AUSTIN, Texas – Standing in the cool brown halls of the University of Texas’ golf center Tuesday, Jordan Spieth barely looked old enough to have left this complex behind. He clutched a 4-iron while reporters – many from local Austin affiliates – grilled him on a Ryder Cup selection less than 48 hours old.
As Spieth noted a little over halfway through the interview, he technically could still be in Austin. Had he not left the Longhorns roster two years early to join the PGA Tour, he would be just finishing his college career. Given the spoils – a John Deere Classic victory, PGA Tour Rookie of the Year honors and now a spot on the Ryder Cup team – the decision, in retrospect, was sound.
Spieth’s return to Austin marked the first time he has hosted an AJGA event bearing his name. Nearly a dozen PGA and LPGA Tour players did something similar in 2014, making up a good portion of the AJGA’s 2014 tournament schedule.
The biggest difference is that Spieth just passed his 21st birthday and played an AJGA event three years ago. The next-youngest tour player to host a similar event this year was fellow rookie Ryder Cupper Patrick Reed, who just turned 24.
“I call them kids, but they’re only a few years younger than me,” Spieth said of the field at his AJGA event, the Under Armour/Jordan Spieth Championship.
Spieth played an AJGA event at the University of Texas Golf Club before entering his freshman year in high school. He calls the AJGA the biggest reason Texas head coach John Fields sought him out for his roster. Junior golf gave him exposure, and sent him to the next level with a feeling of preparedness.
“Transitioning into college golf wasn’t that hard because of the way junior golf is structured,” Spieth said. He’s the first player among his peers to reach the Tour and find success there.
Standing in front of dozens of teenagers on the back of the range Tuesday during his clinic – and posing for pictures with them or surprising them in the scoring tent at the 18th – helped put in perspective how Spieth truly fast-tracked the path to success. The University of Texas Golf Club is a place rich in golf memorabilia, and Spieth’s presence is there among Longhorn legends like Ben Crenshaw, Tom Kite and Justin Leonard.
The walls of the golf team’s indoor hitting bay are covered floor to ceiling with score sheets from Texas victories. Spieth’s name is on many of the least-faded sheets. After his interview, he darted through the open door of Fields’ office. In short, he still knows his way around the place.
First-round leader Jacob Eklund missed his first day of junior year at Carterville High School near Carbondale, Ill., to be at this tournament, in part because he wanted to play Spieth’s event.
“I kind of look up to him,” said Eklund. “Very impressive what he’s done at an early age.”
Peers mention Spieth’s name from time to time because they’ve seen their games stack up to his. As the final round of the Western Intercollegiate, a prestigious college event Texas won in 2012 with Spieth on the roster, was ending on Masters Sunday, Spieth was playing through Amen Corner at Augusta National. The cheers were doubly loud in the clubhouse at Pasatiempo Golf Club in Santa Cruz, Calif. Spieth is college golf’s strongest connection to the Tour.
“I miss having so many friends around me,” Spieth said Tuesday. “… In the next couple of years, some of my friends will be out there.”
Asked Tuesday if his heart skips a beat when he turns his head on the first tee to see Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson beside him, Spieth shrugged. They’re peers now.
“It is humbling to be around them once you really realize what these accomplishments mean,” Spieth said.
For the junior golfers in his namesake tournament, the best advice Spieth could offer was to pick a goal and deconstruct it.
“Whatever goal you’re going to set, make sure you understand what that’s going to take,” he said.
The Ryder Cup was a goal Spieth set two years ago, and one that could be achieved “if everything went right.” Bigger goals include winning a major championship and rising to No. 1 in the world.
“I don’t necessarily know what that takes,” Spieth said.
So far, he’s been good at finding out.