ADA, Mich. – Jordan Spieth slipped his putter back into his bag and stood on the edge of the 18th green, hands clasped behind his neck as he looked back down the fairway. Shaking his head, he trudged up the massive hill behind the green at Egypt Valley Country Club, where he chatted with a few friends and removed his white Titleist hat, brushing the sweat from his forehead. A few moments later, he took off his cap, again, and tugged at his shirt. Over and over, he took off his hat and tugged at his shirt.
Surely, it was an uncomfortable feeling, losing at a championship in which he was expected to romp.
In a finish played out in front of a stunned gallery, Spieth lost to 14-year-old Robby Shelton, 1 up, in the second round of match play Thursday at the U.S. Junior Amateur, the most shocking development on a chaotic, weather-plagued day. Yes, Spieth, the defending champion who made national headlines earlier this year with a strong showing at the PGA Tour’s Byron Nelson Championship, had bowed out to an unheralded kid from Wilmer, Ala., of whom he’d never heard.
“Honestly, it went by so fast coming in that I’m just sort of shocked that it’s over,” Spieth said. “That’s what happens in match play, but that was a very poor performance on my part.”
Particularly startling was the finish. One up with two to play, Spieth failed to birdie the par-5 17th, then three-putted from the front of the 18th green, losing both holes and the match.
“I was very amazed,” said Shelton, No. 229 in Golfweek’s Junior Rankings. “All I could think about was taking him as far as I could, and I took him all the way.”
Spieth, meanwhile, struggled to find the answers. Having shown no signs of wayward play throughout the first three days of this championship, he seemed a safe bet to become only the second player to win multiple Junior Amateur titles.
“Nothing felt on today, and you can’t hold it together. You can’t shoot 4, 5, 6 under par for six rounds straight; it just doesn’t happen,” said Spieth, a University of Texas commitment from Dallas who will turn 17 on Tuesday. “If you can win on your off day, you’re in good shape. And unfortunately, it ended like that.”
After he spoke for 15 minutes in front of the Egypt Valley clubhouse, Spieth headed to the practice green. There he approached Shelton, who was stroking a few putts in preparation for his afternoon match against Andrew Lister.
“That was amazing,” Spieth told him. “Really amazing.”
Rarely has a player stood up to Spieth, the most prominent junior player, on such a grand stage. That the challenge came from Shelton, who in June won the Future Masters for the third consecutive year – a feat topped only by PGA Tour player Charles Howell III – was little surprise to Shelton’s caddie, Brian Barkeley.
“People were telling me before the round that you have to add a couple of strokes when you’re playing with Jordan,” said Barkeley, whose group had by far the biggest following – and distraction – in Round 2 of match play, with spectators ruffling their pairing sheets and walking the edges of the fairway.
“But with Robby, it doesn’t matter who he’s playing against. He’s just so steady.”
In fact, Barkeley said he was so confident, “I told everyone that they had to come out and watch this kid, because he’s going to do something special.”
Despite lagging about 40 yards behind Spieth off the tee, Shelton took an early lead, drained a lengthy putt from the secondary cut of fringe to save par on the ninth and stay close, and by the 13th hole, he was back to all square.
Spieth lamented what transpired on the 15th, where he tugged his drive into the left rough, chopped out and advanced the ball near the green. But his approach hit into the face of a steep bank in front of the green and kicked right, into gnarly, 4-inch rough. From there, he pitched on and missed a 5-footer for par, losing the hole.
“I make that on the practice green 100 times in a row,” Spieth said. “I was just too tentative. I didn’t trust anything today, and that’s what happens.”
Spieth recovered with a birdie on the par-3 16th, but a wayward drive on the 17th forced him to lay up on the par 5. With a lob wedge, Spieth spun his third shot to about 12 feet, leaving a big-breaking putt across a ridge. Shelton, from a few yards closer, played left of the flag and gave himself an easier birdie putt up the hill.
Spieth missed, Shelton made from 8 feet, and the match no one expected to last the duration was headed to the 18th tee.
“After I made that putt,” Shelton said, “I knew I could do it.”
After finding the fairway with their tee shots, both players came up short of the elevated green at the closing hole. Shelton stubbed his chip shot, the ball rolling some 6 feet short of the cup. Needing only to cozy the ball up close for a tap-in par, Spieth blasted his first putt through the fringe and some 12 feet past the hole, leaving a delicate left-to-right breaker.
“I stepped over it to take my practice strokes and didn’t feel comfortable and stepped off,” Spieth said. “And it wasn’t nerves or anything; I just didn’t see it being that fast. My putting, in general, was awful the entire day.”
