U.S. OpenJune 21, 2015

Why you should root for . . . (Dustin, Jordan, Jason . . . Branden?)

UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. -- Crazy things can happen at Chambers Bay, as we've already seen, but barring a series of incredible collapses, it's reasonable to expect that today's U.S. Open winner will come from the group of four golfers starting their rounds at four: Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, and Branden Grace. There's really no bad outcome here -- please don't shoot 59, Joost Luiten -- so let's take a moment to examine why you should root for each of them. Starting with the wunderkind...

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Jordan Spieth: Because he's Jordan Spieth! He's the chosen one, the golden child, and if he wins today, the rivalry with Rory McIlroy that we've all hoped for will be 100 percent on. It will put a stamp on the youth revolution of 2014-15, but that matters less than what it will say about Spieth himself. Seriously, think about this for a second -- he will have two major championships at age 21. That's not just great, that's insanely great. That's the kind of start that justifies crazy predictions -- if I say he's going to break Tiger's record down the line, who are you to tell me I'm wrong? You can say what you want, but here's my counter-argument: THE DUDE HAS TWO MAJORS AT AGE 21. It would be wonderful for American golf, and make no mistake -- it would light a fire under Rory McIlroy. It would set the stage for the rivalry that we always dreamed of between Tiger and Phil, but that never came to fruition due to Phil's inconsistency. My contention is that we jumped the gun with the post-Masters coronation, but I'll drop my reservations completely if he conquers Chambers Bay. With a win, Spieth could singlehandedly give golf the narrative gasoline to drive the sport for the next two years, and quite possibly the next two decades.

And one more thing: I predicted that the more Spieth won, the less we'd get to see of his personality. But judging by his media appearances at Chambers Bay, the exact opposite seems to be true. He's been a delight in every way, smart and funny, and I highly prefer this version of Jordan to the more polished, closed-off kid we saw last year. Spieth winning today would be absolutely gigantic for golf.

Jason Day: Where do we start? First of all, the guy actually collapsed from vertigo symptoms on Friday, which makes his Saturday 68 all kinds of heroic. If he wins today, this will go down as one of the most gutsy wins in golf history...no, forget that...sports history. It will be every bit as impressive as Michael Jordan's flu game, or Curt Schilling's bloody sock performance (though, as a Yankee fan, I still insist that was ketchup). In his short interview after yesterday's round, Day admitted that he felt terrible all day, and I have no idea how he managed to stagger up and down the steep hills at Chamber's Bay, fearing a collapse at any moment, and fought his way to the lead at a major championship. I find myself wanting to type more and more words about the physical courage that shows, because I really don't think we can underestimate the feat of endurance he just pulled off. And if he does it two days in a row? That might literally stop the presses, break the Internet, and probably destroy your cell phone, too. It will demonstrate a kind of athletic resilience that we may never see in golf again.

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On a broader level, these types of obstacles are nothing new to Day. He grew up in extreme poverty in Australia -- his first club came from the town dump -- lost his dad at age 12, became an alcoholic, and has had to fight tooth and nail for every gain he's ever made in life. Every time he seemed poised to break through, an injury hampered him, and though I typically hate the word 'deserve,' truth is truth: More than any other golfer, Day deserves this.

Dustin Johnson: As I wrote yesterday, the final round could represent the culmination of a long and rocky road for DJ. Like Day, he's lived a complicated life, but most of DJ's complications seem to be self-inflicted, starting with legal trouble in high school and continuing through ALLEGED failed drug tests on the Tour. Whether he truly has his life together at this moment due to fatherhood or maturity or whatever is anyone's guess, but regardless of his mental state, he has too much talent to go deep into his 30s with no major championships.

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He doesn't give the best interviews, and I'm not going to sit here and argue that he's golf's version of Einstein. Day and Spieth would be dream champions in terms of public relations, while DJ would be closer to a nightmare. Even so, there's a lot to love about him, as the crowds who scream his name nonstop can attest. In its own way, a Johnson win would be great for the game, and it would represent a long-awaited evolution for golf's best athlete.

Branden Grace: Uhhh...oh boy. This might be tough. *Scrambles to open Wikipedia *He, uh...he's South African, apparently?

Okay, fine: I won't pretend Grace has the same storyline of the three Americans. I'm sure his life is interesting, it's just that I don't know his background quite yet. But how about this: Finally, people will learn how to spell his name! I can't tell you how many times in this article alone I've typed "Brandon" or "Brendan," instead of the hybrid "Branden." I'm not saying I'll never make that mistake again, or that others won't, but if he wins a U.S. Open, it can only help the problem, right?

Not exactly a ringing endorsement, so consider this instead: If he comes through today for his first major, he'll have taken down Spieth, DJ, and Jason Day at the same. That's a pretty good story all on its own, right?

One way or another, today will be fantastic. Barring that Luiten 59, anyway ...

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