Jordan Spieth: On maturing as a player

The AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-am begins Thursday at one of golf’s most idyllic sites, the Monterey Peninsula, and featuring three of its most charming courses: Pebble Beach Golf Links (6816 yards), Spyglass Hill Golf Course (6953) and Monterey Peninsula Country Club, Shore Course (6,867). We tend to think of Pebble Beach as being a very robust test of golf, but it does so being the shortest course of the three.

It will be a field of 156 players, each paired with an amateur as a teammate, playing three rounds to make the cut. If the amateur team makes the cut but the pro doesn’t, the pro plays for the team on Sunday anyway.

Jordan Spieth is partnering with country music star, Jake Owen, who sports a 3 handicap. While some of the Tour pros pass on these sort of festivities, Spieth talked about playing in the event because of them: 

I enjoy the pro‑am part of it.  Even though it’s a long round, we get good food, it’s a nice change of pace, good food, you’re kind of laughing down the fairways.  It’s like you’re playing around on the weekend.  Jake is going to be giving me crap even though we’re on the same team.  I like that, that’s fun to dish it back to him.

You don’t normally — you’re not normally looking across from Jimmy Walker and laughing that he just missed a putt, but I can do that with Jake.

It’s a little lighter mood, makes me feel like I’m just playing another round, yet we’re out here on a few of the best golf courses in the world.  Certainly the ‑‑ few of the prettiest golf courses in the world.  So that combination certainly brings me back.

And that lighthearted playing attitude tucked very nicely into the meat of Spieth’s interview where he talked about maturing as a player out of his experiences at the Masters and the Ryder Cup:

I have a better understanding of my tendencies from the Masters and the Ryder Cup, because those are the highest pressure scenarios I’ve ever been in.  So, we’re able to learn a lot from those.

Then [with coach, Cameron McCormick] we kind of created, okay, this is what you need to do, this is the way to have enough patience to pull it off next time.  Whether it’s the Australian Open or it’s the Masters.

So we do have a strategy now that I use on the course.  That kind of strategy isn’t the same that Bubba Watson uses, it’s not the same that Tiger Woods uses, everyone’s coached with a different way.  But I think we found a good way at least now, and learned a lot from near misses.  And certainly, I’ll certainly have my near misses in the future and that will shape my strategy going forward.

One of the reporters noted that a lot of the veteran players have mentioned how calm Spieth is for such a relatively young player, how well he handles himself and wondered where that came from? “Everybody’s going crazy and you’re just calm, taking it in.”

Yeah, certainly that was something that I had to learn and get over just by learning through example.  That happened my first year out here.  It was an emotional time trying to get job status and didn’t know where I was going to end up, whatever.

So when things weren’t going my way, I was more of the whine and 16 year old Jordan, just out there wondering what’s wrong.  And I still have some of that and that’s a competitive nature, but it’s not going to help you the more you do it.

And slowly this unproductive behavior became apparent in his consciousness, the first step in making improvements. You can’t fix what you don’t know is “broke.” He had the talent to be posting good scores in spite of that and consequently was paired increasingly with players who understood the awareness-sapping qualities of boorish behavior; if your mind is in a petulant rage, it can’t be on playing the next shot:

So I watched a lot of veteran players that I was paired with and when they weren’t playing well, see how they handled it, how they reacted and how they bounced back from it.

When you see whatever, 10, 20 guys that are — that I’m paired with that are really good veteran players.  That I can then see how they’re handling certain situations and I can get a good kind of grasp of how I can do it successfully when things are going wrong or how I can cope with my emotions a little better.

So, over really the course of a couple years, and this is a learning process going forward, you can always get better at it.  But it’s been the biggest change, I think, in my game from 2013 to now, is being able to kind of shake off things that aren’t going well.  That’s nothing other than watching the guys that do it the best.

And the veteran whose behavior impressed him the most as he was doing his surveying?

Probably Phil.  Playing golf with Phil, it was, I mean Tiger as well.  Those are the guys where, obviously, the first time I’m paired with them, I’m very much paying attention to what they’re doing, because they’re guys I idolized growing up and have won, they’re the most successful players that are out here in the course of their careers.

So, the way Phil plays golf, I enjoy it.  He gets frustrated, but he stays focused.  He’ll get frustrated, which you need to, you can’t be pleased with something that goes wrong, but he bounces back, he puts a smile on his face, he goes to the next hole, it doesn’t bother him at all.  He’ll still walk down the fairway and tell you a funny story.  That kind of stuff, where you know that it’s really not eating inside of him into the next hole.

With a lot of players growing up, including myself, I wouldn’t talk to anybody on the next hole if I’m upset.  That still happens to this day.  I’m still a work in progress.  But that’s what truly showed me that he put it completely behind him when he stepped on that next tee.  He picked a plan to make birdie on the next hole.  That was extremely impressive and he’s probably the No. 1 guy.

And finally, tying these mastery principles up in a nice bow, he introduced the idea of transformation, stepping fully and completely into the role you see for yourself and then waiting for reality to catch up:

The only way to win out here is to get in contention and then act like you’re supposed to be there.  Act like you are the veteran that’s been in those cases and believe that you’re the veteran and that you’re going to get the job done and it’s not a big deal, even though it’s difficult to do.

But if you start thinking about these guys being more experienced than you, then you’re setting yourself behind.  Those guys are really nice guys and I have had the full support of them.  It’s fun to play with them.  I’ve watched them for a lot of years and, obviously, a big fan of golf and I can’t get enough golf myself, so I’ve always watched them play.  So, it’s nice to have that be a reality now.

Ah, bliss. Reality catching up to the vision. The quest of all searchers.

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