Jordan Spieth at Pebble on Maturing as a Pro

Jordan Spieth is making his first start in two weeks after finishing T19 at Torrey Pines. This week he gets the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and famed Pebble Beach. And he’s just as thrilled with the other two courses in the rotation, Spyglass Hill and Monterey Peninsula. That’s a great attitude to start the week with:

This is, it’s got to be the most unbelievable place for golf in the world.  All three courses are magnificent and there’s still another five or six courses that are on this peninsula that I would like to play some day that I hear are pretty incredible themselves.

A key element in his development as a pro is the fact that he’s in his second year and coming back to courses that he’s seen before:

This is the second tournament now where I’m coming back where I’ve seen the course before.  That’s rare.  Torrey Pines being the first, was my first start last year, this is my second.

So I was able to kind of feed off of course knowledge at Torrey Pines a little better than I was last year in new places, so I feel like this year, even though it is three courses, I’ll be able to draw back on certain places not to miss or where to leave the ball, especially on a course that, like Pebble, where it’s hosted a U.S. Open, there’s definitely spots where you need to be careful. 

One of the things that makes Spieth such an attractive package is that at such a young age, he knows just what to say. In this instance he was informed that a lot of people are talking about him as the next Tiger or Phil and what did he think about that? He answered it with an uncommon but perfect amount of humility:

Not really fazed either way by it.  It’s an honor to be compared I think at my age to other guys at their age, but as far as being compared to somebody such as Tiger whose had so much success and broken so many records, I mean that didn’t happen when he was my age, that happened throughout his career.

So all in all when I hear that, all I hear is that I’ve got a long way to go to obviously try and be the best player in the world and to break the records that are out there.  Because that’s what we’re in the sport for.

So it’s an honor when I hear where other people were at this point in their career, starting their second year out, but ultimately you can’t draw on that, you need to keep your head forward looking and setting new goals and harder goals.

He made us aware of him with his T21 finish in the 2012 U.S. Open in San Francisco while he was still an amateur. It was a launching pad to his sense of himself as a player:

Yeah, the U.S. Open was seventh or eighth start in professional events as an amateur, so I had been in the scene before, but never in a Major Championship.  And to really, on the weekend, play some of the best golf I had ever played in my life on Saturday, Sunday at a U.S. Open, that was definitely a big confidence boost.  It allowed me to really be comfortable with my decision to turn pro in my head.

That experience was an anchor to his decision:

I ended up waiting for another six months or so, but it was definitely a week that is very significant in my career.  It was, low amateur in a Major was goal of mine.

But from there, I mean, it just, I finished up that summer playing some college golf into the fall and then turned pro.  And then last year was last year.

And after his spectacular 2013 year, he found himself in a different place mentally. It is very unusual to see a college player find his footing so soon in his career. What was it that made the difference for him?

Well, I think I’m just a veteran now, that’s why it’s a lot easier this year.

No, I mean, it’s nerves and it’s also the way I’m preparing, course preparation, learning, just when you play a year on Tour, even though so many golf courses are so different, they’re still places that in college golf I would fire at the pins.

And I’m just learning that you can’t do that and that I just look back at where I made my bogeys and over the past year it was typically on where my approach shots went.  And it was because I would get myself short sided.  So it’s about learning when to fire and learning when to kind of chill out.

But there was also a sort of maturation process around knowing that he “belonged.”

So, yeah, I mean ultimately nerves is a big thing and having won an event and then played against the best players in the world, competed versus last year at this time really trying to get my, trying to sneak inside the ropes without being caught and told that I was a teenager trying to get in with the pros.  So in that sense it’s different when I step on the course.

I think a big key was the fact that I had played in seven or eight Tour events as an amateur before turning pro.  I know for a fact that if you are just going to turn pro without a start on Tour it’s going to be extremely difficult.  It’s already difficult, but you just have another factor to get over.

Success on Tour is not only about believing, it’s believing that your ultimate success is believable. With actual Tour experience under his belt before he turned pro, his ambitions became believable:

And I think that it helped me a lot that these tournaments gave me exemptions when I was younger to give myself some, a little experience, but enough to where it made a difference where I didn’t have to think of it as too much of a step up when I made the transition.

One of the hallmarks of the successful Tour pros is their demeanor. While the good ones may reveal a grimace or fleeting look of disdain, they shut it off and get right back into “Mr. Glidealong.” Nothing to see here, everything’s fine. Spieth has had issues with that in the past, but he’s working on it:

No, it’s something I need to work on.  There’s a difference between a big, real competitive fire and then there’s a difference between that and showing it on the course.  And it’s not about, I don’t really care what other people see, it’s about what, how it affected me.  And it’s something I’ve been working on hard the last couple years and it’s still a work in progress.

And it’s just maturing.  I think that there’s just, there’s, I just have more maturing to do about letting things happen, not trying to want it too bad on the weekend.  And it’s something that my coach and I are really talking about a lot.

What happened with his Torrey upset was that he lost all sense of his swing. When that normally happens, he just goes to his go to shot. And when he can’t find that he’ll even go to a controlled punch fade that costs him distance but ends up in play. But when even that wasn’t there, he freaked out. So first thing when he got home, he went to his coach to work through it:

And it was really just me and Cameron McCormick, my instructor, he’s the one I talked to.  And we just, I mean we had a long discussion.  I got home, I flew home Monday and immediately went out to see him.

It was probably 20 degrees, but we went into the bay there and we talked for a couple hours about the mental side of it.  Because he could see it, and he knows my game better than anybody else does.  And he and my dad know my mental game probably as well as anybody.

So it was very — he was more asking questions, trying to figure out — because he asks questions, he’s asked them in the past and I’ve had certain answers here, certain answers there, so he can draw on what was really wrong.

And it was ‑‑ I was very close.  I was very close at Torrey and felt like had I just had that one shot, I could have pulled it off.

And what he’s apparently learned is that getting upset about it when you don’t have that shot doesn’t make it any better. And as he says, he’s working on it.

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