Spieth, Park soar to AJGA Ping Invite titles
Before Jordan Spieth began a self-imposed five-month break, he wanted to end one dubious distinction. Despite all the hype surrounding one of the most talented juniors in the country, despite a momentous achievement this spring on the PGA Tour, despite four top-3 finishes in his past six starts, Spieth hadn’t won a national tournament in 15 months.
“I’ve been so hungry to get back in the winner’s circle in a big event,” said Spieth, Golfweek’s No. 3-ranked junior. “This summer, people were saying I’ve been in a little slump or whatever, but this has been the best ball-striking summer of my life.
“I wanted to come here and make sure that I really went low. And this week, I fought hard to get there.”
Already staked to a huge lead at the Ping Invitational, Spieth continued to pour in birdies Monday on his way to the most dominating performance ever in an AJGA invitational. With a final-round 70 at Karsten Creek – home of the Oklahoma State Cowboys and inarguably one of the most difficult college venues in the country – Spieth romped to a nine-shot victory, a season-defining performance in his final event of the year.
“It’s kind of hard to describe it,” said Spieth, 17, of Dallas. “I was just kind of in a zone and not really thinking. I wasn’t feeling anything. It was the first time I’ve had complete trust of all parts of my game in a long time. It’s the best tournament I’ve ever played in my life.”
First in Scotland, and now in Stillwater, Okla., this has been a memorable two-week stretch for one of the undisputed leaders of the U.S. Junior Ryder Cup team.
Spieth was undefeated last week in helping lead the U.S. team to victory at Gleneagles in Scotland, the Americans’ first win on European soil. He continued his torrid play at Karsten Creek, where in the second round he turned a one-shot deficit into a seven-shot lead. He finished at 8-under 208, and the nine-shot margin of victory over Emiliano Grillo was the largest ever in an AJGA invitational, breaking the record (eight) set previously by Gregor Main in 2007.
When reached by phone some two hours after the final round, Spieth still wasn’t aware of how historically lopsided his victory was.
“I still don’t know what that mark is,” he said, laughing. “Did I get that record?”
Of more importance to Spieth was finding his name atop the leaderboard again. Despite 14 top-10 finishes in AJGA invitationals in the past three seasons, this was his first national victory since the 2009 U.S. Junior. This, after two runner-up finishes at invitationals this season, at the HP Boys and Junior Players.
Indeed, prior to this resounding triumph at Karsten Creek, Spieth’s 2010 seemed destined to be remembered for his eye-opening performance at the Byron Nelson Classic, where in front of the home fans he tied for 16th in his first PGA Tour start.
Not anymore. This historic romp will send Spieth, a Texas commit, into the offseason brimming with confidence.
With five months off until his next scheduled start – either at the Jones Cup or AJGA HP Boys in February – Spieth intends to hit the gym with a personal trainer to add muscle, increase his swing speed and become one of the country’s longest-hitting teens. “It’s going to be a big transition that will hopefully carry me into more of a college golf mode,” he said.
His final junior tournament of the season couldn’t have gone much better. Leading by seven entering the final round of the Ping, Spieth ran off five birdies on his opening nine Monday to build an 11-shot lead at the turn. It was such a captivating performance, in fact, that several players headed back onto the course following the completion of their rounds. They weren’t treated to quite the same brilliance – Spieth came home in 39, including a birdie on the par-5 finishing hole – but it was a historic result, nonetheless.
“Playing Karsten Creek,” Spieth said, “you’re tested in every part of your game. So it was nice to have a performance like this.”
The Ping victory also capped a resurgent year for Kristen Park, who won three times on the AJGA circuit. Prior to her victory at the Rolex Tournament of Champions, Park hadn’t won a significant title since the 2007 U.S. Girls’ Junior, where at age 14 she became the fourth-youngest winner in tournament history.
Park, 17, overcame a two-shot deficit in the final round of the Ping by running off four birdies in a six-hole stretch on her opening nine to vault past leader Kyung Kim. Park closed with a 5-under 67 – matching the low score of the week – and finished at 5-under 211, five shots clear of Shannon Aubert (72) and Kim (75).
“I’ve been working hard this year,” said Park, of Buena Park, Calif., “and this is one tournament I’ve always wanted to win.”