Since grabbing national headlines in May by contending in a PGA Tour event, 16-year-old Jordan Spieth has had a lot more strangers approaching him in restaurants.
Although Spieth’s performance at the HP Byron Nelson Championship increased his profile, the recognition hasn’t changed his goals. Despite proving that he can compete favorably against the world’s top players, the Dallas resident remains focused on being the best among his peers at the U.S. Junior Amateur.
Spieth will defend his 2009 Junior Amateur crown July 19-24 at Egypt Valley Country Club in Ada, Mich. With a victory, he would give himself a chance to match Tiger Woods, the only player to win multiple U.S. Junior titles (he won three consecutive championships from 1991-93).
At the beginning of the year I always mark the U.S. Junior as a top priority, Spieth said. I would love to become just the second to repeat.
After winning his third consecutive Byron Nelson Junior Championship in Dallas on June 30, Spieth was planning to take a weeklong vacation with a friend’s family in Mexico before returning home to prepare for the Junior Amateur under the watchful eye of his teacher, Cameron McCormick.
Spieth believes the experience of playing in two PGA Tour events – the Byron Nelson and the St. Jude Classic (missed cut) last month – will serve him well at the Junior Amateur.
I won’t be nervous, he said. I think I’ll be able to just start playing my game from the get-go, and I won’t have to run on adrenaline. Last year in the final match, with the cameras on every shot, and even in the semifinal round, I got nervous. It was a good nervous, and I’ll get that again if I’m in contention. … But I think I’ll be able to stay calm a little more easily now, which I think will really help.
Despite his nerves, Spieth defeated Jay Hwang of San Diego, 4 and 3, in the scheduled 36-hole final at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. He was also the medalist, shooting 6-under-par 137 in stroke-play qualifying.
Spieth’s victory helped earn him a sponsor invitation to the 2010 Byron Nelson Championship, staged annually at the TPC Four Seasons Resort outside Dallas. During his practice rounds, he learned from observing his playing partners, including major champions Justin Leonard and Steve Elkington. And during the first two rounds, he got a lesson in on-course demeanor from fellow competitor Blake Adams, who shot 66-64 and was the tournament’s 36-hole co-leader.
What really impressed me about playing with him was that there were thousands of people watching our group, and he’s just out there smiling at everything, Spieth said. He would make really long putts and act like it was no big deal, just go pick it out of the hole like it was all business. I really learned a lot from him, from how calm he was.
Playing alongside a hot golfer, Spieth held his own, shooting 68-69. After moving into contention with a 67 on Saturday, he climbed to within three strokes of the lead on Sunday before a double bogey at 15 derailed his chances. With his closing 72, Spieth finished tied for 16th, six strokes behind winner Jason Day.
I was more nervous in the first round than I was in the last round, he said. I just didn’t quite hit the shots that were necessary to keep it going.
While the teenager’s performance generated fanfare across the country, it didn’t surprise his teacher.
The results were in line with expectations, frankly, said McCormick, the director of instruction at Brook Hollow Golf Club. In talking with his parents, we thought he could give it a run and contend. He actually underperformed in a couple of key areas that we identified, including putting. He didn’t convert from some distances that he normally does.
Having attained one of his 2010 goals by playing well at the Byron Nelson, Spieth is aiming to fulfill two more by winning the Junior Amateur and the U.S. Amateur to be played in late August at Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash. In the fall of 2011, Spieth has announced he will play collegiately at the University of Texas with an eye toward an eventual PGA Tour career.
With more experience, Spieth can become a top PGA Tour pro, McCormick believes.
I really think it’s about comfort on that stage, he said. A small ounce of comfort can go a long way toward making a few more putts and hitting a few more good shots.
Mike Cullity is a freelance writer whose work has appeared previously on USGA websites.