WINDERMERE, Fla. – Consider Jordan Spieth a player of a certain age.
At 21 years young there has been no apprenticeship, no soft opening, no easing into the world of professional golf. Instead, since he played his way onto the PGA Tour in 2013 he has blown through more stop signs than a driver’s-ed student.
Considering that at this point two years ago he was a student-athlete at the University of Texas with a solid amateur resume and wishful thoughts, Thursday’s opening round at the Hero World Challenge was nothing short of veteran-like.
Spieth birdied the first hole, played Nos. 6 through 10 in 5 under and scrambled for par at the last for his 6-under 66 and the early lead at Isleworth. In short, he played like a guy who has been doing this for decades while Tiger Woods, who has been doing this for decades, was 11 strokes back.
It would all be a reason to question the balance of things if it hadn’t become such a normal occurrence.
For all of Spieth’s attributes – a nuclear driver, solid ball-striking, steady putter – it may be his ability to channel his inner thirty-something that separates him from the other up-and-comers.
For a player who has admitted in the past that he has a tendency to run hot on the golf course at times, Spieth’s recent run is reason to start piling expectations onto his young head.
Spieth said his goal starting out this season was to win twice. In the waning moments of 2014 that benchmark has been adjusted to two wins in two weeks following his victory last week at the Australian Open and his start at Isleworth.
Fittingly, it was last week in Australia that Greg Norman seemed to unintentionally define Spieth’s calling card. “Norman said, ‘You learn a lot more from your failures than you do from winning,” Spieth recalled this week.
From his disappointing runner-up showing at Augusta National in April to his near miss at The Players (T-4), Spieth learned lessons it takes most players years to absorb.
“Each time I just lacked a little bit of patience,” he said. “I just want to jump too quickly out of the gate. I always thought of it as a sprint. Each time I learned and learned.”
From his Masters meltdown he learned that it’s better to remain patient, particularly on Sunday like he did last week when he roared home in 63 strokes.
And he gleaned from his finish at TPC Sawgrass, where he opened with a 67, that regardless of how well he starts a tournament it’s the finish that counts.
“It was a good Thursday,” Spieth figured when asked about his 6-under card on Thursday. “I missed it in the right spots today.”
By sidestepping golf’s normal learning curve Spieth has elevated himself to a new level. Just ask Patrick Reed, who like Spieth is unapologetically mature.
“We grew up watching Tiger and his mental strength and don’t really care what anyone thinks,” said Reed, who was paired with Spieth on Thursday at the World Challenge and teamed with the young American at September’s Ryder Cup to go 2-0-1. “I grew up playing with him so none of this really surprises me.”
Nothing Spieth does at this point should surprise the golf public.
In many ways 21 is the new 31, just consider Rory McIlroy’s four major championship titles by the age of 25 or Reed’s three Tour tilts by 24.
To put Spieth’s fast track approach in context, consider that his plans next week include moving into a new house . . . his first house.
For Spieth and Co., they’ve come by their Rosetta Stone learning curve honestly, not subscribing to the idea that to be a great player one must pay their dues vis-a-vis time on the job.
Competitively Spieth has grown up before our eyes, transformed in real time from a player who earlier in his career – way back in 2013 – would have been rattled when a player like Adam Scott got off to a fast start like he did last Sunday in Australia.
“I didn’t care,” Spieth said of Scott’s early birdie. “That’s different from what would’ve happened earlier in the year.”
Spoken like a true veteran.