Spieth sparkles with U.S. Junior title
BEDMINSTER, N.J. – As the country’s top-ranked junior golfer, Jordan Spieth is by default one of the faces of junior golf in America.
Spieth hits his drives PGA Tour-pro lengths and his boyish charm around his elders complements his child-like enthusiasm.
He’s a good kid from Dallas that happens to be good at golf.
And now he has a U.S. Junior Amateur title to top his list of credentials.
“A great player and wonderful guy, and he knows how to win,” Donald Trump said. “So that’s why he’s the No. 1-ranked player.”
Trump’s Trump National Golf Club served as host to the U.S. Junior and U.S. Girls’ Junior, and “The Donald” – who carries a 3.8 handicap index – was ever-present throughout the week.
“I think he’d win against me,” Trump said of Spieth.
Mingling with a real-estate tycoon is just one of the perks Spieth enjoyed from his 4-and-3 victory over Jay Hwang. Another will be an exemption to the U.S. Amateur, held August 24-30 at Southern Hills.
“I’m excited to play in that for the first time,” said Spieth, who is the first player since Matthew Rosenfeld in 2000 to win medalist honors in stroke-play qualifying and go on to win the championship.
Another perk is having his name etched on the U.S. Junior Amateur trophy alongside the likes of Johnny Miller, David Duval, and Tiger Woods. Spieth, who is young enough to play in the next two U.S. Juniors, has a chance to match Woods’ record of three consecutive U.S. Junior titles.
“I thought about that the whole round today... everyone’s name on there,” Spieth said. “Not just Tiger’s, but Duval and all of them.”
To say he thought about the allure of having his name on the trophy all day is to say that Spieth pictured his name on the trophy throughout a grueling 33-hole fight.
Hwang, an relative unknown player outside of his home in San Diego, Calif., entered the match as a heavy underdog, but the Taiwanese native – who moved to the U.S. just last year – was all square with Spieth after the morning 18.
“I felt great,” said Hwang. “I hit it great on the range and felt really confident.”
Spieth, however, was clearly frustrated as he warmed up on the putting green minutes before his afternoon tee time. His dad, Shawn, was unsure of what he should tell his son. Even when Spieth holed two 8-footers, he implored his dad to help him.
“I don’t know what to say,” Shawn said at the time. “He just made two, so it looks fine to me.”
Shawn was not alone on the course. Many of Spieth’s extended family members made the 40-minute trip from Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley. Jordan’s grandmother, Pat, blew her grandson’s cover and said he had had a restless night in anticipation of the final match.
A noticeable buzz came from Pat and the rest of the gallery as Spieth made the turn with a 1-up lead. The match’s most pivotal turning point came at No. 11 where Spieth hit a half-wedge to tap-in range for birdie. Hwang failed to match and fell 2 down.
“That shot was huge,” Spieth said. “I thought he was going to make birdie and then (he) missed his putt. So I went to the next hole (and) said, ‘You’ve got to close the deal.’ ”
The swing on No. 11 would foreshadow pivotal moments on Nos. 12, 13 and 14.
Hwang failed to convert a 4-foot birdie putt on No. 12 and could not gain any ground. On No. 13, Spieth holed a 10-foot birdie putt to go 3 up and took full advantage of the huge wave of momentum that was rapidly turning in his favor.
Hwang’s chances ended on the 155-yard, par-3 14th that features an island green. His tee shot found the water and he was forced to concede the hole.
“I hit it normal, but the wind might’ve taken it a little bit,” said Hwang, who was then 4 down with four to play.
“When you’re dormie with four holes to play in a national championship, it’s just so difficult to come back from,” Spieth said.
Spieth’s national championship arrived on the 15th green. Hwang, mustering whatever courage he had left, holed a 15-footer for birdie to place a healthy amount of pressure on Spieth, who faced an 8-footer for birdie and the championship.
The putt went in.
“All kinds of things just rushed into my mind,” said Spieth. “I turned around to my caddie and said, ‘We did it,’ and gave a big old fist pump.”
With trophies come expectations and newfound responsibilities.
But for Spieth, those things are just part of the job.