BETHESDA, Md. – Jordan Spieth has always wanted to play with the big boys. It goes all the way back to the age of 7 or 8, growing up in Dallas, when he would badger his parents to compete in the 13-year-old division.
You’ll have to carry your own bag, they told him.
“I don’t care.”
It’ll be 18 holes instead of just nine, they told him.
The precocious youngster usually got his way.
“He always wanted to go to the next level,” said his mother, Chris, “even when we didn’t want him to.”
That includes his most recent attempt to play with the big boys. While his parents were skeptical about Jordan leaving the University of Texas following his freshman year, he’s proven that playing the next level was the right decision. Entering the year with no status on any tour, he played well enough during the season’s first three months to gain PGA Tour special temporary membership and lock up his card for next year.
As if that’s not enough, he’s now tied for the AT&T National lead entering the weekend, with 29 days still remaining in his teenage years.
“It's been a great dream come true this year,” he said after a second-round 66 gave him the clubhouse lead alongside Roberto Castro. “Starting out, I didn't think I'd know where I was going to be. I didn't know where I was going to go each week for the year. To be able to be in a position where I can receive exemptions from tournaments, it's just … it's awesome.”
You can almost see it now: Some crusty old PGA Tour veteran waving his Ping Eye 2-iron at the leaderboard and in his best Scooby Doo villain voice muttering, “If it wasn’t for you meddling kids …”
Spieth, 19, is so young that he has no recollection of Ernie Els’ U.S. Open victory here at Congressional Country Club in 1997. The first tournament he recalls watching on TV? That would be the 2000 U.S. Open, a dominant win by Tiger Woods that’s still fresh in the mind of many of his elders.
“I remember just a little bit,” he admitted. “That one stuck with me, obviously. You don't normally see a guy win a major by 11 shots. Is that right?”
It was 15, but you can excuse the kid for not being too proficient in math back then. He was 6.
On Friday, Spieth needed only count to 18 – that’s the number of greens in regulation he hit, leading to the most low-maintenance round of golf you’ll ever see. He carded five birdies – all on the front nine – and was never seriously in danger of making bogey.
He credits his current situation – or predicament, depending on how you view it – for his recent strong play.
While he already knows he’ll own full status in 2014, as a nonmember Spieth can’t earn FedEx Cup points and won’t be able to compete in the four playoff events. Unless – and here’s a heck of a caveat – he wins a tournament. That would not only make him the fourth-youngest player to ever win a PGA Tour title, it would grant him full membership this year and retroactively collect those points and get him into the late-season events.
And yes, he’s well aware of it.
“I'm free swinging, and that's a great position to be in, I think,” he explained. “Honestly, I'm extremely happy with the position I'm in, but I'm still very, very far from the goals that I set for myself when I was young.”
That sound you hear is 150 professional golfers whipping their necks around as the 19-year-old refers to “when I was young.”
Even though it isn’t something he can work on at the driving range or practice green, Spieth maintained that he’s worked this year on becoming more mature – and it’s shown on and off the course. He is a teenager who, as the cliché goes, is wise beyond his years.
“I just need to sit back and say, ‘Who cares?’” he said. “It's just a round of golf, and there's no reason to really stress about each and every shot. What's going to happen is going to happen. Just got to go out there and prepare on the range, be confident, and if you get a bad break, everyone's going to get bad breaks.”
“He’s been very patient; he’s been staying neutral with his emotions,” added his caddie, Michael Greller. “There’s less pressure, it feels like, so he’s not been as reactive. He’s been a lot more positive after something goes wrong.”
Let’s go through that checklist once again: Spieth is an ultra-talented young player, the type who can hit every green on a venerable track such as Congressional, and he’s becoming increasingly mature with each week.
It all adds up to a budding superstar, the kind of kid who has never been scared to play with the big boys.