Spieth, 20, strives for normalcy as star status rises
Sunday, April 13, 2014
AUGUSTA, Ga. – Last fall Jordan Spieth bought his first house in Dallas. Spieth’s mom, Chris, said there are a few pieces of golf memorabilia sitting around the main living area. A putter collection hangs in the hallway. There’s an autographed picture of Ryder Cup captains, a few pieces of Texas memorabilia, and a photo of Amen Corner, a birthday gift from a friend after his victory at the John Deere Classic assured the invitation.
“He doesn’t have stuff about himself, and he doesn’t want it that way,” said Chris, who has her oldest son’s John Deere trophy in the family game room and his Gator in the driveway. Spieth’s President’s Cup bag is hidden in his bedroom. Most junior trophies are in his parents’ attic.
That’s the beauty of Spieth, an extraordinary 20-year-old who wants to be nothing more than ordinary when he walks off the golf course.
Spieth heads into his first Sunday at the Masters playing in the final group with 2012 winner Bubba Watson. While more experienced elders struggled on a fast track, Spieth posted a gutsy 2-under 70 to become one of only four players to open his Masters career with three consecutive rounds under par.
“Tomorrow is about seeing how I can control my game and emotions out on the golf course against guys that have even won here recently,” Spieth said.
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Heading into 2014, Spieth’s goal was to be in contention on Sunday at a major to see how he’d handle it.
“That goal could change quickly,” said Jordan’s dad Shawn late Saturday on the 17th hole.
For weeks now Spieth has quelled the notion that being a first-timer here was some kind of handicap. Only three players in Masters history have won in their first appearance, with Fuzzy Zoeller being the last do it in 1979. That means little to the Texas prodigy.
Should Spieth triumph on Sunday at 20 years, 8 months and 16 days, he’d eclipse Tiger Woods as the youngest to win the Masters. (Woods was 21 years, 3 months and 14 days in 1997.)
When Spieth won the Deere last summer, he became the first teenager to win on the PGA Tour since Ralph Guldahl won the 1931 Santa Monica Open.
None of this, of course, is new to Shawn and Chris, who joined Brookhaven Country Club when Spieth was 8 years old, for its family atmosphere.
Chris, a Division III basketball player, signed up her two boys for the summer swim team to get them up and moving early in the mornings. From the pool, Spieth watched older boys hit balls on the range and told his mother the next summer he wanted to give that a try. Before she knew it, a self-taught Spieth was winning golf tournaments.
At age 11, Spieth easily won his age division at the Starburst Junior Golf Classic in Waco, Texas. The next year he told his parents he wanted to play in the championship division, which included kids up to 18 years old.
“You’re 12,” they reminded him.
Jordan didn’t care. He didn’t want to win a trophy for beating kids his age. He wanted a trophy for beating everyone.
The summer after seventh grade, Spieth won the championship division.
What patrons are seeing this week at Augusta is simply more of the same.
Spieth refers to the game’s legends with the same kind of awe and respect he gives Augusta National. It’s a testament to the way he was raised.
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“Mr. Crenshaw was very helpful,” Spieth said. “I had a little talk with Mr. Nicklaus and he helped me out, this was Wednesday evening at dinner here.”
Nicklaus said earlier in the week that he spoke with a rookie on Wednesday night and gave insight into his first time at the Masters.
“I said, ‘Well, I don't want to change what you're thinking about anything in the golf tournament or not,” Nicklaus said, “but I remember coming here as a first‑timer myself, and I played the golf course and I hit 31 out of the first 36 greens, and I missed the cut. I had three‑putted eight times.”
His advice: hit to the middle of the greens.
To his credit, Spieth said he has never picked so many targets in the middle of the green. Not only picked them, but committed to them.
Joining Spieth on this magical ride are three high school buddies and Annie, his girlfriend since high school.
After golf Spieth goes over to his agent’s rented house to have dinner and play ping pong or pool with his lifelong pals, none of whom are particularly serious golfers. There are no groupies in Team Spieth.
Eric Leyendecker, Hays Myers and Blaine Simmons are still in college and say Spieth loves to come visit the life he left behind. Of course, the envy runs both ways.
Spieth and Simmons, Team Longhorns, owned the pool table on Friday night. And while the three amigos didn’t talk golf, they know when it’s time for their famous friend to focus.
“For example, last night when 10 o’clock came, he said, “Alright, I’ve got a tournament to play,’ ” said Myers.
Spieth was the first to leave.
Younger brother, Steven, a freshman basketball player at Brown who at 6-feet-6-inches is easy to spot amongst the Georgia pines, had 280 texts on his phone after Friday’s round.
Friends say the support system Spieth enjoys plays a big part in his success.
The only thing missing this week is younger sister Ellie, who at 13 is Spieth’s inspiration. Ellie’s special needs have taught the family more about patience and perseverance than any test of golf.
“I don’t think they’d be the kids they are today without her,” Chris said.
All kinds of extraordinary.
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