They say don’t meet your heroes. My golfing heroes growing up were Nick Faldo and later Tiger Woods. Also Torquay United legend and fellow left-wing wizard Kevin Hill, Eric Cantona, Billie Joe Armstrong, Rivers Cuomo, Kurt Cobain, Bart Simpson and Adrian Mole.
I’ve only met one of the above – though to be fair to the last two they are fictional – and it wasn’t the best experience.
But last week I got the chance to go and meet Jordan Spieth.
Wait, before I go on, can I call Spieth a “hero” of mine? I’m 37 this year, officially late 30s. (I know, I know. I don’t look anything near it. Stop it you.)
Spieth is 11 years younger than me, and, like many, I didn’t really know who he was until he won his first PGA Tour title in 2013. At that point, he was an up-and-comer like the rest of them, before two years later really stamping his mark in golf’s history books with that win at Augusta.
But can you develop heroes once you are officially no longer a child?
Why not? Live your life.
Hero or not, one major perk of doing what I do is getting the opportunity to interview some of the greatest players to ever pick up a golf club.
So when you are offered the chance by Under Armour to fly to the US and meet Spieth at his home club, Dallas National, you don’t turn it down. So I thought it would be a good opportunity to give an insight into how these days go down – especially for my friend who called me, quote, a “jammy bastard”.
The meeting was to be on a Monday, so I decided to make a weekend of it. I spent a morning in the museum at Dealey Plaza, where John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963 by Lee Harvey Oswald (allegedly), I played some golf (I didn’t lug my clubs halfway across the world for nothing), and went to an NBA game (a handful of Americans thought I was there to support Slovenian basketball sensation Luka Doncic which, even if it was true, is an odd question to ask).
I also, of course, consumed my body weight in barbecued meat.
And then Monday arrived. I was nervous. I’ve never been nervous interviewing someone before, whether it was vox popping people in the street for a local rag or grilling Andy Murray for ESPN. But this felt different. This wasn’t the FA Cup final at Wembley, on neutral turf. It was the quarter-finals, at Spieth’s home ground.
The drive to Dallas National was a strange one. You turn off the main road and then into a neighbourhood I would file under ‘Don’t walk here at night’, but then there are these huge gates with several security guards. “I’m with Under Armour,” I say.
“And her?” he replies, pointing at the nice lady driving.
“That’s… that’s my Uber driver.”
“Go right in.”
Not the relaxing start I wanted, but things eased when we reached the staging area at one of the neat little cottages dotted around the grounds. I shook hands with at least 30 people dressed head to toe in Under Armour gear and, through the window on the patio, was Spieth, sat with Golf Channel’s Todd Lewis – I bet he wasn’t nervous – smiling, laughing, joking.
It was a regimented day. Each media outlet – us, Channel, Digest, CBS, Dallas Morning News – were given strict arrival times and everything we wanted to do with Spieth was proposed well in advance, right down to the questions we wanted to ask him.
Our plan was a video on the range of him chatting about the new Spieth 3 shoes. I would ask him some things about them while he hit perfect 7-irons into the distance. I would then pick his brains on The Masters and The Open.
We set up all our camera gear on the range and waited. And waited. Then waited a bit more. It was a combination of us being a bit early and things overrunning slightly, as these days always do. I did at least six laps of the short game area practising the opening line of the video.
“I’m here at Dallas National Golf Club where I’ve come to learn about the new Spieth 3 shoes from Under Armour, and who better to give me the lowdown than the man himself? I’m here at Dallas National Golf Club where I’ve come to learn about the new Spieth 3 shoes from Under Armour, and who better to give me the lowdown than the man himself? I’m here at Dallas National Golf Club where I’ve come to learn about the new Spieth 3 shoes from Under Armour, and who better to give me the lowdown than the man himself?”
Then he arrived. My first thought was that he didn’t look tired, despite the fact he’d flown in from California the night before having finished 35th at Torrey Pines. “It must be annoying having to do this after four days of working,” I thought, before quickly correcting myself with the reminder that he is a multi-gazillionaire as a result.
I’ve seen Spieth in real life before, but only from a distance – whether that be on the course or in a press conference. Now he was standing in front of me offering me his hands.
I’m often reminded of when I was covering the Davis Cup and Murray introduced himself to me. I think it really says something about a famous person when they do that. “Hi Alex, I’m Andy, nice to meet you.” He’s a three-time grand slam champion, Olympic gold medalist, and one of the finest sportspeople these isles have ever produced. Like I was going to say: “Sorry, mate, and you are?”
“Hi Alex, I’m Jordan, nice to meet you.”
“Sorry, mate, and you are?”
I didn’t, obviously, I was too taken aback by how deceptively tall he is. And how deceptively handsome he is. And he has lovely eyes you could get lost in for hours.
We have more in common than I thought. Maybe I could get away with calling him ‘Jord’?
Also like me, he is dominantly left-handed, despite playing golf right-handed. Watch him closely next time, he does everything left-handed. Over the years I’ve had to train myself to offer my right hand when greeting people even though instinct wants me to lead with my left. When he wandered onto the range, I wondered if he is the same. Shall I offer my left hand in a show of solidarity?
I didn’t in the end. This was our moment and I bottled it. The chance to share golf’s version of a masonic handshake and I had conformed to the norm. It could have been the start of a beautiful friendship. Jordan and me hanging out in Ned Flanders’ Leftorium.
I was largely distracted by the number of people that were with him. And I mean a lot. At least eight, including his agent, a few people from Under Armour, and someone from Dallas National.
I had a last-minute change of heart on the opening sequence of the video that I’d rehearsed at least 3,000 times. I would change the end of it to, “Now if only there was someone here who could give me the lowdown” and the camera would pan out to reveal Spieth standing next to me and he would say something like “I believe I can help you out there.”
He nailed it. Me not so much, I was awkward and, if I’m honest, a little out of my comfort zone talking about tech. But I was just happy he agreed to be in my little skit and the interview flew by, despite the fact he answered every answer with careful detail.
Interviews like this are often accompanied by watch-tapping organisers, but it didn’t matter to Spieth. He considered every question carefully and offered some lovely insight into what he describes as his “two favourite tournaments”. His words, after all, will appear on this very website as well as the magazine.
Eighteen hours on a plane for 20 minutes’ work. Worth it.
It was 2pm and our flight wasn’t until that evening, so with a few hours to kill we went to the clubhouse for some lunch before heading to the club’s impressive performance centre for a few holes on the simulator.
At one point, I popped to the bathroom. “Someone’s in there,” I was told. So I waited. A minute later, Spieth emerged. Why would you say “someone”? I thought.
When we left at around 5pm, Spieth was still on the range, hitting balls and chatting eagerly into an umpteenth different camera of the day. His smile not showing any signs of fading.
At the airport, my phone flashed with several messages from colleagues, friends, and my girlfriend. They were all largely the same sentiment: “How was Spieth?”
“Tall, handsome, lovely eyes,” I replied.