If you watched the Tournament of Champions broadcast from Kapalua over the weekend and were listening closely you heard Jordan Spieth constantly talking. Strategy conversations with his caddie, last minute instructions to his ball in flight, and admonishments to himself once the ball touched down. Based on his second place finish against a number of major winners I think all within earshot should take note and listen.
As a 20-year old in his second year on the tour Jordan Spieth is the most promising and refreshing story on the tour. The route that he has taken in the last 12 months is nothing short of astonishing. From no PGA status and an 810th world ranking in December of 2012 he has notched a tour win, full tour exemption, President’s Cup appearance, 17th place in the World Golf Rankings, and almost $4.6 million in official winnings. Not bad for someone who cannot legally drink in many states in our union.
The coolest part about all this is that Jordan does not cut the figure or have the technical golf swing of a can’t miss prodigy. Rather he has a huge competitive will, full confidence in the competence of his home grown golf swing, and a golf IQ in the top quartile. This combination has led to a very steep and consistent trajectory of improvement that has all his peers, even the old grizzled veterans, taking notice.
At age 17 he played in his first PGA Tour event at the Byron Nelson in his home town of Dallas. He had the audacity to make the cut (almost missing his prom as a result) and finish tied for 16th. He won the U.S. Junior Am in 2009 and 2011 joining Tiger Woods as the only other multiple winner of this prestigious championship.
In 2011 he was the second ranked player on the U.S. Walker Cup team that included current tour pros Harris English, Peter Uihlein, Russell Henley, and Patrick Cantlay. He had good success halving his foursome’s match and winning two singles matches against the first and third ranked player on the G. B. & I team. In his freshman year on the University of Texas Longhorn golf team he won three NCAA events, led his team in scoring average, and helped them win the NCAA Championship.
Consistency in performance has been the hallmark of his career so no one should be surprised at his meteoric rise through the PGA ranks in 2013.
After some fits and starts Jordan won enough money in the first quarter to earn Special Temporary Member status. Working on unlimited sponsor exemptions he steadily gathered acorns until his breakthrough win at the John Deere Classic (formerly known as the Steve Stricker Open) in a three-way sudden death playoff. He barged his way into this playoff holing out from the greenside bunker on 18 and went on to beat Zach Johnson and David Hearn to win the trophy and a large pile of acorns.
At age 19 he became the first teenager in 82 years to win a PGA event. This win gave him full status, eligibility for the FedEx pot, and a spot in the next three majors.
Later in the summer at the Wyndham Championship he waged another dramatic charge on Sunday to get into a playoff with another young whippersnapper, Chris Reed. Reed hit the side hill, obscured flight, pine straw recovery shot of the year on the playoff hole setting up the winning birdie and denying Spieth his second tour win.
Jordan played admirably in the FedEx Playoffs shooting a final round 62 at the Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston in the presence of Phil The Thrill. A supporting call from Phil to Captain Couples was enough to make him a captain’s pick on the Presidents Cup Team.
In this past week’s Tournament of Champions Jordan once again proved unfazed by the company he was keeping. Playing a very technical golf course for the first time with major winners Zach Johnson, Jason Dufner, Webb Simpson, and Adam Scott all in the mix, his steady head earned him a piece of the lead going into the final round. Only a par stall on the final nine kept him out of another playoff with the eventual winner Zach Johnson.
What you see in this guy is maturity beyond his years and a remarkable presence of mind when the tournament is on the line. His chatter makes it clear that he is caught up in the moment but the clarity of his decisions and his ability to execute shots when it matters separates him from the other young hotshots.
At the end of 2013 he was 10th on the PGA Money List, 22nd in the World Golf Rankings,
9th in Scoring Average, 7th in the FedEx Cup Standings, and 8th in Back Nine Scoring. That last number kind of tells it all about this kid. When the finish line is in sight he knows how to sustain his momentum and challenge for the trophy.
My bet is his banter extends to some post game interviews at the Majors this year. He may just win one of them at age 20 and surprise the hell out of all of us.