Spieth’s Learning Curve is Trending Upward

Jordan Spieth, who contended in the Masters and the Players Championship this year, got his first look at Pinehurst No. 2 during Monday's practice round. (USGA/Fred Vuich)

Jordan Spieth, who contended in the Masters and the Players Championship this year, got his first look at Pinehurst No. 2 during Monday's practice round. (USGA/Fred Vuich)

Monday, June 9, 2014

By Dave Shedloski

VILLAGE OF PINEHURST, N.C. – Jordan Spieth has proven himself to be one of golf’s extraordinarily fast learners, so it’s no wonder that he is being considered among the players to follow closely as the 114th U.S. Open unfolds this week at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club’s Course No. 2.

One of two multiple winners of the U.S. Junior Amateur – along with Tiger Woods, who won three – Spieth arrives for his third U.S. Open with expectations placed upon him that are likely no greater than those he places on himself. Even though he is just 20 years old and in his second year as a professional, the Dallas native has sustained a level of play that is impeccable and exceptional.

His victory at last year’s John Deere Classic made him, at 19, the youngest winner of a PGA Tour event in 80 years, and it propelled him to Rookie of the Year honors and a spot on the U.S. Presidents Cup team. And while he has not yet won in 2014, Spieth has continued to shine by playing his way into the final pairing on Sunday as the 54-hole co-leader at both the Masters Tournament and The Players Championship.

That he didn’t win on either occasion might only reinforce the notion that his chances are decent this week in the North Carolina Sandhills. After all, he had to have gleaned something from those disappointments.

“I learned a lot from both experiences,” said Spieth, who referred to the twin losses as “stingers.”

“I felt like I struck the ball better, played smarter shots at The Players,” he added. “I just got bounces that didn't go my way. So coming in here that’s all behind me. I’ve gotten what I think I needed to learn from those experiences, and I will put that into account, if I can work my way into contention here.”

Spieth debuted in the U.S. Open in 2012 at The Olympic Club, and, here again, he showed that he wasn’t overwhelmed in a new competitive environment. Just weeks after winning an NCAA Division I title at the University of Texas, Spieth finished tied for 21st at 7-over 287 and captured low-amateur honors. After making the cut on the number with a pair of 74s, Spieth rallied with 69-70 on the weekend, just one of four players to break par in the final two rounds combined.

“Nerves are no big deal to him,” Bubba Watson told reporters after defeating Spieth in the Masters. “He’s a great player and a guy like that, he obviously has no fear. He’s special.”

“The thing I like about Jordan's game is he hits all the shots,” said Phil Mickelson, his Presidents Cup teammate. “He’s not one-dimensional by any means. He hits cuts. He hits draws. He brings it in low. He shapes the ball into pins. He has the ability to go really low. To see a guy at 20 years old hitting all the shots, it’s only going to get more refined.”

After receiving a scouting report from USGA President Tom O’Toole Jr. at an outing at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio, two weeks ago, Spieth has had a chance to do his own reconnaissance of Pinehurst No. 2. The natural sandy areas do not intimidate him. He likes the fact that the layout is a second-shot golf course, like Augusta National. Bottom line: “I feel very comfortable on this golf course.

“It’s an incredible place. I’ve never played anything like it,” added Spieth, who is No. 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking, just one more sign of his precociousness as a player. “And it’s already, right now, with the pins in the middle of the greens, hard enough for even par to win. It’s going to be extremely challenging, but at the same time, a great test. I think it’s going to be a fair test.”

But there’s more to the challenge this week than navigating the difficult Donald Ross-designed layout, the longest in U.S. Open history at 7,562 yards. The U.S. Open is about strategy and control of emotions. There is a battle within that must first be won. Spieth is well aware of that, something experience has told him all too well.

And – no surprise – he feels like he’s catching on.

“If I can get into the position, the goal isn’t just to feel the feeling and try to get the comfort level, now it’s to really try and put into place what Augusta as well as the Players have taught me,” Spieth said. “I believe that I can win this golf tournament. … And I feel like I will be able to close this one out if I get an opportunity.”

Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.

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