TOLEDO, Ohio – A group of bashful junior golfers sat anxiously on the driving range on Memorial Day at Inverness Club. Jordan Spieth, the 2009 and 2011 U.S. Junior Amateur champion, scans the crowd for questions. One of the juniors, who is a member of The First Tee of Lake Erie, steps up to the microphone and asks, “Do you ever get nervous?”
“I get nervous on the first tees and certain rounds that pick up at times,” Spieth answered. “But that’s a good thing. That means you’re in the position you want to be in. The only way to prepare for being in those positions is to practice. At the Masters, I was nervous from Wednesday until the round finished on Sunday.”
Inverness Club, a Donald Ross design, has played host to seven USGA championships: four U.S. Opens (1920, 1931, 1957, 1979), two U.S. Senior Opens (2003, 2011) and one U.S. Amateur (1973). Inverness also played host to the 1986 and 1993 PGA Championships, as well as the 1944 and 2009 NCAA Division I Men’s Championships.
Members and guests of both The First Tee of Lake Erie and Inverness gathered at the historic club on a holiday afternoon to celebrate the growth of the game in the area.
Spieth, not far removed from his successful junior career, fielded questions regarding the PGA Tour, golf technique and playing collegiately.
“I’ve been out of school for a couple of years now, which I don’t recommend to any of you here,” Spieth said. “When I’m on the road and no one is travelling with me, I do get homesick. But ultimately I’m having a lot of fun following my dreams and it’s a dream come true for me.”
As a partner of The First Tee program, Tom O’Toole Jr., the USGA president, participated in the event to help increase awareness for the program in the Toledo community.
“Jordan won the U.S. Junior Amateur twice, like some guy named Woods,” O’Toole said. “I gave Jordan his first USGA trophy at Trump National in 2008.”
“2009,” said Spieth, laughing and correcting.
“He played on the Walker Cup Team as a 17-year-old high school senior,” said O’Toole. “He was not only the best player on the team that year, but he also played with a host of wonderful PGA Tour winners like Harris English and Russell Henley. Jordan was the youngest, but had a big heart.”
The 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club’s Course No. 2 (also a Donald Ross design) from June 12-15 was a topic of conversation as Spieth spoke about his past U.S. Open experiences. O’Toole remarked that he would be happy to present the 114th U.S. Open Championship Trophy to Spieth.
After the clinic, Spieth joined O’Toole and Inverness member Alan Fadel to play the course’s first eight holes, as well as the renowned No. 18.
“Jordan’s concern about this game and his image is important, and he’s doing the right thing. I don’t know anyone else in the game who is wearing that flag better than he is,” O’Toole said.
Guests were invited to walk the fairways alongside Spieth, O’Toole and Fadel, who answered questions and cracked jokes throughout the round. At times, one could mistake Spieth for the junior golfers who tagged alongside him, asking him for advice and hanging on to every word as he relived stories about his young but accomplished pro career.
The lighthearted round concluded on the par-4 18th, where Spieth carded a birdie to complete a 3-under-par showing. Spieth made new fans and dazzled old supporters in Northwest Ohio with those spending their Memorial Day at Inverness, a special treat on a historic course.
“We’re really excited about golf in the community and about exposing the youth here in Toledo to a special event like this. It’s not every day we get Jordan Spieth out here,” said Derek Brody, head golf professional at Inverness. “We get to open our gates to a lot of people who may not have been here before. I hope to do more events like this and I’m sure we will.”
Inverness reopened in May following a $2 million renovation project. Could USGA championship golf return in the near future?
“We’re always looking at sites that can handle any of our 13 national championships, including international matches like the Walker Cup and Curtis Cup,” O’Toole said in a story in the Toledo Blade. “Certainly, the history and the resume that Inverness Club has puts itself in a category that’s elite. So let’s continue to see the improvements the club has made and all the other great things about the surrounding area, and we’ll continue to have a dialogue with the club. We’ll see what best fits between the club and the USGA.”
Abby Liebenthal is the media specialist at the Tiger Woods Foundation in Irvine, Calif. Her work has previously appeared on USGA websites.