GLENEAGLES, Scotland – It was another seminal moment in the growing legend that is Jordan Spieth.
On Tuesday Matt Kuchar, who seems to be the 21-year-old’s likely partner this week at Gleneagles, was asked if he planned to give any advice to Spieth? After a few moments the American’s face twisted and he asked, “Is this his first Ryder Cup? I didn't know that. Yeah, I thought he played.”
It was an honest mistake that Kuchar compounded, “Was last year his first Presidents Cup?”
Last year was Spieth’s first everything, at least as far as professional golf is concerned. He won his first PGA Tour title, earned his first trip to the Tour Championship and made his first international team as a pro. He even won the Tour’s Rookie of the Year award, which should have been a hint for Kuchar.
Even Spieth’s captain, Tom Watson, who in two turns as a Ryder Cup skipper has demonstrated a reluctance to lean on rookies, doesn’t see him as a first-timer.
“Jordan has a great attitude about this game,” Watson said. “He has a very strong, mature attitude about how he plays the game, and I couldn't be happier to have him on the team.”
If Spieth doesn’t exactly fit the mold of a Ryder Cup rookie it likely has something to do with his fascination with the event from a young age.
It was four years ago while he was playing in the Junior Ryder Cup at Gleneagles when the thought first occurred to Spieth that he could one day join the varsity team at the biennial grudge match.
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“I remember thinking, is there a chance that I could be here four years from now for the Ryder Cup?” he said. “I’m supposed to be a senior in college, so I would have to leave school early and have things go pretty well to be here.”
Things went swimmingly, as they say in this corner of the United Kingdom.
Spieth secured his Tour status at the 2013 John Deere Classic and finished seventh on the final FedEx Cup point list. Although he failed to add to that victory total in 2014, he finished runner-up twice and inside the top 25 in 18 of his 27 starts to solidify his spot on Watson’s team.
As a 17-year-old he figured his odds of returning to Gleneagles to be the proverbial “million-to-one shot.” Now, he’s staying in the same hotel and using the same team room, although he points out there was no “open bar” back in 2010.
That ’10 Junior Ryder Cup has also served as a form of motivation for Spieth in recent months. When he is at home in Texas he uses the same carry bag they gave him four years ago and a few months ago he switched to a commemorative head cover for his putter from those matches.
“I’ve been using that for a month or so,” he said. “I used it through the playoffs just getting ready. I thought it was a cool thing to do.”
Spieth is the rarest of 20-somethings, a millennial with a sense of history and perspective.
While this may be his first Ryder Cup, Spieth has an impressive team resume, including an undefeated record at that 2010 Junior Ryder Cup and the 2011 Walker Cup which was also played in Scotland.
He was also an instrumental part of the U.S. Presidents Cup victory last year when captain Fred Couples made him one of his wildcard picks.
Paired with Steve Stricker, he went 2-1-0 in team play including a Day 1 fourball victory over Ernie Els and Brendon de Jonge. That opening match may have been the last time Spieth had the look of a rookie.
“About halfway down the first fairway I kind of pulled him to the side and tried to calm him down,” Stricker said of the opening match last year at Muirfield Village. “After that he was fine.”
Some would say he’s been more than fine. Some, like Kuchar, may even mistake the youngster for a cagey veteran poised, along with fellow millennials Rickie Fowler and Patrick Reed, to lead the United States out of its Ryder Cup victory abyss.
“He seems like he's played good golf for a long time now. So no advice,” Kuchar said. “He seems to be very aware of what's going on and how to handle things. I mean, he's quite mature. At 21, he seems nearly a veteran. He seems like he could nearly be a guy to just speak like he's been here for years.”
For the record, Spieth is a rookie. But it’s a title he wears in name only.