Spieth playing better, thinking better on home turf


IRVING, Texas – Which came first: the smile or the score?

Fun question, not that it really makes a difference to Jordan Spieth.

When Spieth bolted TPC Sawgrass a week ago, there were no smiles. He had just missed the cut at The Players and was less concerned with the physical aspects of his game than he was the psychological nuances.

“On the off days, I just need to do a little bit better job of being positive with myself and smiling a bit more, having a bit more fun,” he said at The Players.

Funny how rounds of 64-65 can turn a frown upside down.

Through two rounds, Spieth has penciled just two bogeys onto his card at the AT&T Byron Nelson. He walked off the course on Friday with a share of the lead at 11 under.

Whether it was his improved outlook on golf, if not life, that fueled his solid start at his hometown event or vice versa, the results were all Spieth cared about.

“I still got pretty frustrated at times because I would have a really good wedge number to a bowl pin where it can feed from anywhere around the hole. That should be within 10 feet all day. I've got 40 feet on the other side of the green,” Spieth said. “For those shots not to cost me and move on, that's been the difference from that extra frustration. My misses last week really cost me.”

That Spieth was able to embrace the brighter side this week also speaks to the value of a quiet mind.

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The Byron Nelson is, after all, where he was thrust into the spotlight when tied for 16th place in 2010 as a 16-year-old. A year later, he tied for 32nd as an amateur, but he’s been unable to replicate that success as a professional.

“That's an event that, growing up, I've always wanted to win and haven't really had a chance to win since I was 16, 17. It's funny when I say that,” he said at TPC Sawgrass, referring to the Nelson.

But Spieth explained Friday that this week has felt different. There is a calm that’s been missing in recent years at TPC Four Seasons, which is about 17 minutes (depending on traffic) from Jesuit Dallas, where he attended high school.

Shawn Spieth, Jordan’s father, first brought the would-be major champion to the Nelson as a toddler. That kid is now 22 and a runaway crowd favorite, with officials doling out Jordan Spieth bobblehead dolls – even if they look more like Kevin Streelman – and fans with his likeness on them.

“This is an event that would be extremely, extremely special if we were to come out on top at any point in my life, to hold the Byron Nelson trophy, just given the memories here,” he said.

Still, perhaps the most encouraging sign for Spieth this week, beyond the improved outlook, is a game that despite his place on the leaderboard is still not perfectly aligned.

Although he hit 17 of 18 greens in regulation on Friday, with his lone miss coming at his final hole (No. 9), he ranks 70th in the field in proximity to the hole with a 33-foot average.

Despite what he dubbed a “two-way miss” with his irons, the new Mr. Sunshine closed his first nine with three consecutive birdies and has converted 28 of 31 putts from inside 10 feet this week.

Picking apart his ball-striking is easy for an armchair analyst, but Spieth will always measure success with his play on the greens. At TPC Sawgrass, where he said he overcooked a putting drill he and his coach Cameron McCormick were working on, the longest putt he made was 12 feet. This week on the friendly confines of TPC Four Seasons, he’s rolled in seven putts longer than that.

“I don't feel like I'm tied for the lead right now, it’s not the feeling I have when I stand over an iron shot,” Spieth said. “But, when I stand over my putter right now it's back to where we like to have it.”

Spieth justifiably balked at the notion his game was in need of a competitive B-12 shot, rightly pointing out it was just two tournaments ago that he led for three rounds at the Masters.

Maybe all he really needed was another start to find his groove, and that smile is nothing more than a happy bonus.