WINDERMERE, Fla. – Could he be doing it again? On a sun-drenched Sunday afternoon at Isleworth, Texas sophomore Toni Hakula walked up the hill to the 18th green, saw the massive white leaderboard and laughed. A red “5” was affixed next to Jordan Spieth’s name, and the freshman was only through 15 holes.
Hakula turned to Longhorns assistant coach Ryan Murphy and asked bemusedly: “How does that guy play so many low rounds?”
“He’s just not afraid to do it,” replied Murphy, perhaps imparting a lesson. “He goes after it all the time.”
For Spieth, that full-throttle attitude hasn’t translated to a college victory. Yet. He had a share of the 36-hole lead three weeks ago at the Jerry Pate Intercollegiate. He had a two-shot lead with three holes to play a week later at Muirfield Village. He failed to win both times, but he’s again in position to score his first college title, this time at the Isleworth Collegiate Invitational. Through two rounds Spieth is at 6-under 138, four shots clear of Stanford’s Patrick Rodgers and Andrew Yun.
“He’s learning as he goes,” said Texas coach John Fields. “He’s been a great closer in junior golf; I’ve seen him some 60 rounds, and most of the time he’s gotten it done. But this is golf, and sometimes you don’t close it out.”
Will it be different this time? Spieth’s opening-round 65 tied the men’s competitive course record at Isleworth. He shot 73 Monday in windy conditions but stayed four shots ahead. Even better: Top-ranked Texas leads the team race, again, after winning earlier this season at the Jerry Pate and Jack Nicklaus Invitational. At 2-under 574, the Longhorns have a 10-shot lead over LSU, while North Florida (587), Stanford (590) and Alabama (591) round out the top 5.
“We’re going to every event with the mind-set that we can win,” said Hakula, a sophomore. “We haven’t had that in a while.”
A big reason for the Longhorns’ early-season success undoubtedly revolves around senior Dylan Frittelli, the No. 1 player in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, who has two runner-up finishes this season. But more important to their long-term outlook is Spieth, 18. The two-time U.S. Junior champion arrived on campus with outsized expectations, having made the cut in two PGA Tour events during which his face was beamed all across the country.
In three months in Austin, he has lived up to the hype and been the “ultimate teammate,” Fields said. Half of Spieth’s eight rounds have been in the 60s, and he’s at least given him a chance to win the individual lead in all three starts. In that sense, Hakula said, “he doesn’t seem like a freshman.”
Though Spieth, the No. 2-ranked player in the country, said he’s “satisfied” with the start to his college career, he’s ready to join fellow freshmen Justin Thomas (Carpet Capital), Rodgers (Olympia Fields) and Cheng-Tsung Pan (Prestige at PGA West) in the win column.
“I don’t know what it is. Maybe just being too antsy, with it being a new stage for me,” Spieth said. “I need to calm myself down and say, ‘Hey, this is just like high school golf.’ Maybe that mind-set will help.”