Inside the Ropes Jordan Spieth
By Tom LaMarre, The Sports Xchange
When Jordan Spieth left the University of Texas in December and turned pro in the middle of his sophomore year, all he had in his pocket were promises of some sponsor’s exemptions. Next week, the 20-year-old will play for the United States in the Presidents Cup at Muirfield Village. His meteoric first-year rise might be unprecedented in the history of golf, or at least comparable to the way Tiger Woods arrived on the scene out of Stanford in 1996. “I didn’t think it would happen this early,” said Spieth, who captured the U.S. Amateur in 2009 and 2011, a feat surpassed only by Woods, who won that title three times. “I had a plan. I guess the plan got exceeded.”
Although he planned to play in some PGA Tour events, Spieth’s blueprint for his first season was to concentrate on the Web.com Tour. In his first two events on the Triple-A circuit, he tied for seventh in the Panama Claro Championship and tied for fourth in the Colombia Championship to nearly earn his Web.com Tour card. Then things started to happen at warp speed. Spieth received an invitation to play in the Puerto Rico Open, an opposite field event on the PGA Tour contested the same week as the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral in March. The then-19-year-old tied for second, one shot behind Scott Brown, and the top-10 finish earned him a spot a week later in the Tampa Bay Championship, where he tied for seventh. After missing the cut in the Farmers Insurance Open earlier in the year at Torrey Pines, Spieth had tied for 22nd in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, and the results from those three high finishes earned him Temporary Special Membership on the PGA Tour. “At the beginning of the year, when you know that you only get seven unrestricted exemptions, first of all, it’s hard to get seven tournaments in, let alone make enough money to get your card,” said Spieth, who didn’t get past the second stage of Q-school late last year.
“To be able to do it in really three events … I never would have guessed that I would get in this quickly.” Spieth said goodbye to the Web.com Tour and dived into a full season on the best tour in the world, having played 24 times this year, including all four events of the PGA Tour playoffs. There were some rough spots, as he missed five cuts, but he also has finished in the top 10 nine times, including a memorable Sunday in the John Deere Classic. Spieth, who topped off his season with a tie for second in the Tour Championship, holed a bunker shot on the final hole of regulation at TPC Deere Run to wrap up his third consecutive 65 and get into a playoff with defending champion Zach Johnson and David Hearn. With four consecutive pars in the playoff, Spieth became the first teenage winner on the PGA Tour since Ralph Guldahl captured the 1931 Santa Monica Open.
“Congrats to Jordan,” Hearn said. “He’s going to have an amazing career, obviously. He’s an incredible talent to come on Tour at his age and have as much success as quickly as he has. So hats off to him.” Said Spieth, after being told that Woods, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy won their first PGA Tour titles at the age of 20: “I wanted to just earn my Tour card for next year this year, somehow. And now to be able to have it for a couple of years and to be able to have an exemption to Augusta, I mean, all the stuff that comes with it, be able to play in the playoffs. “It hasn’t hit me yet, and it will, but I’m just happy to go compete with those guys you mentioned.” Spieth nearly won again a month later in the Wyndham Championship, where Patrick Reed beat him with a miraculous shot on the second hole of a playoff. Two weeks later, after Spieth closed with a 9-under-par 62 to tie for fourth in the Deutsche Bank Championship, almost everyone was saying Fred Couples had to make him one of two Captain’s Picks for the Presidents Cup team. “What I loved was there was nothing freakish about it, and the variety of shots he played,” said Mickelson, who was playing alongside when Spieth finished birdie-birdie-birdie-eagle to shoot 62 at TPC Boston. “He looked so comfortable under pressure as well. I just think he will be an amazing asset (to the Presidents Cup team).”
Lefty felt so strongly about it that he texted Couples: “Dude, you’ve got to pick this guy.” And so Couples did. What made it even more impressive was that he chose Spieth over Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson and Jim Furyk, who had played in seven consecutive Presidents Cup and was 5-0 to lead the U.S. to victory over the Internationals two years ago in Australia. “Jordan has been unbelievable all year,” Couples said. “He’s a kid that can shoot 65 on any given day, and you know we don’t go by 62 on Monday at Boston. You go by all the others. “He almost won at Wyndham; he did win at Des Moines. He’s played well several rounds. There were a lot of guys jumping in line to play with Jordan. As a young player, he’s got a lot of people’s attention. “I feel like at this time, it’s Jordan Spieth’s time.” And this doesn’t figure to be a short story.