GULLANE, Scotland – The past few weeks have been such a whirlwind for Jordan Spieth, he arrived at Muirfield on Tuesday wearing a pair of unwashed pants. Oh, these weren’t just any gray slacks. They were the ones he wore Sunday at the John Deere Classic, the site of his life-changing victory.
“These were the furthest away from the really dirty clothes,” he said, smiling.
The victory was significant in many ways for Spieth, who doesn’t turn 20 until later this month. The two-year exemption. The $828,000 paycheck. A Masters berth. The boatload of FedEx Cup points. More immediately, however, it meant a spot in this week’s British Open, where he will make his third career major start.
Tuesday was Spieth’s first day on-site at Muirfield, and his legs were still so weary that he could manage only nine holes of practice. After taking the private charter from Illinois to Edinburgh – arriving at 10:30 a.m. local time Monday, Spieth scarfed down lunch, crashed for a few hours, ate dinner, walked around town for a bit and went to sleep.
His clothes were another issue.
During this most recent stretch, Spieth packed only for the AT&T National. That was three weeks ago. His sixth-place finish at Congressional got him into The Greenbrier, where he tied for 23rd, and he already had a sponsor exemption into the John Deere Classic. All warm-weather climes.
So, yes, his wardrobe was a bit limited, and that’s usually problematic in these parts, where the weather can change in an instant. (Remember the third round here in ’02?) An official from Under Armour is arriving soon to bring some new threads, and, fortunately, the rental house Spieth is moving into Tuesday night is equipped with a washing machine.
That he was still wearing his winning pants Tuesday proved fitting, however, since all anyone wanted to do was talk about the teen phenom’s finish at TPC Deere Run, where he became the youngest PGA Tour winner since 1931.
Spieth was six shots back to begin the final round, needing a win (and only a win) to earn an Open berth and receive all of the perks of full membership. Late on the back nine, though, he was simply thinking about making two more birdies to post another top-10 finish. Instead, he reeled off five birdies in the last six holes, including a hole-out from the bunker on the 72nd hole in regulation, and watched in amazement as the leading score remained at 19 under – the same as it was at the start of the day. An hour later, Spieth made a few 7-footers to extend the playoff, and he prevailed on the fifth extra hole.
In the dizzying aftermath, Spieth called his parents, had his picture taken in the bunker short of the 18th green, fulfilled his media obligations, showered and then raced to the airport, where the charter flight was delayed 45 minutes because of the playoff.
And then, when he finally had a moment to reflect, all he could think about was how 19 under won that tournament. “I caught the right breaks and other guys got unlucky,” he said.
If he wasn’t in this week’s Open, Spieth would have been back home in his Austin, Texas, condo, getting away from golf for a few weeks, resuming his workout routine, catching up with his swing coach, Cameron McCormick.
Instead, he’s preparing for the 142nd British Open, at a site he has never seen before. He couldn’t even do any last-minute research – the Internet on his cellphone doesn’t work.
No matter. Spieth has obviously proved a quick learner, authoring one of the stories of the season and generating more buzz than any young American golfer in recent memory. This season he has six top 10s, a win and more than $2 million in earnings, which is even more impressive when you consider that he didn’t have any status anywhere after turning pro last December.
“I think he’s one of our really good young stars that we have coming up,” Phil Mickelson said. “Obviously he’s played like that. But he is more than that. He’s enjoyable to be around. He’s got charisma; people are drawn to him. He’s going to be a real asset to the Tour.”
Fatigue may be the only thing that keeps Spieth out of contention here.
With his low ball flight and imaginative short game, Spieth said he enjoys the challenge of links golf, which is not always the case for young players. (See McIlroy, Rory.) His most notable experience came at the 2011 Walker Cup, where he went 2-0-1 in a U.S. loss, and he’s also played at St. Andrews and Kingsbarns.
“This is the tournament that I watch every year,” he said. “You see it’s miserable, and you’re sitting on the couch. It’s like life is good, look at these guys.”
Spieth is one of those guys now, a fact reinforced by his presence here on one of the game’s biggest stages. When he walked onto the range Tuesday, he was greeted by Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Ian Poulter and Mickelson. They all offered kind words for his performance at the Deere.
Heck, even Tiger Woods took notice.
“I think it’s fantastic for him,” he said. “Being 19 years old and having an opportunity to not only have a chance to win his first tournament, but the way he did it and went out there in the playoff and got it done. It’s a pretty fantastic accomplishment.”
Spieth’s game may be all grown up – he is now the 59th-ranked player in the world – but he still shows a likeable naiveté. Basking in another unseasonably warm day at Muirfield, he said, “It’s a cool life, traveling out here, getting to play the best golf courses. You don’t have to pay to play the golf courses. You get paid to play. It’s not work.”
Apparently, the same can’t be said for finding clean clothes.