, and will he stick the landing.


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Last Sunday’s final round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am (not a Pro-Am) was the most-watched regular season tour event in two years, averaging more than four million viewers, peaking at over five million.

And despite the golf purists on social media, it wasn’t because Bill Murray and Ray Romano weren’t playing.

It was because golf’s latest former golden boy was trying to reclaim his crown.

Spieth began the day with a two-shot lead only to end up losing by three to Daniel Berger. It was the second week in a row Spieth failed to convert on Sunday. The three-time major champ will be looking for another chance to get his first win since the 2017 Open Championship this week at the Genesis Invitational at Riviera.

In trying to figure out what is so compelling about Spieth, I’m constantly drawn back to how inexplicable his greatness is. Or was. Or probably will soon be again.

We look at Rory McIlroy’s swing and it’s no surprise when he wins, the surprise is when he doesn’t. And what fun is that as a fan?

We look at Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka and see two men seemingly built to lift trophies.

This is not to say Spieth is out of place. The 27-year-old Texan has dominated golf at every level. He has been the world’s No. 1 ranked junior golfer, amateur, and professional, and was the sure-thing slam-dunk from the famed high school class of 2011 that included Justin Thomas, Xander Schauffele, and Berger. He’s handsome, thoughtful, funny, fiercely loyal to those around him, and has a golf resume you could put up against any of his peers.


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But that’s not it, that isn’t what makes people unable to turn away from the television. It’s because when he’s running hot and winning tournaments — which until a few years ago was always — it’s so hard to understand how he’s doing it.

When writing a story on Spieth after his double-major 2015 season I had the opportunity to interview Jack Nicklaus about Spieth. What jumped out to golf’s greatest champion was that, yes, Spieth has a great short game, but no other part of his game seemed, well, exceptional. Nicklaus saw a player mature beyond his years who could look like he wasn’t having a great week but some way, some how be there on Sunday. Nicklaus said Spieth reminded him of 51-time PGA Tour winner Billy Casper in that regard.

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Back when leaving the house was a thing, I was lucky enough to be at Augusta National and Chambers Bay to cover both of Spieth’s 2015 major wins. Recently, though, it’s been the 2019 PGA Championship at Bethpage Black I keep going back to. That week, Spieth’s full-swing struggles were painful to watch. Yet somehow he finished tied for third on one of the hardest courses in the world.

It’s unfashionable in the modern sportsworld to talk about intangibles, but it’s Spieth’s unwavering belief in his game, in himself, and in those around him that is truly spellbinding.

We all know that a golf ball doesn’t listen to you, and that it’s impossible to will a putt into the hole. So then, how do you explain it when a man makes a career out of it?

You can’t. You just watch.

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