CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The wunderkind is now the seasoned veteran.
Jordan Spieth has been a part of all but one U.S. cup team since he debuted in the Presidents Cup as a history-making 20-year-old in 2013. Simple times back then: He was the hotshot rookie who dazzled with his shot-making flair and impressed with his poise and maturity. But now, with the game skewing ever younger, and with some LIV-forced turnover, Spieth has compiled the deepest record of any American player here at Quail Hollow. The guy who boasts the second-most experience: his partner, Justin Thomas.
They’re 29 and, apparently, old warhorses.
“Weird, right?” Thomas said.
Each fall, we’re fascinated with the team-room dynamics and roster makeup. There are defined roles to fill – the alpha, the spark plug, the goofball, the brooder – and we crave greater insight into how, for one week a year, 12 individualistic and selfish golfers learn to coexist in a team setting.
At the Ryder Cup last fall, U.S. skipper Steve Stricker approached Thomas with an assignment: This week, he said, we need you to be the emotional leader. And so at Whistling Straits Thomas obliged, leading meetings, pumping up teammates and shotgunning beers on the first tee. Influential on and off the course, he helped spur the Americans to the most lopsided victory in cup history, 19-9.
Thomas, with a 12-4-3 career mark, hasn’t been given the same mandate this week. Actually, he hasn’t been given any mandate this week.
“Maybe my leadership role has been passed on,” Thomas said with a smile. “Just go win points, I guess.”
Spieth’s unique role isn’t as easily defined. But throughout his cup history, he has consistently been one thing: the model. He’s sharp. He’s passionate. And, most importantly, he’s a winner (8-5-1 in this event). As rookie Max Homa said of Spieth and Thomas: “They’re two great people to watch what they’re doing. When they talk, I listen.”
Same goes for Scottie Scheffler. He might be the world No. 1, the PGA Tour Player of the Year and the Masters champion, but he’s not first in line to dispense advice.
“I look at Jordan and JT as those guys,” Scheffler said. “They’re the longest-tenured, especially Jordan, and I think there’s certain guys where their voice holds a lot of weight. I couldn’t tell you if I’m one of them – but I know that Jordan definitely is. He’s been around a long time, and you’ve got to earn your stripes.”
Spieth’s team debut left an immediate impression on Davis Love III, then an assistant on the 2013 squad. That year, in the final event before the captain’s picks were determined, Spieth fired a 62 in Boston alongside Phil Mickelson. Afterward, Mickelson texted captain Fred Couples: “Dude, you’ve got to pick this guy.” Since then, Spieth has been a mainstay for Team USA, only missing one cup, in 2019, when he was more concerned about the declining state of his game than any snub.
Back in 2013, at least, there seemed little that could stop him. “I’ll never forget Jordan bopping into the team room on Monday with shorts and a T-shirt on and started throwing ping-pong balls around,” Love recalled Tuesday.
Love’s wife, Robin, asked him: Who is that kid?
“That’s the future of our team right there,” Love replied.
And Spieth has been.
In 2017, Love remembered how the U.S. team was soaking up the scene in New York City, chartering boats to cruise down the Hudson, but it was Spieth who wanted to return the focus to the competition.
“He said, ‘Hey, whoa, whoa. It’s going to be windy tomorrow. We’ve got to get ready. This is going to be a tough match,’” Love recalled. Heavy favorites as usual, the Americans came within a point of wrapping up the title on Saturday, with Spieth delivering 3 ½ more points.
“From then on,” Love said, “guys have seen him as a leader. He’s a very smart guy. He’s a very confident guy. And that’s what we need is guys to step up.”
At 38, Kevin Kisner might be the Americans’ most senior member, but Spieth, Love said, “is the most experienced. The guy people look to take the basketball and take the last shot.”
Spieth, naturally, just wants to play his part, whatever that means in the moment. He tries to be passive, but if someone asks about a particular experience, he details it. And if a teammate asks about first-tee jitters or strategy or mindset – he shares that, too.
But while reflecting on his experience over the past decade, he noted a distinct shift in team composition. This group is the youngest in team history (29.6 years old – Spieth and Thomas’ exact age), and it’s full of players who have competed against each other for more than a decade. They’re competitive. They’re familiar with each other’s games. And they’re close.
Spieth and Thomas epitomize this next generation that could trigger a wave of American domination.
“There’s not a whole lot of need for a super imposing leadership presence at all,” Spieth said. “If there’s not a need for it, then don’t force it, because everyone does their own thing pretty well here.”
Look no further than at the top, with the two, uh, veterans paving a winning path.