Of course there were fleeting moments of anxiety.
Jordan Spieth had flamed out of Q-School’s second stage, and – for a few weeks, at least – he was just another newly minted pro with no status on any major tour, a 19-year-old trying to figure out a schedule, write notes to tournament directors, settle on a management team and explore his sponsorship options … all of this mere days after completing his finals in English and Rhetoric at the University of Texas.
“There was maybe a little bit of fear that crept in,” he said last week. “That, hey, I’m going to need to make the most of these starts when they come.”
Fast-forward eight months, and Spieth was on board a private jet, hands still trembling, trying in vain to fall asleep. Earlier that day he had holed an improbable bunker shot on the 72nd hole and won the John Deere Classic in a playoff. Now, he was en route to Scotland, to the British Open, and on the long flight he braced himself for the myriad ways his life was about to change.
After all, Jordan Spieth was no stranger to exceeding expectations – he once shot 62 as a 12-year-old. He was the No. 1-ranked junior in the star-studded Class of 2015. He joined Tiger Woods as the only players to win multiple U.S. Junior titles. In his lone full season at Texas, Spieth won three times and helped the Longhorns capture their first national title in 40 years. At the NCAA Championship, he holed a 4-iron shot on the 15th hole at Riviera to secure a crucial point. At the 2011 Walker Cup, he was the leading point-getter for an American team that featured, among others, Peter Uihlein, Harris English and world No. 1 amateurs Patrick Cantlay and Chris Williams.
With that background, sure, he was trending toward greatness, but few could have predicted that Spieth would script the best rookie season since Tiger in ’96. In 12 short months, he went from making his first start of the year at Torrey Pines (only because of a late sponsor exemption) to teeing it up at Tiger’s 18-man cash-grab at Sherwood.
In between, he became the first teen to win a Tour event in more than 80 years, racked up three runners-up, six other top 10s and nearly $4 million in earnings.
In between, he became the first player since Woods to begin the year with no status and reach the Tour Championship (where he tied for second), and the youngest ever to represent the U.S. at the Presidents Cup.
In between, he became one of Camp Ponte Vedra’s media darlings, filmed commercials for Under Armour, and played Pine Valley and Augusta National in the same day.
In between, he became a crowd favorite, the Next Big Thing, and the envy (and inspiration) of college kids everywhere who hope their career trajectory will follow a similar path.
Ask Spieth, of course, and he’ll claim that his breakthrough 2013 was simply the product of good luck, that three fortunate hole-outs fueled his meteoric rise to No. 22 in the world rankings.
First there was the hole-in-one at the Puerto Rico Open. That third-round ace propelled him into contention at the opposite-field event, and he eventually finished one shot behind. The T-2 finish, however, got him into the next week’s tournament, which is no small consolation for a player trying to find his way.
Similar magic ensued the following week at the Tampa Bay Championship, where he again found himself in the mix on the final day. Needing to play the final two holes in 1 under to post another top-1o finish, Spieth holed a flop shot from a near-impossible spot on 17 to finish joint seventh and essentially lock up special temporary status on Tour for the remainder of the season.
No shot, however, was as spectacular – or as meaningful – as his bunker shot on the 72nd hole at the John Deere. It thrust him into a three-man playoff with Zach Johnson and David Hearn, and Spieth eventually prevailed on the fifth extra hole. He became the first teen to win on Tour since Ralph Guldahl in 1931, and the win gave him a two-year exemption, a spot in the following week’s Open, a date next April at the Masters and, not least, instant fame.
“It was funny looking back and noticing how many times I holed out where it was really important,” he said last week. “A lot of it required luck, so sometimes it’s better to be lucky.”
From Q-School flameout to competing with golf royalty? Sorry, Jordan, but that required a bit more than luck.