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Jordan Spieth’s America

July 24, 2017

Jordan Spieth is not a war hero. He’s not an angry politician, a grasping hedge fund manager, a revolutionary or an iconoclast. He’s a 23-year-old Texan from a privileged background who happens to be one of the best golfers in the world.

Yesterday he showed his character by coming back from a near-catastrophe in the final round of the Open Championship. He could have blown it, as he did in the Masters two years ago, and forever after carried around the burden of being known as a choker. But he didn’t. In a stunning sequence of holes, he made good the early damage and won the tournament.

You may not follow golf, in which case you might not know Spieth. And if you don’t know him, you almost certainly won’t know Matt Kuchar, his compatriot, who threatened to take the championship away from him in that final round, but ended up being steamrollered. From start to finish, Kuchar kept a smile on his face that at the death must have hidden gut-wrenching disappointment.

Spieth, as many people pointed out before and after his latest achievement, is grounded. He’s modest, generous with his praise of others, and unfailingly polite. He’s also a man with nerves of steel. He needed them to come through a crisis that would have unhinged most golfers, be they hackers like me or professionals who are supposed to be immune to adversity.

People who excel in any field, and especially sport, can often be quirky individuals. Sometimes they hide their demons from their public until they implode, like Tiger Woods. Perhaps Spieth, who is on the verge of matching Tiger’s achievements at a ludicrously young age, will also go into a downward spiral at some stage in his career. I hope not. He certainly doesn’t seem to have had the dysfunctional childhood that left its mark on Tiger. There are no pushy parents in evidence. He has a sister with learning difficulties whom he adores.

He and Kuchar are patently decent, dedicated and talented human beings. I have met many Americans like them, not necessarily such high achievers but with the same personal qualities.

When I say that for me both men exemplify a face of America that I’d almost forgotten over the past year, it’s not because they are role models for white America. Decency is to be found everywhere in the country, among rich and poor, black and white, in the projects and the country clubs. It’s to be found in the characters of John McCain and Barack Obama, and in a host of ordinary people across the political and social spectrum.

The problem is that since last summer the personality traits of Donald Trump have come to exemplify a different America. Vain, resentful, greedy, boorish, bullying, bombastic. For millions who view the country from afar, the personality of the president is becoming indistinguishable from the character of the nation.

So I thank Jordan Spieth and his colleague Matt Kuchar for reminding me that there is another face of their country – one that will hopefully survive four years of reputational damage at the hands of the ultimate ugly American.

From → Politics, Sport, UK, USA

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