Four years after hometown event thrust him in spotlight, Jordan Spieth is returning the favor
IRVING, Texas -- Jordan Spieth was working out Wednesday morning before his pro-am round when the 2010 version of himself appeared on TV, a flashback highlight of his first appearance at the HP Byron Nelson Championship.
"I looked like I was 9 years old," Spieth said.
The audience listening to his story laughed at the exaggeration, but in actuality, Spieth wasn't that far removed from the truth. He was 16 years old back then, still in high school at Dallas Jesuit, a top-ranked junior player who didn't really know what to expect.
First, he made the cut, the sixth youngest player to do so at a PGA TOUR event. Then even more improbable, he was tied for seventh after 54 holes and stating his intention that he sought to win the tournament. He ultimately finished tied for 16th, overshadowing every other storyline that week.
His life hasn't been the same since.
He's 20 years old now, already a winner on TOUR. Within the last month, he's played in the final group on Sunday at the Masters and THE PLAYERS Championship. Although he doesn't listen to the hype, he is golf's next big thing. And he returns to his hometown of Dallas this week not as an object of curiosity but as a blossoming superstar who figures to be in contention now every time he sticks a peg in the ground.
"A world-class player," said 2011 HP Byron Nelson champ Keegan Bradley when asked about Spieth. "One of the best players in the world. There is not more to say than that.
"He's going to win a lot. He's going to be in contention a lot. I'm glad he's an American and he will be on Ryder Cup teams. I would love to be his partner."
It's been an amazing four-year growth spurt for Spieth, and he understands the importance of where it started. It hit home Tuesday during a junior clinic at TPC Four Seasons Resort as the kids were yelling his name, asking for golf balls, wearing shirts and hats with the Under Armour logo (his sponsor).
Just a few years ago, he was the one asking for a ball. Now he's an influencer. How quickly he's gone from fan to hero. Credit the confidence he gained four years ago as a baby-faced amateur when he stood toe-to-toe with the TOUR pros ... and never flinched.
Imagine if he had never received a sponsor's exemption. After all, the Salesmanship Club that runs the HP Byron Nelson doesn't offer those very often to amateurs. In fact, before Spieth got one in 2010, the last amateur to get a sponsor's exemption to this tournament was Trip Keuhne, 15 years earlier.
"I owe a lot in my career to this golf tournament," he said. "... This tournament is so close to me that I look forward to doing it for as many years as they will allow me to. I'll play it until I'm 70 if I can."
If you need to know just how fast Spieth's stardom has risen since making that start in 2010, consider this: There is a player in the field this week who is being referred to as the "next" Jordan Spieth. That would be Scottie Scheffler, the country's top-ranked junior amateur who, like Spieth, is from Dallas. And like Spieth, he will also play golf at the University of Texas.
The two used to see each other more often back in their junior days, but not anymore now that Spieth is on TOUR. On Tuesday, Spieth saw Scheffler on the course made it a point of saying hello and wishing him good luck.
"It's been mentioned for a while," Scheffler said when asked about the Spieth comparisons. "I don't mind. It's a pretty good person to be compared to."
Unlike his previous three starts at the HP Byron Nelson Championship, Spieth comes into this week as a TOUR champion, having won the John Deere Classic last year at age 19.
After that win, Spieth pressed hard to back it up quickly with another win, to prove that it wasn't a fluke. He kept getting himself in contention, but he couldn't seal the deal.
Even though he couldn't finish off the Masters or THE PLAYERS the way he wanted, Spieth said he's no longer pressing, that he's letting the game come to him again. All he wants to do now is put himself in position on Sunday. Sooner or later, he'll be back in the winner's circle.
"The more I get into that position, the more I feel comfortable now," Spieth said. "... It wasn't my time at Augusta. It wasn't my time last week."
His playing partner in the final round last week, Martin Kaymer, is certainly impressed with how Spieth is handling the chase for that second win. It's not just Spieth's talent with the golf clubs, it's his demeanor. It's his maturity that seems to go well beyond his years. It's the way he speaks to his fellow competitors, not intimdated but certainly very respectful.
"Very rare for someone who is that young," Kaymer said.
Now the rising star comes back home to play in the tournament he calls the "dearest to my heart."
Winning the HP Byron Nelson Championship would mean the world to him. It would be his chance to repay the Salesmanship Club for allowing him to play four years ago. He will always be grateful for that opportunity.
Expectations are high this week, higher than they've ever been for him here. His gallery will be massive. He wants to feed off their energy.
"The support is incredible," Spieth said. "There is no place like it than at the hometown event here. Off the course, it's all positive, it's all great. I can feed off it.
"It feels like the city of Dallas is behind me and rooting for me this week. It can only do wonders for me."