After making birdie at the par-4 10th hole in the final round of last year’s HP Byron Nelson Championship, Jordan Spieth was within three shots of a Sunday PGA Tour lead.
Rather than moving slowly and taking in the experience, Spieth, 16 at the time, was focused on keeping the mood light.
“It was just completely unlike anything I’ve ever experienced,” Spieth said recently. “I think what stuck out the most was that I was really into it with my caddie. We were going back and forth, and I didn’t really understand how big the stage was until after.”
The gallery understood how big of a moment it was for the hometown kid, who grew up in Dallas. Jason Day, the tournament’s eventual champion, noticed how much attention Spieth received.
“I was walking to the fourth hole, and it looked like there was a thousand people following him,” Day told reporters after the tournament. “It took a little bit of pressure off my shoulders knowing that the good majority of the fans that were following me were close friends and family.”
Spieth struggled down the stretch on that Sunday, making two bogeys and a double in his final six holes (he also birdied the par-5 16th), ultimately finishing six shots behind Day, in a tie for 16th. This week, coming off his third consecutive Texas 5A state high school championship, Spieth is back at TPC Four Seasons Las Colinas, playing on another sponsor exemption and trying to re-live some of last year’s magic.
“There are more expectations this year because of what happened last year,” said Spieth, who will attend the University of Texas in the fall. “But winning state (last week) gave me a lot of confidence going into the Byron.
“I feel like I’m a better player than I was last year, so we’ll see how quickly I can get settled in.”
Part of the reason for the improved game, Spieth says, is his offseason training regiment. Golfweek’s No. 2-ranked junior says he put on 20 pounds since last year, not traveling for a tournament from October (when he won the Ping Invitational by nine shots) to February (when he lost in a playoff at the Jones Cup), instead opting to work out and work on his game.
“I just wanted to get ready for college golf and get my body ready for traveling all the time and the workouts they do at Texas,” Spieth said. “It’s made me a lot more consistent. I’m now just figuring out how to balance the two – my body changes and my swing changes.”
This week, Spieth is focused fully on the Nelson, where he will have future teammate and roommate Kramer Hickok on the bag. But talking to him, it’s not hard to figure out what the 2009 U.S. Junior champion has his eyes on this year.
“My major goal this year is to make the Walker Cup team,” he said.
Spieth was one of 16 high-profile amateurs – and the only junior player – who were invited to a Walker Cup practice session at Old Memorial Golf Club in Tampa, Fla. Spieth will play his final U.S. Junior in July, but the rest of the summer will consist of playing top-notch amateur events with the hopes of making the Walker Cup team.
“The juniors don’t really get a ton of credit towards the Walker Cup selection, obviously, just because experience playing on a big stage is so huge – and not a lot of juniors get that,” Spieth said. “But I’ve had a couple of good events, and I think I’m on the radar now.”