Jordan Spieth: a rising star grounded in normalcy
AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — The green jacket is all Jordan Spieth needs for an identity. He is the Masters champion.
It’s just not going to help him get rid of a nickname he picked up late last year from a few PGA Tour players that goes against the way he was raised and irritates him more than a three-putt bogey.
“It was either Colt Knost or Robert Garrigus ... I’m not sure who started with the nickname,” Spieth said Tuesday during a break in his New York media tour. “But it’s not nice what I say to them when they say it to me. I’ve been working on trying to keep it quiet. And this week isn’t going to help.”
It surfaced again even before he teed off in his record-setting win at Augusta National.
Brooks Koepka was talking about a Tuesday practice round in which Spieth could do no wrong. They were walking off the 13th tee when they looked over at James Hahn hitting his tee shot to the par-3 12th. As the ball was in the air, Spieth told his group, “This is going to be a hole-in-one.” And it was.
On the 17th, Spieth hit a shot that was an inch from rolling down to the bottom of the green. It stayed up, and he rolled in a 30-footer to close their match. If that wasn’t enough, he has a game with caddie Michael Greller in which they toss a ball on the green toward the cup. Spieth made it on the first try.
Koepka finished the story, smiled and said, “He’s the golden child.”
No doubt, Spieth has done some extraordinary things for a 21-year-old.
The stories have been told countless times, yet they are no less amazing.
Spieth started his first year as a pro with no status on any tour and ended it playing alongside Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson in the Presidents Cup. The first time he played with Mickelson, he closed birdie-birdie-birdie-eagle for a 62. Playing with Woods for the first time in a practice round at the Presidents Cup, he made a hole-in-one. In his Masters debut, he played in the final group at age 20.
And now a green jacket for the golden child.
“He’ll be fabulous for the game,” Graeme McDowell said.
Most appealing about Spieth is the simplicity of his life and the toughness in his game. He is 21 and old school.
Spieth has had the same swing coach since he was 12 and his father took him to see Cameron McCormick at Brook Hollow in Dallas. He uses social media instead of being consumed by it. Spieth has the same girlfriend he met in high school, Anne Verret, who graduated from Texas Tech in December and now works on fundraising projects for a youth golf program in Dallas.
He spent last week with three of his best friends from Dallas — seniors at Texas, TCU and LSU. They became what Spieth described as “white noise” during the evening when he wanted to take his mind off golf.
“It felt like we were back home on a random weekend,” Spieth said. “I couldn’t partake in what they were doing. But it was fun to watch.”
His father played baseball at Lehigh. His mother played basketball at Moravian College in Pennsylvania. His younger brother, Steven, is a 6-foot-6 shooting guard at Brown. And then there’s Ellie, his 14-year-old sister with neurological issues that place her on the autism spectrum. Ellie reminds Spieth and the rest of the family what matters in life.
She was at the TPC Boston last year with the whole clan, bragging about her big brothers, having a ball. Players have to take a shuttle through the woods to the eighth tee. When Spieth spotted Ellie in the gallery, he called to her. She ran to the cart and sat on his lap for the ride, and it was hard to tell who was having more fun.
Golden child? Maybe. More than a Midas touch, however, Spieth has Texas grit.
Look back at the events leading to the Masters.
—He made three straight par saves, all that had the look of bogeys, to get into a playoff that he won at the Valspar Championship.
—He made four straight birdies that made Jimmy Walker sweat out a victory at the Texas Open. “I’m going to have nightmares about that guy,” Walker said.
—He holed a 12-foot par putt on the final hole of the Houston Open to make a playoff.
Augusta National members will talk for years about his shot from a tight lie on a knob above the 18th green on Saturday. Spieth had a seven-shot lead on the 17th tee and it was down to four shots and about to get even closer — three shots probably, two shots possibly. “Two shots can be made up in one hole,” Spieth said.
His caddie lobbied for a safe chip. Spieth took a full swing for a flop shot, pulled it off and made par. Spieth called it the most important shot he hit all week.
More than a golden moment, this was about guts.
It’s worth remembering what Ben Crenshaw said about Spieth before teeing off in his 44th and final Masters.
“When I first met him, I tell you, I’ll never forget it,” Crenshaw said. “I looked right at him and he looked at me, and I thought I was looking at Wyatt Earp. He just had that look about him. Just wonderful.”