Spieth ready to prove rookie year wasn't a fluke

By Doug FergusonOctober 30, 2013, 3:22 pm

SHANGHAI – Jordan Spieth followed the flight of his tee shot on the par-3 sixth hole at Sheshan International, and his amateur partners took great interest just watching his body language. Finally, he offered the slightest slump of his shoulders when he saw the outcome.

''Over the green?'' one of the amateurs asked him.

''I thought it was in,'' Spieth replied. The ball turned just below the cup and settled about 4 feet away.

It's been that kind of year for the 20-year-old Texan.

A year ago, he was in his sophomore year at the University of Texas. A few weeks ago, he was a guest on the sidelines of the OU-Texas game. In one amazing year, he went from failing the second stage of Q-school on the PGA Tour to playing a World Golf Championship in Shanghai. He went from not having a tour card to playing in the Presidents Cup. He showed up for the HSBC Champions at No. 20 in the world.

And even though the calendar still shows 2013, this week marks the start of his encore.

Spieth just last month wrapped up a rookie season that featured $4.5 million, including his FedEx Cup bonus for finishing at No. 7. He starts at zero on Thursday.

''I think there's a lot to prove this year to follow it up,'' Spieth said. ''Obviously, last season was more than I could have dreamt. But I met with my coach and we've set new goals. I'm changing my schedule, and most of the events I'll play will be against a lot harder fields for most of the year. I'm just looking ahead. I never really did look back.''

That would be a lot to digest.

Spieth had no status on any tour when he took a right turn in March by skipping a chance to get a Web.com Tour card in South America so he could honor a commitment to play in the Puerto Rico Open. He tied for second and was on his way. Spieth had temporary PGA Tour membership locked up by May, he contended on the weekend at Colonial and Congressional, broke through with a win at the John Deere Classic, and the hits kept coming.

A playoff loss in the Wyndham Championship. Playing with Phil Mickelson for the first time and closing with a 62 at the TPC Boston. The phone call – it still gives him chills thinking about that – from Fred Couples making him a captain's pick for the Presidents Cup. Nearly winning the FedEx Cup with a 64 in the final round of the Tour Championship. And then going 2-2 in his Presidents Cup debut. He had to reset his goals about five times during the course of nine months.

There are times when he remembers his youth. As he finished up his pro-am Wednesday, the conversation turned to the Asia-Pacific Amateur, which was won last week by 19-year-old Lee Chang-woo of South Korea.

''He's about the same age I am,'' Spieth said.

But when he sets up on the practice range next to Mickelson, Rory McIlroy, U.S. Open champion Justin Rose and PGA champion Jason Dufner, he realizes he's in another league. And he knows the only way to stay there is to keep moving forward.

''The Presidents Cup was real exciting to reflect on,'' he said. ''As far as the year goes, the only thing I looked back on was gaining confidence in pressure situations, and being able to make some putts. I had goals and I had to set new goals. I never had to do that before. It was cool to see each goal get surpassed so quickly. We were riding a lot of confidence.''

There was something different about this kid last year. He had a confidence about him that only increased with every opportunity and every big moment. To see Spieth reminded Phil Blackmar of his early days on the PGA Tour, especially his first major at Cherry Hills for the PGA Championship.

''I'm playing with Hale Irwin,'' Blackmar said in a recent interview. ''I had never played with him. The eighth hole is a par 3, and we had to wait on the group ahead of us. I was minding my business, and he comes over, looks up at me and turns to the crowd and says, 'He doesn't have it. You can tell by the look in his eyes.'

''So I said, 'How in the hell can he tell? He can't see this high.' And Hale turned bright red,'' Blackmar said. ''But what he said was true. You can tell something about guys that are on the right side of the edge. There's something about their body language, their facial expression. Jordan has that. He would have had a similar response. To me, he has that same sort of makeup.''

Spieth didn't do anything after the Presidents Cup when he returned home to Dallas. He is moving into a new house he bought, which took up his time. He is starting a workout program to get stronger as he prepares for the big events. And even though he couldn't stop talking about meeting with Texas coach Mack Brown the night before a 36-20 win over the Sooners, perhaps the most important day of his break was with coach Cameron McCormick.

They looked over his statistics and tried to identify strengths and weakness. They set new goals – again.

''Overall short game, wedge work, long irons,'' Spieth said. ''What we said is if I take the same routine and spent a little extra time – maybe an hour a day, 30 minutes, whatever it is – and work around the greens, it will be a better year.''

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”



McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.

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Ortiz leads LAAC through 54; Niemann, Gana one back

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 8:15 pm

Mexico's Alvaro Ortiz shot a 1-under 70 Monday to take the 54-hole lead at the Latin America Amateur Championship in Chile.

At 4 under for the week, he leads by one over over Argentina's Jaime Lopez Rivarola, Chile's Toto Gana and Joaquin Niemann, and Guatemala's Dnaiel Gurtner.

Ortiz is the younger brother of three-time Web.com winner Carlos. Alvaro, a senior at Arkansas, finished tied for third at the LAAC in 2016 and lost in a three-way playoff last year that included Niemann and Gana, the champion.

Ortiz shared the 54-hole lead with Gana last year and they will once again play in the final group on Tuesday, along with Gurtner, a redshirt junior at TCU.

“Literally, I've been thinking about [winning] all year long," Ortiz said Monday. "Yes, I am a very emotional player, but tomorrow I want to go out calm and with a lot of patience. I don't want the emotions to get the better of me. What I've learned this past year, especially in the tournaments I’ve played for my university, is that I have become more mature and that I have learned how to control myself on the inside on the golf course.”

In the group behind, Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who is poised to turn professional, unless of course he walks away with the title.

“I feel a lot of motivation at the moment, especially because I am the only player in the field that shot seven under (during the second round), and I am actually just one shot off the lead," he said. "So I believe that tomorrow I can shoot another very low round."

Tuesday's winner will earn an invitation to this year's Masters and exemptions into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, sectional qualifying for the U.S. Open, and final qualifying for The Open.