Par for the Course: How great can Jordan Spieth be?

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Jordan Spieth’s Open championship July 23 at Royal Birkdale has put him into the conversation.

Talk, since he won The Open, is about how he compares at age 23 with Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.

Keeping in mind that Nicklaus and Spieth are the only modern-era players to have won three major golf championships at age 23, something even Woods had not accomplished, this is an interesting subject with some of Maine’s prominent golf authorities offering their opinions.

“I think Spieth will get close to Jack’s record,” Dunegrass pro Ron Bibeau said, referring to Nicklaus’ 18 major titles. “I think he putts better than Jack or Tiger. “

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Referring to Spieth’s long eagle putt on No. 15 in the 146th British Open, Bibeau said: “How many guys can read a green from 70 feet, anyway? His composure, poise and confidence is so good. “

Longtime Maine golf pro Pete Hatfield, now retired but still active as a golf instructor, had a more tempered view of Spieth.

“It’s hard to compare eras and people,” said Hatfield who has been a head pro in Maine going back to 1966 at Sanford, and then one year at Bath followed by a long time at Augusta. He pointed out that comparisons are difficult “based on competition level and equipment.”

As great as Spieth putted on the back nine, Hatfield reminded us that he missed some very makeable putts on the front nine as his three-shot lead over runner-up Matt Kuchar vanished.

On the possibility of Spieth catching Nicklaus at 18 majors, Hatfield, captain of the 1961 University of Massachusetts golf team which won the Yankee Conference championship at Penobscot Valley, was very candid.

“I think it’s just too hard now to catch Jack,” he said, noting, “The best thing about Jordan Spieth is that he is good for the game, which teaches respect and life values.”

Retired Portland Press Herald golf columnist Tom Chard went a step beyond Hatfield and said, “It’s too early to compare Spieth with Nicklaus and Woods. They had the intimidating factor working for them.”

But Chard did feel that Spieth’s putting might put him into a class by himself as a major champion.

“We have not seen anyone with the length of his putts,” said Chard, longtime on the Maine golf beat. “In that area, he may be the best.”

Chard also pointed out that today’s PGA Tour has many players capable of winning by stating, “There is now a whole bunch of them. The depth of the tour is much greater than when Nicklaus and Woods played. With Tiger it always was his tournament to lose.”

Bob Darling, the former head pro and now a golf instructor at Fox Ridge had an interesting perspective on this subject. He felt that Nicklaus was the longest hitter of his era and had the fewest players who could compete with his game. Woods had a little more competition, but possessed the best game of his time and used it to win championships.

“Spieth?” said Darling, perhaps Maine’s most respected golf pro. “Now there’s a whole bunch of kids competing with him.”

Chard believes that will make winning PGA Tour majors more challenging than ever.

Spieth’s Open championship, his third of the 2017 season, moved him to first place in the FedEx Cup standings with 2,579 points, and first in PGA Tour money with $6,793,145, so he has become a huge fan favorite.

“He is the future of golf. He is golf’s shining star,” Bibeau said. “He will bring new people to golf.”

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The Charlie’s Maine Open concluded July 25 at Augusta with a pair of Martindale amateurs finishing in some pro shop money. Will Kannegeiser shot 70-71—141 to tie for fourth among amateurs and picking up $325, while Brian Bilodeau scored 73-71—144, good for $190.

James Dornes of Lancaster, Pa., fired a 63-67—130 to pick up the $9,000 champions check.

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At the Maine Women’s Amateur hosted by Martindale July 24-26, Staci Creech of Bangor Municipal won her third consecutive championship (71-72-74—217), as she was trailed by four juniors in places two through five.

Kristin Kannegeiser of Martindale (79-80-81–240) and Leslie Guenther of Norway (80-81-83–244) were the top area finishers at sixth and seventh places. Ruby Haylock of Turner Highlands (78-88-84–250), Stephanie Rodrigue of Fox Ridge (82-85-83–250) and Prudence Hornberger of Turner Highlands (81-87-82–250) tied for 11th place.

In Flight 2, Prudence Hornberger was second, Heidi Haylock of Turner Highlands (82-86-83–252) third, and Melissa Johnson of Martindale (89-89-85—263) seventh. Flight 3 was won by Ruby Haylock, with Martindale’s Neila Nelke (90-88-93—271) ninth, and in Flight 4 Mia Homberger of Turner Highlands (87-96-88–271) emerged victorious with Karen Richardson of Turner Highlands (92-103-92—282) second.

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The Maine tournament golf schedule for this week is extremely active, particularly at Val Halla, where the New England PGA Pro/Junior championships is being held July 31 and the Maine Junior Championship will be conducted Aug. 1-2. The Weekly Tour will be Aug. 4-5 at Gorham and a Senior Tour event is Aug. 3 at Lake Kezar.

Bill Kennedy
Bill Kennedy
Bill Kennedy

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