PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – The ball was flushed off the clubface, launching high into the hazy afternoon sky. It headed toward the middle of the 13th green on the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course, then gradually took a left turn halfway there. When it landed, the ball claimed a direct route toward the cup, inching closer and closer to a hole-in-one.
“By the crowd's reaction, I knew it was getting close,” Jordan Spieth would later say.
He was keeping a close eye on it the entire way, because, after all, he was the one who hit the shot. Instead of an elusive ace, though, the ball stopped four feet from the hole. It would merely be just another birdie, one of six during a second-round 6-under 66 that left Spieth one stroke off the lead midway through The Players Championship.
Which was just as well, figured one of his playing partners.
“No point in him holing out,” surmised Graeme McDowell as they walked toward the green, “since he can’t buy the beers.”
Ah, yes. This wasn’t just another birdie during another stellar round in another title contention for Jordan Spieth. It was authored, of course, by “20-year-old Jordan Spieth” – that ubiquitous prefix seemingly accompanying him through all birdies during all stellar rounds in all title contentions.
And there have been plenty of them.
Still three months shy of his 21st birthday, Spieth owns a resume of which most players twice his age would be jealous. He’s ranked seventh in the world, already owns a PGA Tour victory and has finished in the top 20 in nine of 12 previous starts this year, including a runner-up result at last month’s Masters Tournament.
Those accolades are enough to compare with any player in the world – age notwithstanding – and yet because of his remarkable achievements before he is legally able to, say, purchase a round of drinks after a hole-in-one, the Big Two-Oh so often precedes his name.
Not that he minds it.
“Doesn't really bother me,” he said. “It was 19-year-old last year, so I'm actually curious how long it will go before they think I'm too old. But, no, it doesn't make much of a difference to me.”
If that sounds like a mature way to look at it, well, it’s for good reason. Spieth displays a maturity level well beyond his years, both on and off the course.
And it’s one he’s continuing to work on more each week.
“He can’t help himself sometimes going at pins,” said his caddie, Michael Greller. “We’ll talk about disciplined plays, but he just loves to green-light things. He’s 20.”
In the next breath, though, Greller explained how Spieth has actually dialed it back recently: “I feel like he’s playing more disciplined now, particularly starting at Augusta. In the past, we would get more greedy, and it’s kind of carried over to this week.”
Is he disappointed about having to take a more disciplined approach?
“No,” Greller said with a laugh. “But the 12-year-old Jordan would be.”
Perhaps, but the 12-year-old Jordan – and here’s that age thing again; he was 12 all the way back in 2006 – would undoubtedly be impressed at how the 20-year-old Jordan has dismantled this course so far. In two days, he’s posted 11 birdies and is just one stroke behind leader Martin Kaymer.
Even more impressive, his next bogey this week will be his first.
“I don't think it's going to be possible to stay bogey free for two more rounds with the greens firming up,” Spieth admitted. “That's a nice goal to have, I think. When bogeys come, it's going to be how I rebound.”
Again, it’s his maturity that is even more remarkable than his resiliency – as if there’s been anything from which he’s needed to show any resiliency so far.
Others are taking notice, too.
“He's just a very, very solid player, doesn't do anything wrong, hasn't made a bogey in two days,” McDowell said. “Anybody that shoots 11 under for two days is going to look pretty good, especially around here. He's a great player. I really enjoyed playing with him. He's very mature beyond his years.”
There it is again. His years. His age. Try as we might, it’s near-impossible to separate Jordan Spieth from the burden of “20-year-old Jordan Spieth.”
That shouldn’t undermine the fact that what he’s already accomplished this year – and especially so far this week – is impressive for any player, no matter when they were born.
Just ask the guy who hasn’t missed a single shot.
“Yeah,” Greller said with a smile. “Every day he impresses me.”