With pressure off, Spieth making run at improbable Playoff berth

Spieth interview after Round 2 of AT&T National

Following a second-round 66, Jordan Spieth reflects on his play in the 2013 AT&T National with Fred Albers from PGA TOUR Radio on PGATOUR.COM and SiriusXM.

June 28, 2013
Brian Wacker,

BETHESDA, Md. -- There’s a marketing campaign at the PGA TOUR called “Born for This,” and it applies to Jordan Spieth as much as anyone these days.

When Spieth was 7 years old, he wanted to play golf against the 13-year-olds.

When there was only time for nine holes, he wanted to go all 18.

By the time he was 14, Spieth was finding his own way to American Junior Golf Association events because both his parents had to work.

When he wanted to leave the University of Texas mid-way through his sophomore season and turn pro, his parents thought, ‘Why not finish out the school year?’

“He always wanted to go to the next level,” Spieth’s mom Chris said. “even when we didn’t always want him to.

“He made the decision (to turn pro). It wasn’t us. But he had a plan.”

That plan has come together better than anyone could have expected for the 19-year-old.

After turning pro in December, Spieth began this year without status on any tour. His first two starts came on the Web.com Tour in Panama and Colombia.

After top-10 finishes in both, he started cashing in on sponsor exemptions on the PGA TOUR.

As a non-member, Spieth was limited to seven of them, but four starts in he had fared well enough to earn special temporary membership for the rest of the season, meaning he could accept unlimited exemptions.

Along the way was a runner-up in Puerto Rico, a tie for seventh in Tampa, a tie for ninth in Hilton Head, and another tie for seventh at Colonial in his hometown of Dallas.

Then there is this week’s AT&T National, which had Spieth known he was already in for next week’s event in West Virginia, he might have skipped.

It’s a good thing he didn’t.

Spieth shot a 66 Friday to take a share of the second-round lead at 7 under with Roberto Castro at Congressional, where play was suspended due to weather. (The round will resume at 7 a.m. ET Saturday.)

“It's been a great dream come true this year,” Spieth said. “I didn't know where I was going to go each week for the year.”

It’s clear where he’ll be now: On the TOUR full-time next season, if not sooner.

A win would guarantee Spieth’s card for the next two seasons, and get him into the FedExCup Playoffs. He’s currently not eligible for the postseason as a non-member, and he can’t get member status unless he wins, which is the main goal now.

That everything else has happened this fast surprises even Spieth’s closest supporters, but it shouldn’t. Being a standout athlete is in his blood as much as it’s in his work ethic.

Spieth’s mom is 5-foot-9 and played college basketball at Division III Moravian. His dad Shawn played collegiate baseball at Lehigh. Spieth’s younger brother Steven? He’s 6-foot-6 and headed to Brown University next year to play basketball.

As for Spieth, he has packed on 30 pounds of muscle since tying for 16th at the HP Byron Nelson Championship as a scrawny 16-year-old three years ago in what was just his second appearance in a  TOUR event.

His game has come a long way, too.

Earlier this year in Puerto Rico, he shot a pair of 67s on the weekend with only a birdie by Scott Brown on the last hole to win preventing a playoff.

Spieth also made his first hole-in-one as a professional that week.

One of Spieth’s friends asked him on Facebook if that meant he had to buy drinks for everyone (the legal drinking age in Puerto Rico is 18). Instead, Spieth picked up the check for dinner -- for all 12 family and friends at the table.

He could afford it, but the week was also just another step in the process for Spieth. Seven days later in Tampa is when he reached special temporary member status with a final-round 70 on a difficult Copperhead Course that was highlighted by a chip-in for birdie on the 71st hole.

The rest has just been gravy. But it has also made the remainder of this season easier on Spieth.

“It's a great position to be in,” he said. “I'm just free swinging.

"I'm not in a position where I need to fight for a tie for 13th and earn X. I'm able to get out here and go for some more pins and to try and get the win.”

After hitting all 18 greens in regulation Friday, he’s halfway there.

Through the first two rounds at Congressional, Spieth has eight birdies -- which included five over his first nine holes Friday -- and just one bogey.

That he has the maturity to handle himself off the course has also made life on it better.

“I just need to sit back and say, who cares?” Spieth said. “It's just a round of golf, and there's no reason to really stress about each and every shot.”

The wisdom beyond Spieth's years stems from his upbringing, his relationship with his younger special-needs sister Ellie and all those years of being, as Spieth puts it, “too competitive in stuff I shouldn’t be.”

Out here, though, he has proven he belongs.

It’s always been that way, too, even as far back as his AJGA days.

“We could trust Jordan at 14,” his mom says. “He was there for a reason.”