Spieth fits the bill at Valero Texas Open
April 19, 2012
Natalie England, TexasSports.com
SAN ANTONIO -- The Valero Texas Open claims to be “unapologetically Texan,” and so Jordan Spieth was perfectly at home in Thursday’s first round.
Resplendent in red, white and blue, with his burnt orange Texas golf bag, the UT freshman worked around the undulating TPC San Antonio layout with a purposefully stubborn style that’s fitting of his native Lone Star State.
In Texas, on a golf course, a few things are almost inevitable – namely, wind and landscape. Spieth has learned to manage both with a compact, balanced swing that allows him to shape shots around the turn of fairways, that track toward pins like lasers.
Spieth’s ability to carve shots out of his imagination belies his youth, and despite shooting a 3-over 75 on Thursday, UT assistant and Spieth’s stand-by caddy Ryan Murphy said Spieth was never rattled.
“He really knows what he’s doing,” Murphy said.
By now, Spieth’s competitive flair has been well documented. He’s the top-ranked college player in the country, has triumphed twice at the U.S. Junior Amateur and is currently playing in his fifth PGA Tour event.
Spieth strides down the fairways with a self-assured gait, but it’s not quite a swagger. Texans can also be humble, and Spieth again fits the bill.
Following his first round, which ended with a dramatic chip-in birdie on No. 18, Spieth was set on eating lunch and then heading out for more practice with the putter. His 33 putts largely negated a round that saw him hit nine of 14 fairways.
“I felt like I hit the ball well. I just couldn’t get any (putts) to fall. I didn’t score well,” Spieth said. “It was a day of ‘almost.’ But if I hit it that well tomorrow, it will be better.”
With a solid even-par round or better Friday, Spieth should clear the cutline and advance to play his third PGA weekend. He previously contended at the HP Byron Nelson Championship in 2010 and 2011.
In fact, Spieth’s national appeal began in earnest in 2010, when he finished tied for 16th at the Nelson. As a high school junior, Spieth won over the crowds at the north Texas tournament, yet still played with a locked-jaw focus that foreshadowed the player he remains today.
“I’m putting high expectations on myself,” Spieth said before the tournament started. “I don’t really know how other people feel, but I expect myself to play well.”
As Spieth neared the turn Thursday, his crisp iron play set him up for legitimate birdie chances on holes seven, eight and nine. In fact, no putt was longer than 11 feet, but all three putts slid just past the hole.
At that point, Spieth said he felt “anxious.” Trying to figure out a way to get his putter working, Spieth started “thinking too much.”
But that wasn’t evident to anyone but Spieth. The only emotion he conveys on the golf course is steady composure, and that quality has certainly been injected into the team culture at UT.
This season, Spieth and the Longhorns have recorded seven victories in 10 team events for UT’s most wins since the 1982-83 team also won seven. The 1972-73 Longhorns finished the season with nine wins, and the 1971-72 squad ended the year with eight victories.
Spieth came to the Longhorns already with a national stature because of his amateur success, which has opened doors for him at PGA tournaments. He’s previously played in the 2012 Northern Trust Open, 2010 FedEx St. Jude Classic and 2011 and 2010 HP Byron Nelson Championships.
Spieth was a contender for first place when entering the final round tied for eighth at the 2011 HP Byron Nelson Championship. After a 7-over-par final round, he finished tied for 32nd place. He missed the cut in his two other PGA events.
“Those were humbling experiences. Now, I learn from those,” Spieth said. “I feel like I can compete with these guys, I really do.”