By Joe Grabinski
“It doesn’t matter anymore if I played badly. She [Ellie] is someone you can watch and reflect on the big picture of life.”
In light of Rickie Fowler’s recent victory at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, there has been a lot of talk in the media about the new “Big Four:” Jordan Spieth (ranked first in Official World Golf Rankings), Rory McIlroy (ranked second), Jason Day (third), and Fowler himself, the newest addition coming in at number four. Along with those rankings come countless discussions of who is the best, who is going to be the best when we look back in 20 years (yes, they’re that young), who will win the most majors, and so on. While there are no right or even generally agreed upon answers to those questions, there is one indisputable truth regarding the aforementioned four: Jordan Spieth is far and away the most consistent (18 top 10 finishes in his last 25 events, including six victories).
Spieth’s consistency isn’t just a result of hours logged at the practice range or putting green or the lessons learned and experience gained from each and every tournament. Sure, those aren’t exactly hurting him. Instead, that consistency is a direct result of his off-the-course stability, a foundation formed long before he stepped foot on the first tee of the 2010 Byron Nelson Championship, his first professional golf tournament at the ripe old age of 16.
Jordan’s parents, Christine and Shawn, never played golf, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t pass along any athleticism. His mom played basketball in college, while his dad played baseball. Jordan is the first of three children, with a younger brother Steven and younger sister Ellie. Their parents never showed favoritism, living by the motto “if no one child is special, each one is special.”
When Jordan and Steven were in high school, and Jordan’s potential of a professional golf career was becoming apparent, their parents equally split attending Jordan’s golf tournaments and Steven’s basketball games. Steven, a 6 ft. 6 in. forward at Brown University, is no slouch when it comes to sports, starting in 79 of his 80 collegiate games to date.
Christine and Shawn’s successful parenting is evident in Steven’s accomplishments, as he’s considered one of the leaders of Brown’s team, despite only being a junior. According to Brown’s head coach Michael Martin, “He, in a lot of ways, is an extension of our coaching staff on the court.” Even though Steven and Jordan play two different sports, their brotherly competitive spirit hasn’t diminished, as evidenced by Steven’s long, shaggy hair, which he may or may not continue to grow out in direct contrast to Jordan’s disappearing hairline.
While not a member of Spieth’s family, his caddie, Michael Greller, is an integral part of Jordan’s foundation. Greller is a former intermediate school math teacher who had never caddied professionally — that is, until he was introduced to Jordan through mutual friend and fellow PGA Tour player Justin Thomas at the 2011 U.S. Junior Amateur. Greller caddied again for Jordan at the 2012 U.S. Open, and then, in 2013, decided to quit his day job to be Jordan’s full-time bag man.
Think about that for a second. Jordan Spieth, at the time just 19 years old, decided not to hook up with a veteran caddie as commonly done by young professionals (Tiger and Rory, to name a couple), but instead hired a 30-something-year-old middle school math teacher who caddied on the weekends at local courses. And it’s paid off. Both Spieth and Greller credit Greller’s teaching experience for their on-course success.
And then there’s Jordan’s true inspiration, the youngest of the Spieth siblings, Ellie. Ellie was born with a neurological disorder on the autism spectrum, which impairs the ability to communicate and interact. However, don’t for a second think that disorder impairs her ability to live life to the fullest. By all accounts, Ellie is a beacon of joy. According to Jordan, she’s the funniest member of the family. Now 14, Ellie attends Jordan’s tournaments when she’s able to (she does have school, after all), and she is almost always the first person Jordan hugs after walking off the 72nd hole.
In 2013, at the age of 20, Jordan established the Jordan Spieth Family Foundation (originally known as the Jordan Spieth Charitable Platform). Growing up with Ellie, Jordan had firsthand experience of special needs and the impact those with special needs can have on those around them. “Being Ellie’s brother humbles me every day of my life,” Jordan has said numerous times. Therefore, Jordan could not wait to give back, forming his foundation shortly after turning pro in order to provide financial assistance for military families, junior golf programs, and children with special needs.
So does this off-the-course stuff even matter? Who cares what golfers do in their free time? All that matters is what they do between the ropes, right? Well, right now, as you read this, what do you think of when you hear the name Dustin Johnson? John Daly? Tiger Woods?
And it has translated to on-the-course dominance for Spieth. There’s no need to discuss his well-known ascension to World #1 (okay, fine, he won five tournaments last year, including the year’s first two majors and capped off one of the greatest seasons in PGA Tour history by winning the FedExCup). He’s done so by surrounding himself with the correct people, creating the foundation on which to build a historically great career.
Nobody knows who will emerge from the Big Four as the clear cut best in the world, or if it’ll be someone else from another corner of the golf world entirely. Or, perhaps, no one person will, and instead there will be a constant jockeying for the #1 Official World Golf Ranking. One thing, though, is for certain: Jordan Spieth will be a part of the conversation.