Tuesday 23 January 2018

Masterly Spieth lives up to his own expectations

First encounter suggested world would knock edges off Augusta hero - how wrong we were

Top of the heap: Masters champ Jordan Spieth wears his green jacket on a visit to the observation deck at The Empire State Building in New York on Monday
Top of the heap: Masters champ Jordan Spieth wears his green jacket on a visit to the observation deck at The Empire State Building in New York on Monday

Joe Molloy

So it turns out my first impression of Jordan Spieth was horribly wrong. It was at the 2013 Open Championship in sunny Scotland when I first encountered young Jordan.

The week before, the then 19-year-old had nabbed the John Deere Classic in dramatic play-off fashion, which secured him a spot at Muirfield.

A week later, I was hanging around the media mixed zone. Players were coming and going, generally speaking to journalists from their respective countries, when I overheard the southern drawl of Spieth behind me.

What pricked my ears was him telling the single reporter listening that his plan was very much to get to World No 1, make the US Ryder Cup team and win Majors. The ambition was stated matter of factly rather then in a particularly brash kind of way, but still I distinctly remember scoffing.

At that stage Spieth was barely on the scene, and even with his early PGA Tour win in the bag, for him to be publicly laying out such lofty targets seemed painfully naive. As I wandered back to the media centre, I concluded that a few months on tour would quickly knock the edges of his bright-eyed ambitions.

One could hardly blame underage superstars for having his sort of precociousness. But he wouldn't be the first teenage wunderkind to learn the hard way.

Well, it turns out the Spieth kid knew something I didn't. After three more wins, a brilliant Ryder Cup performance and a green jacket, I've caught up. That cocksure kid in Muirfield in 2013 was the real deal. Even on Friday, I doubted him; I was sure a wire-to-wire victory was too big an ask.

Two aspects of Spieth's game stand out. The first is his mental strength. He has a maturity way beyond his years. He lived with the pressure of a lead at Augusta for three straight nights and he followed up every bogey with a birdie. Then, of course, there's his putting.

He's the leading putter on tour this year. We had Colin Byrne, currently caddie to Ernie Els, on Monday's show. Els had been paired with Spieth a few weeks ago in Houston, so Byrne got a close look at the Masters champion in waiting.

"The one striking feature of Jordan is his putting," Byrne said. "He is possibly the most phenomenal putter I have ever seen. He doesn't seem to hit bad putts. I actually saw him last year in Shanghai for the HSBC tournament going through his putting routine on the practice green and the intensity of him and the type of putts he was hitting (meant) I just couldn't look away. I've never seen anyone practise like that. It's such a rare talent."

Jordan, my apologies. I won't doubt you again.

Irish Independent

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