When he struck the second putt too firmly, and the ball caught the left edge and spun out right, Spieth hunched over and dropped his putter between his legs. After his bogey putt was conceded, he hung his putter over his head and walked to the front of the green.
Given a chance to close out the third-ranked player in the world, Shelton steadied his nerves – and his hands – and stroked the putt right into the middle of the cup.
“It was pretty incredible to see the ball go in,” Barkeley said. “To see that little smile on his face, because that’s about all you’ll get from him, that was pretty special.”
Spieth hung around the 18th green for a few moments, perhaps to reflect on an opportunity lost. The same opportunity squandered Thursday by stroke-play medalist Curtis Thompson, and international phenom Emiliano Grillo, and ’09 quarterfinalist Cameron Wilson, all of whom lost on Day 2. That, of course, mattered little to Spieth once he made it to the top of the hill near the clubhouse, where he shook hands with friends and fellow competitors Justin Thomas and Sam Straka.
“I’m not exactly shocked at the way I played; I’m shocked at the way I handled it,” Spieth said. “I was too sure of myself. I wouldn’t say I got cocky out there. I would just say that I thought I had it.
“I got too emotional. I think it’s because it was so easy for me the first few rounds, so easy that I didn’t have to handle any emotions.”
Now he’s dealing with a disappointment few could have predicted.
Results from the second round of match play at the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship, played July 22 at Egypt Valley Country Club in Ada, Mich:
ROUND OF 32
Denny McCarthy def. Curtis Thompson, 3 and 2
Devon Purser def. Adam Ball, 4 and 2
Richard Jung def. Sam Straka, 5 and 3
Ben Warnquist def. Bryson Dechambeau, 3 and 2
Scott Wolfes def. Aaron Kunitomo, 2 up
Zachary Wright def. Lee McCoy, 1 up
Justin Thomas def. Khaled Attieh, 5 and 3
Jorge Fernandez Valdes def. Cameron Wilson, 2 and 1
Robby Shelton def. Jordan Spieth, 1 up
Andrew Lister def. Stephen Behr, 21 holes
Anthony Paolucci def. Andrew Fogg, 4 and 3
Charles Martin def. Emilliano Grillo, 1 up
Gavin Hall def. Alexander Schauffele, 1 up
Jonathan Garrick def. Charlie Saxon, 3 and 1
Jim Liu def. Davis Womble, 8 and 7
Cody Proveaux def. Oliver Schniederjans, 3 and 2
• • •
ROUND OF 64
Curtis Thompson def. Scottie Scheffler, 3 and 1
Denny McCarthy def. Grayson Murray, 1 up
Devon Purser def. Shugo Imahira, 1 up
Adam Ball def. Marcel Puyat, 4 and 3
Richard Jung def. Max Carter, 3 and 2
Sam Straka def. Brian Jung, 1 up
Ben Warnquist def. Peter Mathison, 5 and 4
Bryson Dechambeau def. William Zalatoris, 4 and 2
Aaron Kuitomo def. Wilson Bateman, 20 holes
Scott Wolfes def. Alberto Sanchez, 1 up
Lee McCoy def. J. D. Tomlinson, 1 up
Zachary Wright def. Matthew Mabrey, 1 up
Justin Thomas def. Andrew Ariens, 5 and 3
Khaled Attieh def. Branson Davis, 1 up
Jorge Fernandez Valdes def. Bobby Wyatt, 3 and 2
Cameron Wilson def. Kevin Lee, 6 and 5
Jordan Spieth def. Chelso Barrett, 7 and 5
Robby Shelton def. Ben Crancer, 3 and 2
Andrew Lister def. David Flynn, 7 and 5
Stephen Behr def. Justin Keiley, 2 and 1
Andrew Fogg def. Wyndham Clark, 1 up
Anthony Paolucci def. Dan Slavin, 3 and 1
Emiliano Grillo def. Nicholas Scott, 5 and 3
Charles Martin def. Anton Arboldea, 2 and 1
Gavin Hall def. Brandon Ng, 3 and 2
Alexander Schauffele def. David Lee, 19 holes
Jonathan Garrick def. Michael Bernard, 3 and 2
Charlie Saxon def. Kyle Kochevar, 4 and 3
Davis Womble def. Joey Petronio, 1 up
Jim Liu def. Peter Kim, 2 up
Cody Proveaux def. Austin Smotherman, 7 and 6
Oliver Schniederjans def. McCabe Buege, 1 up