Becoming The Man

Jordan Spieth won his second PGA Tour title at the Valspar Championship on March 15. PHOTO: MICHAEL WEINSTEIN

Already an elite talent, Jordan Spieth sets his sights on making history

Witnessing Jordan Spieth’s transformative rocket ride to golf stardom is somewhat like watching Richard Linklater’s recent Oscar-nominated film Boyhood. In the span of 162 spellbinding minutes, Linklater introduces us to a likable six-year-old cloud gazer who, in a progression of touching scenes, builds character, learns who really has his back and discovers real strength while carving his path through adolescence. By the final moments, you’re gobsmacked at how proud you are of this fictional character. Over a jumbo Coke Zero, you’ve watched a boy become a man.

As for Spieth, the 21-year-old Dallas native who seems to have the golfing world on a string, it only feels like minutes since we first saw the determined stare and fiery spirit that are now trademarks of the fourth-year pro’s burgeoning brand. After 54 holes at the 2010 AT&T Byron Nelson Championship, Spieth was conspicuous on the leaderboard, a 16-year-old high school junior tied for seventh (before slipping to a still-impressive T-16 finish by the following afternoon).
“I looked like I was nine years old,” Spieth quipped last May when he saw the footage from 2010. Four and a half years later, he looks like he could play free safety for his alma mater, The University of Texas.

At some point, without anyone really noticing, Spieth transcended the “overachiever” label and just started making a habit of achieving. With eight top-10 finishes and more than $4.3 million in earnings during the 2014 regular season, he followed up his Rookie of the Year campaign with another elite-level season, capped by a star turn at the Ryder Cup in October at Gleneagles Resort in Scotland with partner and fellow Texan Patrick Reed.

Spieth was a standout left-handed pitcher and quarterback in youth leagues before deciding to concentrate on golf before starting high school. PHOTO: MICHAEL WEINSTEIN

Spieth says while match play is miles away from stroke play and no week is like a Ryder Cup week, the confidence he and Reed garnered in heroically securing 2.5 points as a team for the losing U.S. squad paid dividends when they returned to regular tournament action.

“Very rarely do you get to experience this kind of pressure, this adrenaline,” he said. “It’s only when you are in contention. It feels like the back nine Sunday of a major and you have it consistently, round-in-and-round-out in Ryder Cup play. I think the experience is going to do just loads for us on course individually in the future.”

While Spieth has only one PGA Tour victory, beating Zach Johnson and David Hearn of Canada with a par on the fifth playoff hole in the 2013 John Deere Classic, he showed a glimpse of what is likely to come in two tournaments last December.

First, he claimed a six-stroke victory in the Emirates Australian Open, outclassing a field that included defending champion Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland and local hero Adam Scott at the Australian Golf Club in Sydney.

Then he made the long flight back home, sleeping in his own bed in Dallas for one night, before continuing on to Isleworth Golf and Country Club in Windemere, where he fought off jet lag and coasted to a 10-stroke victory over a loaded 18-player field in the Hero World Challenge.

Battle-tested at 21, Spieth has skills and a personality that have made him a headliner. He’s the man on the billboards he to use to look up to, yet he seems unfazed by the sudden fame and high expectations. “Time management is a little more difficult now, but when I’m on the course, I don’t feel any different at all,” he said.

On rare occasion, the two-time U.S. Junior champion and former NCAA All-American shows glimpses of the impulsiveness of youth, but always seems to turn adversity into learning experiences. Spieth earned, then yielded a two-shot lead to Bubba Watson in the final round the Masters last April and tied for second, but feels upbeat overall about the way he fought and performed.

When Spieth won the 2013 John Deere Classic at age 19, he became the first teenager to win on the PGA Tour in 82 years. PHOTO: MICHAEL WEINSTEIN

“I take a lot of positives going forward knowing that I was just a couple bounces away from being able to win The Masters,” he said. At 20, he would have been the storied event’s youngest champion. “So any other position I can be in now will be something I’ve already experienced, which is nice to draw back on. Just feeling more and more calm will allow me to keep on sinking into my game. I get very lucky on the golf course normally, so one of these days it will happen on Sunday.”

A few weeks after his close call at The Masters, Spieth played in the final group at THE PLAYERS Championship and finished in an impressive but frustrating tie for fourth. Not only does Spieth believe he’ll pull through in the majors someday, so do his fans and peers. “I think he can be great,” Tiger Woods told the media this past summer. “He’s got plenty of power and confidence, and you can see how well he’s been playing. We played in a Presidents Cup practice round (in 2013), and I was, and still am, a big believer in what he can do in the game. He’s got all the tools.”

A ringing endorsement from a 14-time major winner never hurts, but Spieth is well aware that leaving a historic legacy takes sweat and time. “I’ve set goals from when I was 15 years old. I still have yet to accomplish a couple of them. Some could take two years and some could take 20 years,” he said. “In order for it to actually happen, I’ve got to keep my head down, keep moving forward and work as hard or harder than anybody.”

Anyone who spends time with Spieth echoes the assessment that he’s grounded and mature beyond his years. The son of two former college athletes, brother to a college basketball and a heart-stealing 13-year-old sister with special needs, Spieth is an astute listener with a never-rattled pragmatism. “I’ve got a great team around me. I’ve got a great family. I’ve been blessed with both,” he said. “Ultimately, everything’s on path if I do my job. I think that if I’m having fun with it and not putting too much pressure on myself, I shouldn’t have a problem.”

Also on Team Spieth is his longtime swing instructor, Brook Hollow Golf Club’s Cameron McCormick and trusted caddie Michael Greller. Both trust Spieth’s instincts and well-grooved swing. While stats suggest Spieth might be an “average” driver, he readily calls his tee game a major strength. “I don’t see a lot of players working the ball left or right the way I do. I focus on getting better angles into the greens rather than distance or making sure it’s in the fairway,” Spieth told Golf Digest earlier this year. The man knows him game.

Proud of and grateful for his roots, Spieth gives back to the Dallas community that molded him into the champion and role model he’s become. Late last year, he hosted the first-ever Jordan Spieth Shootout and Charity Concert at the TPC Four Seasons Las Colinas in Irving. The event benefited the Jordan Spieth Charitable Fund, which supports initiatives for special needs youth, military families and junior golf.

Jordan Spieth is in a good place. He enjoyed a successful sophomore season on the PGA Tour. He’s still dating his high school sweetheart and even has a little time to hang out with the friends he grew up with. Still, there’s a determination in those eyes that suggests he can’t wait to get back to Augusta or any of the PGA Tour stops he now calls his office.

“I play 30 times in a year, so that’s 30 opportunities to win a golf tournament. Each week, I come in thinking that I can win,” he said with a gleam. “Ultimately, if I’m having fun with it and really enjoying traveling like I am, I have the best job in the world.”

Professional golf these days is impossible to predict, but it’s hard to count out a player with a win and five runner-up finishes in only 50 professional starts. Will 2015 be the year Spieth, who seems to do everything ahead of schedule, hoists a major championship trophy? Don’t count him out because he’s young.

Even on the PGA Tour, they grow up fast.

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