Twenty-year-old Texan sensation remains unfazed as he outshines playing partner Rory McIlroy to enter Masters third round tied for third
Moxie, the Americans call it. Nerve, courage, vigour; the essence, in other words, of their young golfing gunslingers. Jordan Spieth, the 20-year-old Texan cutting a swathe across Augusta’s verdant acres, encapsulates those virtues better than most. Out-shooting fellow phenomenon Rory McIlroy by seven shots in their second round together, he propelled himself into contention on the one stage where callow debutants are supposed to struggle. What, pray, was the secret of this Masters sensation? “Don’t think too much,” came the reply.
No rookie has savoured victory at Augusta since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979, but Spieth is one in a hurry to redraw the accepted wisdom. A PGA Tour winner before he even possessed a tour card, the youngest American to compete in the Presidents Cup, he has conducted his Masters baptism with a polish to suggest this God-fearing Dallas boy was christened in a green jacket. Best of all, Spieth was not remotely taken aback by the speed with which he had adapted to this Georgia garden.
“I’ve been competing with these guys at other major championships, and this year it was a big goal of mine to contend at a major – the Masters being the one I dreamt about since I was who knows how old,” he said. “That’s going to leave more emotion out there. But Mr Ben Crenshaw says it best: the Masters brings out emotion in the guys who aren’t emotional.”
When Spieth announced his presence among the elite with a maiden tour triumph in Illinois last July, it was not the £600,000 winner’s cheque or even the immediate passport to the Open Championship that he held most dear, but a little envelope that cost just 66 cents in postage and arrived with that telltale dark-green edging: an invite to the Masters. Upon depositing his belongings in the champions’ locker room, the potent sense of place assailed him afresh. “This is the pinnacle of golf,” Spieth said.
“I told myself: ‘This is where you need to be.’” Already these fairways have proved a promising fit for his sharp eye and precociously imaginative golfing brain. But then Spieth, ranked 13th in the world, expects nothing less of himself. At 16, he finished tied for 16th at the Byron Nelson tour event in Fort Worth and sparked a clamour for his signature on any number of endorsement deals. That dreaded billing as ‘the next big thing’ is one that he has worn admirably since childhood. The poise he has demonstrated at Augusta indicates that it just might be true.
Putative successors to Tiger Woods, whose first absence from the Masters in 20 years has pushed TV ratings down by an estimated 30 per cent, have come and gone. Rickie Fowler, he of the all-orange get-up and back-to-front cap – worn in the traditional manner at the Masters, naturally – would be one primary case in point, having flattered to deceive ever since his solitary triumph in 2012. But the steepness of Spieth's rise is of a different order. In his rookie season last year, he registered no fewer than nine top-10 finishes. Not even Woods managed that many.
With America desperate to rekindle the Woods fire, Spieth appears the surest bet going. Not that the blend of mystery, intrigue and inscrutability that has become Tiger’s calling card is ever likely to define a youngster whose sheer wholesomeness could have been drawn straight from the script of Sweet Valley High. He still drives the same Yukon truck he did when he first qualified to drive and his only extravagance, he promises despite the millions he has accrued, will be to buy a house. That understated down-to-earth charm will go far in his Augusta assimilation.
Spieth does, however, also have an appreciation of what adversity means. His younger sister Ellie was born with a neurological disorder and spent a month in the neonatal intensive care unit. Jordan, instinctively, visited her every day. Their relationship remains exceptionally close, he continues to volunteer in her classes and has set up a foundation to help other special-needs children. “In my family, it has never been all about me,” he said. The sentiment was echoed by Cameron McCormick, his swing coach, who explained how Ellie “grounds Jordan, inspires him and makes it easy for him to detach – she’s a big key to who he is as a person”.
Indeed, the humility of Spieth formed a sharp contrast with the arrogance of Patrick Reed. Among the 24 rookies here at Augusta he was the other great home-grown hope, having won last month at Doral and declared himself to be “one of the top five players in the world”. But Reed is understood to have behaved with a little less grace after his eight-over-par total forced him out of the weekend, pointedly ignoring requests for an interview. Phil Mickelson, also absent yesterday, has established the template for Masters champions who match their on-course prowess with a healthy dose of decorum.
Reed, a painfully raw personality at 23, evidently has much to learn at Augusta. But Spieth looks every inch to the National born.