Golf

At age 20, Spieth a serious contender at Royal Liverpool

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The Canadian Press
7/12/2014 5:53:19 PM
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HOYLAKE, England -- Jordan Spieth was so caught up in the debate he never realized he might have been talking about himself.

The topic was college football.

Three days into the new year, Spieth was getting ready to play a practice round at Kapalua when he walked into a conversation about Oklahoma's upset win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. A caddie was blaming Nick Saban for being so critical of the Crimson Tide leading up to the game that it rattled his players. Spieth, a football junkie and sideline guest during the Oklahoma-Texas game, shook his head.

"Listen you guys, 20-year-olds don't get rattled by (anything) -- trust me on that one," he said before walking away. Two people left behind at the coffee machine stared at each other for a moment, wondering if the kid knew what he had just said.

Spieth is 20.

He gets angry at some of the shots he plays. He talks to himself so much on the golf course that he provides his own colour commentary.

But rattled?

Not over a bunker shot on the final hole at the John Deere Classic that he made for birdie to get into a playoff for his first PGA Tour victory. Not in a final-round pairing with Phil Mickelson, when he shot 62 in a performance so impressive that Mickelson told Presidents Cup captain Fred Couples, "Dude, you've got to pick this guy."

Spieth wasn't rattled as the youngest American to play in the Presidents Cup, either. During a team match against Tiger Woods in a practice round, he won the 12th hole by making a hole-in-one. And he didn't look fazed when he shot 64 and nearly won the FedEx Cup, two months after getting his PGA Tour card.

He became the first player since another 20-year-old -- Woods -- to start a season without status and reach the Tour Championship.

Spieth is not the next Tiger Woods. But he sure got Woods' attention.

"For a person to have come out of college and done this well, this fast and been as consistent ... normally when you're young, you come out and you may have two, three good weeks a year, maybe more," Woods said. "It just seems like he's having one every week. He's always up there."

Spieth, who won't turn 21 until a week after the British Open, is among the favourites at Royal Liverpool.

Even though the John Deere Classic remains his only victory, his body of work can't be ignored. Spieth is No. 10 in the world, and only Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy cracked the top 10 at a younger age. He shared the 54-hole lead at the Masters and The Players Championship, losing out to Bubba Watson and Martin Kaymer. Dating to his victory, he has finished out of the top 20 only six times in 28 tournaments.

All this in the blur of one year.

"It feels like time flies," Spieth said. "But if you look back, even Kapalua feels like a long time ago. It feels like I've been on tour for four years now."

He plays much older than his age. Two weeks ago at Congressional, Spieth was in the same group as Woods when golf's biggest star returned from back surgery. Spieth had no idea where the ball was going. He was in much worse shape than Woods off the tee, but he put on a clinic with his short game.

Woods missed the cut. Spieth tied for 11th.

"He's got an old head on young shoulders," Ernie Els said. "I know you guys have heard that a million times, too, but in his case, he understands the game at a young age. He's cocky enough that he knows he's good. But he doesn't think that he knows everything. He's ready to learn still."

Cameron McCormick can attest to that.

The golf instructor at Brook Hollow in Dallas first met Spieth when he was 12. They were playing nine holes when McCormick wanted to see more of his short game. Over the last six holes, he placed three balls around the green. It would be a par 2 from each spot, and McCormick told Spieth he would buy him a hat if he was 3 over. On the last hole, Spieth needed to hole one shot and get up and down on the other two.

Spieth holed two of the shots. He got the hat.

The teacher is not surprised by Spieth's rapid ascent. He attributed it to not getting a big head and not being afraid to work. Even after his amazing year on the PGA Tour, Spieth and McCormick pored over statistics, identified areas to improve and got after it.

"He's the last person I have to ask to do more," McCormick said. "Jordan tries really hard to play his best golf regardless of whether the game is there that day."

The only thing lacking are the wins, though he at least is giving himself chances. Remember, Garcia still only had one victory when he was 20. McIlroy collected his second victory the day before he turned 21.

Spieth has time on his side -- lots of it -- even if feels as though time flies. He's not about to get rattled.

Jordan Spieth (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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