MEMPHIS, Tenn. – When arguably the best baseball player of my generation, Ken Griffey Jr., a guy nicknamed “The Kid,” retired last week, I officially felt old.
But at least my “where has the time gone?” moment didn’t hit so close to home as it did for 50-year-old Tom Pernice Jr. He was paired with teen sensation Jordan Spieth, who called him “Mr. Pernice,” during the third round of the HP Byron Nelson Championship.
Ouch. Spieth is nothing if not polite, but that had to sting.
“I had no idea what I should call him, because he has a daughter that’s my age, and I don’t call my friends’ parents by their first name,” Spieth, 16, explained that day. “So I was kinda going back and forth, and I ended up just screwing it all together. I was just like, ‘Good shot’ and I wouldn’t say anything after that.”
He and Pernice got it figured out at the St. Jude Classic.
“He wants Tom,” said Spieth, the reigning U.S. Junior Amateur champion, who received a sponsor’s exemption into the field as reigning Rolex AJGA Player of the Year. “I was hitting balls with him on the range yesterday. He gave me a few pointers for this week.”
Spieth did pretty well on his own at his hometown Tour event, finishing T-16 at the HP Byron Nelson Championship last month.
When Spieth returned to school following his stellar performance, he received a standing ovation in class.
“They knew it would embarrass me,” he said.
But Spieth doesn’t have the makings of a kid who’s getting a big head. Confident, maybe. Listen to him discuss how he feels on the eve of his second Tour start: “I’m not as anxious,” he said. “I feel like I’ve been here before I guess.”
Kids these days. How quickly they do grow up. From starry-eyed teenager to been there, done that – all in one fell swoop. Spieth’s done interviews, photo shoots and tasted stardom. He’s also made up the class time he missed, hunkered down for exams and hasn’t practiced much lately. He blamed a balky putter for his eighth-place finish at the AJGA Thunderbird International Junior held May 28-31.
“I was rusty,” he said.
This summer he will play the U.S. Amateur, the Texas State Amateur, the Western Amateur and sprinkle in a few junior events. But after missing out on the U.S. Open and with school exams behind him, what will Spieth do next week when the St. Jude Classic is over?
“I’m going home and taking a big old nap the whole day,” he said.
Oh, to be young again.