ATLANTA – It’s just looked like he’s played the game like a 32-year-old veteran the last few months, but Jordan Spieth is still a 22-year-old finding his way in the professional realm, albeit with bookend majors to show him the way.
Take Friday at the Tour Championship as a testament to Spieth’s ongoing education.
After playing his first four soggy holes in even par, Spieth’s drive sailed right of the fairway at the fifth and dangerously close to Second Avenue and the same out of bounds markers that led to Jason Day’s triple bogey-7 on Day 1.
“For a second I thought I might have to re-tee,” Spieth admitted.
But the two-time major champion who is a little more than two years removed from the University of Texas found his golf ball and scrambled for an unlikely par that included a chip from under a tree that he called a “one out of 10” shot.
“There was no other option, but it wasn’t necessarily smart,” he said of his 61-yard chip that rolled to 6 feet. “I had to have the wind blowing this branch back and forth, I had to hit it when it blew it this way or else it would have gone up into it.”
At the next hole Spieth converted a 16 footer for par after finding a greenside bunker and he was off, keeping pace with Henrik Stenson with four birdies coming in for a 4-under 66 that left him three strokes behind the Swede in what is shaping up to be a two-man shootout for the FedEx Cup fortune.
It seems an apropos time to revisit the fact that even though Spieth has collected five PGA Tour titles and is playing his third Tour Championship these are still uncharted waters.
That was particularly clear when Heir Jordan missed back-to-back cuts to begin the playoffs for the first time in his professional career. After a run that included consecutive victories at the U.S. Open and John Deere Classic and near misses at the Open Championship and PGA Championship it appeared he’d hit the metaphorical wall.
“Maybe just a little bit of mental fatigue,” Spieth said. “I think that mistakes wear on me a little bit. They have worn on me a little quicker recently. Today it wasn’t the case.”
Learning that maintaining one’s focus is just as important as swing maintenance is a lesson every young player endures, and it’s no different just because you’ve already started to piece together a resume that seems destined for the World Golf Hall of Fame.
But then Spieth, with the guidance of his swing coach Cameron McCormick, has become a master at embracing the small victories. It was the kind of long view that was on display on Friday as a series of poor shots at Nos. 5 and 6 threatened to derail his tournament and his FedEx Cup chances.
“I stayed mentally in it,” he said. “That’s what [caddie Michael Greller] mentioned today when we had just finished the round. He said, ‘Mentally that was the best round you’ve played in a while.’ It kept us in the tournament, it kept us in the round.”
It also kept him moving forward along a learning curve that has been more abbreviated than most but must be traveled nonetheless.