This weekend’s US Open could mark the official arrival of golf’s next great brand. If Jordan Spieth wins, he’d be the first player since the 2002 version of Tiger Woods to capture the first two legs of golf’s Grand Slam (He already won the Masters in April). But that’s where the comparison to Tiger ends–because Spieth is no Tiger Woods. He may be better. And he may be better for the game of golf in the long run. I know that sounds crazy. Tiger brought unprecedented star power and international interest to a sport starved of it since Arnie stopped hitching up his pants and charging into the lead on Sundays. When he plays, people watch. But as he’s crashed and burned over the past couple of years, so has his brand and the sport in general.
Spieth, on the other hand, has all the makings of a brand built to last, even if he never matches Tiger’s records on the golf course.
For one thing, he’s likable. He’s fearless and aggressive on the course, but never comes off as arrogant or aloof. He seems so grounded and humble it’s hard to believe he’s won almost $15 million at the tender age of 21. While other players are grumbling about the “unfairness” of the crazy bounces and blind shots at Chambers Bay, this week’s US Open venue, he smiles and calls the layout “inventive.” That kind of refreshing attitude builds goodwill that will come in handy if he ever hits a slump. It’s often said that strong brands have strong detractors, but so far there’s really nothing not to love about this kid.
Like all great brands, he’s also consistent. No one part of his game stands out, and he always seems to be in contention. That kind of steady performance will keep his brand awareness high through the inevitable ups and downs of his career.
And unlike so many sports and entertainment phenoms these days, he hasn’t allowed the hype to get ahead of the reality. Tiger’s “Hello World” TV campaign hit the airwaves before he even teed it up as a pro. Spieth, on the other hand, has seen his popularity grow organically, based solely on his play. Not his haircut, his clothes, or his Instagram feed. (It helps that his main sponsor Under Armour is taking it slow.) He reminds me of Tim Duncan or Dustin Pedroia. He loves the game, goes about his business, and gets it done. So many brands forget that it’s not just what you say that matters, it’s what you do everyday.
Spieth may not win this week. And he may never make golf cool like Tiger did. The thing is, cool doesn’t always last. But I’ve got a feeling Jordan will.