Jordan Spieth. Masters champion. Idol?

A people’s champion. A role model. High character combined with great talent. Someone for the next generation to look up to. A true breath of fresh air.

Which Masters golf champion is being described here?

Sounds like it’s the platitudes for 21-year-old Jordan Spieth. But no, that’s the description of a 21-year-old Tiger Woods when he won the Masters in record-breaking fashion so many years ago.

For those of you who watched the final round of the Masters yesterday, Spieth’s charge to a record-tying victory was thrilling and did seem to herald in a new superstar for the sport.

But I cringed when one announcer called him a role model, citing his strong character. Even Sports Illustrated, who should know better, has this headline this morning: “Jordan Spieth Has a Champion’s Character On and Off Course.”

Let's not worship him yet.
Let’s not worship him yet.

Now, I have no doubt that Spieth is a nice, young man who obviously loves his family and has polite manners, along with a killer sense of how hit just the right shot at the right time.

But there was a time when we said the same things about Tiger, long before his fall from grace from which he has still not recovered despite his fine showing this weekend.

We, especially sports fans, love to find new heroes and I’ll admit I have some of mine as well. But haven’t we learned anything? Should we be putting a 21-year-old on a pedestal just yet? It does a disservice to both Spieth and us.

The lesson of Tiger Woods.

I suspect Spieth (who finished second in the Masters last year, so he’s no fluke) will now get plenty of endorsements, ala Tiger. But we know how it worked out for Woods. He was connected to so many brands who thought they were buying a shiny, pure brand equity that it all fell apart once the scandal broke that Tiger was a serial philanderer. So much so that a new campaign by Accenture that was unveiled just as the news of the scandal broke made Accenture look silly.

I have always cautioned against brands aligning themselves solely with a person to piggyback on that person’s perceived character. It can be dangerous and Tiger (and Lance Armstrong) is just one example. (Tiger’s only major sponsor today is Nike.)

Now, athletes find it more difficult to be spokespeople as brands are wary and negotiations for endorsements can last up to a year with all kinds of character clauses included.

In my heart, I believe Spieth will continue to succeed and that he won’t damage a brand. But I thought the same thing about Woods. So let’s not put someone so young in high character mode just yet. Just let him play golf.