Dallas golfer Spieth poised to reap riches as Next Big Thing

By Michael Buteau (c) 2014, Bloomberg News.

AUGUSTA, GA. – Jordan Spieth still won, even though he finished second at the Masters Tournament, according to sports marketers.

Spieth, 20, led the season’s first major event during its final round Sunday before losing to now two-time winner Bubba Watson by three strokes. A victory would have made him the youngest-ever winner of the event, eclipsing Tiger Woods who was 21 when he got his first victory at Augusta National Golf Club. Still, the Dallas, Tex., native’s play in golf’s most-watched tournament put him in front of casual golf fans for the first time.

Even with a runner-up finish, companies “will be fighting to sign him,” said Bob Dorfman, executive creative director at Baker Street Advertising in San Francisco. “Spieth is exactly what golf needs right now.”

- FWBP Digital Partners -

Entering the final round tied for the lead at 5-under-par, Spieth shot even-par 72 over his final 18 holes, a finish that he said was hard to accept. He earned $792,000 finishing second.

“I’ll be back,” he said. “It hurts right now. I feel like I’m ready to win. It’s just a matter of time.”

Before his Masters debut, Spieth had already secured a PGA Tour victory at the 2013 John Deere Classic at age 19, an accomplishment Woods, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy hadn’t achieved. He then competed in the 2013 Presidents Cup matches and earned PGA Tour Rookie of the Year honors, all before arriving at Augusta National.

Spieth’s emergence comes as golf’s biggest names are struggling in major tournaments. Woods, 38, hasn’t won a major in six years and missed the Masters for the first time in 20 years as he recovers from back surgery. Mickelson, 43, missed the 36-hole cut this week for the first time since 1997, and former World No. 1 McIlroy, a 24-year-old Northern Irishman who has been touted as golf’s next top attraction, finished eighth.

- Advertisement -

From an endorsement and marketing perspective, the two-time winner of the U.S. Junior Amateur championship isn’t flashy, outspoken or controversial, making him attractive to the core golf audience, Dorfman said.

“At 20, he can attract a younger demographic to the game, and has a squeaky-clean image that traditionalists can get behind,” he said. “Sure, it’d be nice if he had a little more charisma and uniqueness, but ‘20-year-old phenom’ will do just fine for now.”

Unlike many of golf’s younger players, such as 25-year-old American Rickie Fowler, Spieth doesn’t wear trendy bright colors, plaid pants or oversized flat-brimmed hats. During Fowler’s Masters debut in 2011, he attempted to conduct his first interview with his hat on backward. When Ron Townsend, who became Augusta’s first black member in 1990, reached over and turned it around, Fowler told him that he wanted people to see his face. Townsend then asked him again to turn his hat forward. Fowler complied.

In contrast, Spieth referred to two-time Masters Tournament winner Ben Crenshaw as “Mr. Crenshaw” and six-time winner Jack Nicklaus as “Mr. Nicklaus” when speaking to the media.

- Advertisement -

“He’s a Texas gentleman and shows respect,” said Jay Danzi, Spieth’s agent with Lagardere Unlimited. “His parents have taught him well.”

On the course, Spieth is the first golfer to be outfitted head-to-toe by Baltimore-based Under Armour. He also has endorsement agreements with Titleist, Rolex and Toronto-based BioSteel Sports Supplements. Danzi said he has been in “deep discussions” with several other companies and is focused on long-term partnerships. He declined to name the companies.

“You can put him in front of a CEO and he’s calm and mature and able to have a one-on-one conversation,” Danzi said “For a 20-year-old, that’s extremely rare.”

In his first Masters appearance, Spieth thrived leading up to the final day. Playing alongside McIlroy in the tournament’s first two rounds, Spieth beat him by seven shots. He followed that by topping defending Masters champion Adam Scott by six strokes in the third round.

Spieth’s dominance over golf’s marquee names also includes the biggest – Woods. Spieth topped the 14-time major tournament winner by a total of nine strokes when he and Woods were paired together for the first two rounds of the U.S. PGA Tour event in Torrey Pines, Calif., in January.

Last September, Spieth became a captain’s pick for the Presidents Cup after shooting a 62 while playing alongside Mickelson in the final round of the Deutsche Bank Championship. He played the final five holes in 4-under-par, including an eagle on the 18th hole. Mickelson immediately texted U.S. captain Fred Couples and urged him to add him to the team.

As 35-year-old Watson, who finished at 8-under, pulled away with a pair of birdies on the 8th and 9th holes, Spieth’s frustration began to show. After missing a chance to get within two shots of the lead with a birdie on 16th hole, Spieth told caddie Michael Greller he had “worked his whole life” to be in this position.

Greller, a former sixth-grade teacher, assured him that he would have more chances.

“It’s tough to swallow when you’re right there and you just come up a little short,” Greller said. “It stings, but there’s nothing to feel bad about. We just got beat.”

Along with his 19-year-old brother, Steven, a freshman on the Brown University basketball team, Spieth has a 13-year-old sister, Ellie, who was born with special needs.

“His sister is his hero,” Danzi said. “It matured him and has certainly helped frame the kid that he is. Win, lose or draw, at the end of the day, he goes home, and Ellie gives him a big hug. It puts things in perspective.”