Following a final-round 65, Jordan Spieth reflects on his win at the 2013 John Deere Classic with Doug Bell from PGA TOUR Radio on PGATOUR.COM and SiriusXM.
Now that the FedExCup Playoffs have come down to the final two events, it’s clear they have come of age, evolving into a focused, highly competitive, high-energy winnowing process that strongly reflects the results of the PGA TOUR season and the major championships while still allowing for a few tantalizing upset possibilities.
Among the most intriguing, poised along with the fittest who have survived and are atop the field of 70 at this week’s BMW Championship, is a player who began the season with the modest goal of making it to the Web.com Tour.
Sitting at No. 10 on the FedExCup points list is PGA TOUR rookie Jordan Spieth, who made no preseason watch lists and no doubt went undrafted in all office golf pools. He started his season as a 19-year-old with a glittering amateur resume, one year of college golf at the University of Texas, no playing status on any tour, a Thursday qualifier just trying to make it to Monday qualifying to get into a tournament.
All that changed when Spieth marched to a historic victory in July, winning the John Deere Classic to become the first teenager in 82 years to win on TOUR. Along the way, he turned 20, collected eight top 10s, made the Playoffs and has emerged as quite possibly the best of a strong crop of players in their 20s.
After surviving the three-way, five-hole playoff at the John Deere that included former Masters champion and 2012 John Deere champ Zach Johnson and David Hearn, Spieth’s reaction was the jumble of thoughts and emotions you might expect from any teenager. It’s worth revisiting.
“I didn't think it would happen this early,” he said. “A year ago we had just won a National Championship, and I thought I'd be back at school right now. It's probably a good thing right now that I'm not. Well, maybe it would have been better if I was.
“But, no, I mean, I had a plan. I guess the plan got exceeded. I wanted to just earn my TOUR card for next year this year somehow, and now to be able to have it for a couple of years and to be able to have an exemption to Augusta, I mean, all the stuff that comes with it, be able to play in the Playoffs. It hasn't hit me yet, and it will.”
It has. Since then Spieth has had another runner-up finish (a playoff loss to Patrick Reed at the Wyndham Championship) and a tie for fourth at the Deutsche Bank Championship, after which he was, with 28-year-old Webb Simpson, picked for The Presidents Cup team by U.S. Captain Fred Couples.
Golf history has a strange way of brushing up against itself and intersecting at some unexpected junctures. This amazing season of Jordan Spieth has reminded some of the 1996 debut season of Tiger Woods. This is mainly because Woods also began his rookie year with no playing status and, until now, was the only such player to have gone from card-less to the TOUR Championship by playing his way into the Top 30.
Spieth is now a lock to replicate that feat. There have been other comparisons to Woods. Spieth (2009, '11) and Woods (1991-93) are the only players to win multiple U.S. Junior Amateurs. Spieth's first TOUR victory came at age 19, while Woods won his first at 20. And Spieth did get his first victory at the John Deere Classic, something Woods was poised to do in 1996 when the tournament was called the Quad Cities Classic and he held the 54-hole lead. But in an indication of what definitely was not to come, Woods fell apart and was edged on Sunday by Ed Fiori.
All of these comparisons may be inevitable, but they are premature and sometimes odious. A virtual armada of promising young golf careers have run aground when players in their 20s have been identified as the “Next Nicklaus” and, in recent years, the “Next Tiger.” Think Hal Sutton as one Bear Apparent who never approached Nicklaus and most recently Anthony Kim as a player who was ID’d as the next Woods.
All we really know right now is that Jordan Spieth is a special player, one with a great short game and a good mind for the game who has shown course management acumen beyond his years and an ability to respond to the pressure of the moment with a fair degree of aplomb.
Take his recent performance at the Deutsche Bank, which served as a final audition for The Presidents Cup team. He stated his case by shooting a final-round 62 that included a finishing flourish of three birdies and an eagle.
This is strong stuff. But it’s the early days in Spieth’s career. Rather than placing an undue burden on the kid, comparing him to the only player in history to actually take a career-long run at Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 major championships and Sam Snead’s total win record of 82, it might be prudent to take a breath.
Remember that Rory McIlroy is only 24 years old and that 23-year-old Patrick Reed – one of the eight PGA TOUR players in his 20s to get his first win in 2013 – beat Spieth in a playoff at the Wyndham Championship.
Right now, Spieth is a fine young player, one of a group of strong performers who are emerging in this era of youth on TOUR that is beginning to rival the “Young Lions” of the mid-1970s. That group starred Tom Watson, Johnny Miller, Hubert Green, Ben Crenshaw, Jerry Pate and Lanny Wadkins, when all of them were under 30 and loaded for the Golden Bear. While in their 20s, they accounted for a total of 70 TOUR victories, a haul that included seven major championships.
History takes its time. There will be some made in the next two weeks, and much more in the decade to come. Jordan Spieth has a good chance to be part of it. We’ll see.
Larry Dorman is a freelance columnist for PGATOUR.COM. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the PGA TOUR.