Tour Champ. win may be next for 20-year-old Spieth

By Jason SobelSeptember 17, 2013, 9:20 pm

ATLANTA – There are players competing in this week’s season-ending Tour Championship brandishing thick, bushy playoff beards now a month in the making. Jordan Spieth isn’t one of ‘em. He showed up to East Lake Golf Club on Tuesday with nary a whisker on his chin, but contends that’s due to a recent shave, not because he couldn’t grow a little facial hair.

Hey, it’s worth asking the question.

Just 20, Spieth isn’t only the youngest player in this week’s field, he’s the youngest player to ever reach this tournament. It’s just another in a long line of age-related superlatives he’s achieved this season. He became the youngest player to win a PGA Tour event in 82 years, claiming the John Deere Classic title. He’s the youngest to ever eclipse the $3 million barrier for a single season. And he’ll be the youngest to compete in the Presidents Cup when he tees it up for the United States two weeks from now.

“It's been an incredible year,” he says without overstatement. “I played the Thursday qualifier to get into the Monday qualifier for San Diego this year, which was my first professional round that I ever played. So that's an interesting route when I think back on it, but if I start really dwelling on the year, then I think I lose focus on the present in the tournament and especially in the Presidents Cup. I don't want to do that at this time.”

Spieth’s story is already the stuff of legend.

He entered the year with no status on any PGA Tour-sanctioned circuit. He gained entry into a few events, played well enough to earn special temporary membership, then won to become a full-fledged member – and the rest, as they say, is history.

Tour Championship: Articles, videos and photos

“It turned out better than I could have expected,” he explains. “With the win, I have job security for a couple of years, and I guess moving up the world ranking. That was my goal to start the year, and I guess my goals got adjusted at certain times, maybe after Tampa and then after the John Deere, a couple different scenarios where there was another thing I was shooting for.”

Now he finds himself in 13th place on the FedEx Cup standings, with a legitimate chance of claiming the $10 million first-place prize at week’s end. Not bad for a kid who, if he’d remained an amateur, would be in his first semester at the University of Texas right now.

Even so, read between the lines and Spieth believes he should be even higher in those standings.

“I moved from eighth to 13th by getting ninth, fourth, and then 15th place,” he says of his results in the first three playoff events. “So it's interesting. I mean, it just proves you've got to get top three to move up anything at all.”

Call it part of the learning curve for Spieth, who hasn’t struggled much with that part of Tour life this year.

Perhaps the only trait more impressive than his ball-striking and putting under pressure is his maturity. His birth certificate says he’s 20, but he’s wise beyond his years, looking eminently comfortable around players twice his age, players whom he grew up watching on television.

“I've definitely developed maturity this year on course, no doubt about it, in different decision making,” he says. “I've had to kind of step back. I've said it before, my 16-year-old self would be pretty upset at some of the decisions I've made that have actually paid off this year.”

Zach Johnson, last week’s winner of the BMW Championship, lost to Spieth in a three-man playoff at the John Deere earlier this summer. When asked whether he’s competed with him, Johnson deadpans, “I played five holes with him in a playoff.  I'd like to forget that one.”

When he speaks more seriously, Spieth’s maturity level is the first thing he mentions.

“Maturity just comes about. That's the word that comes to my mind, both on and off the golf course,” Johnson says. “I know he's 20, and I'm sure there's things that he's doing that I was doing when I was 20, but his game is mature. It seems to me like his mental approach and how he plays is extremely mature and just very well constructed.”

Spieth will add to that ever-increasing list of remarkable feats at a young age by competing in the Tour Championship before he can legally purchase an alcoholic beverage. It may sound impressive, but not as impressive as his mentality going in, which shows – you got it – even more maturity.

“I didn't think it would be a possibility this year at the beginning of the year,” he admits, “but now that I'm here, it's time to maybe dig in and make something special happen.”

He’ll do so without a ripe playoff beard, which he playfully contends would grow if he tried. It’s tough to believe the baby-faced 20-year-old, but then again, he’s accomplished just about everything else he’s attempted already this year.

Getty Images

Koepka (wrist) likely out until the Masters

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 9:08 pm

Defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka is expected to miss at least the next two months because of a torn tendon in his left wrist.

Koepka, who suffered a partially torn Extensor Carpi Ulnaris (ECU), is hoping to return in time for the Masters.

In a statement released by his management company, Koepka said that doctors are unsure when the injury occurred but that he first felt discomfort at the Hero World Challenge, where he finished last in the 18-man event. Playing through pain, he also finished last at the Tournament of Champions, after which he underwent a second MRI that revealed the tear.

Koepka is expected to miss the next eight to 12 weeks.

“I am frustrated that I will now not be able to play my intended schedule,” Koepka said. “But I am confident in my doctors and in the treatment they have prescribed, and I look forward to teeing it up at the Masters. … I look forward to a quick and successful recovery.”

Prior to the injury, Koepka won the Dunlop Phoenix and cracked the top 10 in the world ranking. 

Getty Images

Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.

Made Cut

Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

September can’t get here quick enough.

Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

“I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage.”

The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

“My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.

Missed Cut

Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

Tweet of the week:

It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

Getty Images

Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

Getty Images

DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.”