The price paid by Jordan Spieth for winning his first professional event at age 19 was the enormous expectations it created, the notion that a bunch of wins should follow. That’s why when he contended at the Masters and didn’t win in 2014, there were more questions than backslaps. When he contended at the Players Championship a month later but failed to hold the trophy, some wondered if he didn’t have what it takes. And when the 2013-2014 PGA Tour season came and went without a second PGA Tour title, it was viewed in some circles as a disappointment.
Consider: in two years as a pro, Spieth had won more than $8.2-million. He had a victory on the PGA Tour and a total of 17 top-10 finishes, including five runner-ups. And that was considered a bad thing? Spieth would have difficulty renting a car and would be in his senior year at the University of Texas had he not turned pro at the end of 2012. He’s 21 and doing quite nicely. Especially now that he has a green jacket in his closet as well. Spieth’s victory at the Masters was about as impressive as win could be, as he tied Tiger Woods’ tournament scoring record of 270, 18 under par, to beat Phil Mickelson and Justin Rose by two strokes.
It was his second victory in a month, gave him three PGA Tour wins and five professional victories worldwise, and moved him to No. 2 in the world behind Rory McIlroy. “It’s incredible,” Spieth said after shooting a final-round 70 to capture his first major championship. “It’s one of the best feelings I’ve ever felt. This was arguably the greatest day of my life. And to join the club that is the green jackets and to join Masters history and put my name on that trophy and to have this jacket forever, it something that I can’t fathom right now.” All of it was set up by a strong end to 2014 that gave him a boost into the new year.
Spieth posted consecutive victories 16 time zones apart at the end of 2014, first winning the Australian Open by six strokes in Sydney, then traveling all the way to Florida to win the Hero World Challenge by nine strokes at Isleworth. The latter tournament consisted of just 16 players, but it had an all-star cast and is the annual tournament that benefits Tiger Woods’ foundation. It also offered world ranking points, so it was no small victory. Then came an early push in 2015 that saw Spieth continue his good play, posting 8 top-10 worldwide finishes in 11 starts through the Valero Texas Open, where he finished second – coming off a thrilling playoff victory at the Valspar Championship, which gave him his second PGA Tour title. “The main goal is to improve each and every year a little bit,” Spieth said. “Get a little better every year.”
While some of the close calls earlier in 2014 might have been frustrating, Spieth has taken the patient approach and managed to block out any noise that he was under-performing. Had he turned pro, won a bunch of money, played in several major championships, contended a few times but generally stayed out of the spotlight, wouldn’t we say he’s off to a nice start in his career? That 2013 victory at the John Deere Classic – in a sudden-death playoff – seemed to change the outlook and increase the pressure to add more victories. Suddenly he was expected to be a young Rory McIlroy or even Tiger Woods. “Nothing about that tournament was negative,” Spieth said of his playoff victory over Zach Johnson and David Hearn, one that got him in the following week’s Open Championship and set up him up for the career success he is having now.
“That changed my entire golfing life. I didn’t have full status. I was going to gain one year status the following year, but that allowed me to play in the playoffs in 2013, which then got the Presidents Cup. “I mean, it was a huge, huge win that only gave me a lot of positive to look back on. Any expectations that you talk about…the expectations should be what I put on myself. I understand that when I’m out here and one of the young guys, people want to see somebody come up and do what Tiger did and change the generation of golf. That’s not necessarily what I’m out here to do. I’m out here to try and win each tournament I’m in.” “If you happen to win majors, which is the ultimate goal, then great. Pick a strategy to do so. But right now I look at No. 1 in the world Rory McIlroy, what he did (in 2014), and I’m trying to chase him more than I am anything else. So the expectations I put on myself are probably higher than what anybody else puts on me.”
Spieth’s year-end run was the impetus to 2015 success. He had a third-place finish at the Dunlap Phoenix in Japan the week prior to winning in Australia, then followed that up with the win at Isleworth. “He’s very solid all the way around,” said Henrik Stenson, who played with Spieth at Isleworth and finished runner-up. “No real weaknesses. We’re going to see a lot of him for years to come.” The win at the Valspar came after some clutching short-game play down the stretch. He defeated Patrick Reed and Sean O’Hair on the third extra hole after needing a good recovery shot on the 72nd hole just to get in the playoff. And he credits improved putting for being a big factor.
“Especially putting down the stretch,” Spieth said. “That’s something that in those wins at the end of last year, I putted incredibly well on Sunday just the whole day and proved to myself that I could do that. Because when I was in contention prior I struggled with those 5-, 6-footers or even 4-footers that I needed or just to make even a 15-, 18-footer, just have something in, from a decent range.” “When you’re tense and the pressure is on, I really needed to make some putts. You’re shaking, your stroke doesn’t feel as comfortable as it does on Thursday morning and it’s about controlling that, seeing the line and still hitting it.” And all of it has led to bigger goals and dreams. “I’d like to at some point be the No. 1-ranked player in the world, that’s the pinnacle of golf,” he said. “I’d like to win at least one major championship, try to get one before we look forward from there. But ultimately I’d like to be one of the best players to ever play the game. I don’t think that’s a conceited statement, I think it’s just something that I’ve always wanted to be since I was a kid and have a chance to do and I’m really lucky that I do have a chance to do it.” All of this is for a guy who would still be in college, would be unable to rent a car and who clearly is on his way to achieving his goals. Not bad for a 21-year-old who has plenty of time to keep accumulating trophies.
April 01, 2015