So Jordan Spieth had a freshman year on the PGA Tour that was so exceptional, they’ll be talking about it for years. It’s well documented by now, but the shorthand will always be going from no status on the PGA Tour, to winning his first Tour event, to being Captain Fred Couple’s pick for the Presidents Cup. He made millions in the process, but even that will be overshadowed by the sheer accomplishment.
All of this was so memorable and Spieth such a humble, charming subject that conversations about him persisted through the “off season.” But knowing how hard what he did was, few people thought he would be able to replicate it.
Yet — and one round does not a year make — Spieth came out in the first round of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions without skipping a beat shooting a bogey-free, 7-under 66 to share the lead with Webb Simpson, Michael Thompson and Chris Kirk. The other three had one bogey apiece.
It was kind of a start that I’m very happy, very happy with for 2014. You know, big fairways, big greens. I had control over my long clubs and my putting speed. It’s a course that you really — I shouldn’t make a lot of bogeys on if you keep the ball in play and just think your way around the course.
Ultimately did some good preparation and did a lot of hard work the last two or three weeks getting ready for today and now just happy to be in good position after the first round.
He described that preparation in some detail in yesterday’s post, “Jordan Spieth: On Owning Your Swing.”
It also helped that he really appreciated this very hilly course, beginning with his first practice round:
Yeah, I was planning on playing nine holes and I almost just kept on going because it was just such a cool layout.
I really do enjoy all the sidehill lies, downhill lies. You really have to be almost a shot‑maker out here just to strike the ball in the middle [of the club face]. It’s not very easy. I hit one 7‑iron really fat today on a par 5 that would have given me a good look at eagle and ended up in a hazard. [But] I played out of it and ended up making par.
That was the only kind of ball that I didn’t strike really well today, so it was nice to have that off all the different lies you get to be able to strike it well.
He also described how he got a little too aggressive trying to get to the par-5 18th in two. But what’s more interesting in what he said is in his description of what ensued because it reflects the “never give up” mindset of a great player:
I just tried too hard. It was a little into the wind and I was trying to push it to get near the green in two, and I actually missed the fairway, which is pretty hard to do for anybody on that hole.
That’s probably the second largest fairway outside of Hilton Head, 18, we’ll have all year and I’ve actually missed it two out of the three times I’ve played it now, one of the practice round days, too. I just overcooked it and tried to kill it and it went in the rough and punched a hybrid and it came down the hill in No Man’s Land in the little swale still 155 yards out and I hit a 9‑iron to about 10, 12 feet and made it, so got to four somehow.
Got to four somehow. Indeed.
Michael Thompson achieved his success by going back in the playbook to something he used to do but had gotten away from: play with patience:
I’ve been working really hard on staying patient. Kind of cliché but it’s worked for me in the past and I’ve gotten way from it the last few years and struggled and very up‑and‑down with my game, so it’s nice to start off the year with a great round.
He also expanded on exactly what that meant in terms of his game and how it was the greatest success of the day:
I never got ahead of myself. I don’t do a whole lot mechanically with my swing, anyways. My only goal is to hit the ball solid. I like to play a low fade. Some people describe I hit the ball kind of high. But that’s what I’m aiming for, every time I hit a shot, is to hit a low fade. I did that really well today.
I made a couple errant swings, but for the most part, I stayed in the moment, I never started thinking about the future, and just played every shot 100 percent effort. So that would be the greatest success today.
Without much wind for a lot of the day, the Plantation Course at the Kapalua Resort in idyllic Maui, Hawaii, had a tough time against much of the field. Four more guys were at 6-under: Jason Dufner, Ryan Moore, Zach Johnson and Kevin Streelman, the new underdog to cheer for who got it to 8-under, but bogeyed 17 and the par-5 18th.
Matt Kuchar was at 5, Sang-Moon Bae not surprisingly at 4.
And then there was a clump of contenders at 3 lead by Defending Champion, Dustin Johnson, Adam Scott, Ken Duke, Brian Gay Patrick Reed, Harris English and Brandt Snedeker.
So with 7 and 6-under amply demonstrated as possible, it’s way too early to know how this thing will turn out. But what we do know is that there should continue to be cascading low scores with this kind of tuned-up talent, low winds and no rain in the forecast. Should be fun to watch.