John Fields is well aware that his life changed forever on Saturday, Feb. 6, 2010, when he received a phone call at 2:30 p.m. from a 16-year-old named Jordan Spieth.
Fields had just gotten back from his team’s tournament in Hawaii, and he was sitting in his TV room at home when his cellphone buzzed. The conversation was brief, maybe five minutes. But five little words – I am coming to Texas – changed everything.
Thirty months later, in his first season at Texas, Spieth raced onto the 18th green at Riviera to celebrate after he helped the Longhorns capture their first NCAA title in 40 years, since guys like Kite and Crenshaw were on the team. Spieth would turn pro a few months later, after his fall semester, the beginning of a magical 2 1/2-year run that culminated with him slipping into the green jacket Sunday night in Augusta.
The college dropout still got his Masters.
“It doesn’t surprise me because I knew he had that ability and that belief,” Fields said by phone. “It doesn’t surprise me because I’ve seen it.”
The first time he watched Spieth play was at a Texas junior event in Ardmore, Okla. On the par-3 second hole at Dornick Hills, the then-12-year-old hit an amped-up iron over the green because the popular Texas coach was watching. The shot Spieth played next was one that Fields will never forget: From a gnarly lie in the rough, he hoisted a flop shot onto a downslope that landed soft and trickled within 6 inches of the cup. Ho-hum par.
“I knew he was going to be great,” Fields said. “He had that look about him.”
Spieth blossomed into the top recruit in the country, and every big-name program wanted him. On his fifth unofficial visit to Austin – about three hours from his hometown of Dallas – he was relaxing in Fields’ office when the coach asked him a question.
“Jordan, do you know what I’ll be if you come to Texas?”
“No, I have no idea,” Spieth replied.
“Well, if you come here, I’ll be a great coach.”
“Great players make great coaches,” Fields reminded him. “It’s not the other way around.”
Fields had already been at the helm for more than a dozen years and led the team to a handful of top-five finishes at NCAAs, but Texas athletics was demanding and the competitive recruiting landscape required thick skin. The pressure to win was mounting. The 2011-12 season – with Spieth and South African Dylan Frittelli leading the way – was a game-changer for everybody involved, but particularly Fields.
That summer, in the wake of the national title, he told me, “When you’re out there recruiting and you haven’t won one and you’re at Texas, they say, ‘That guy can’t coach. He’s the worst coach in America. He can’t get kids where they need to go.’ They throw mud. To have something like this happen, it kind of validates you.”
Look at Fields now: He oversees a roster loaded with can’t-miss prospects and USGA champions. His Longhorns are the No. 3 team in the country, the winners of four of their last five events (five overall), and the favorites for the NCAAs in less than two months. And to think, Spieth would be a senior right now, a month away from graduation.
“We were blessed to have him,” Fields said. “He’s a diamond-encrusted billboard for this golf team."
And so, as his Longhorns played a college event this weekend in Northern California, many asked Fields: Aren’t you going to head to Augusta for the coronation?
“I’m right where I’m supposed to be,” he said. “Jordan loves these guys. If I showed up at Augusta, he’d look at me cross-eyed, like, What are you doing here?”
Sure enough, Texas swept both the team and individual titles at Pasatiempo, another Alister Mackenzie gem that is the inspiration for Augusta National. And then, a few hours later, as the college kids ate lunch in the clubhouse, 21-year-old Jordan Spieth won the Masters.
Back in Austin, the university honored the new No. 2 player in the world by lighting its iconic tower burnt orange.
No one will soon forget Spieth’s 15 months as a Longhorn. Especially not Fields.