There's no end to the storylines during the Presidents Cup that starts Thursday at the Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio. But one of the most intriguing has to be the story, or, likely, multiple stories, surrounding Presidents Cup rookie Jordan Spieth. He's not only a rookie in the competition. He's a PGA Tour rookie. The 20-year-old had no status on any pro tour starting this year, but here he is on the U.S. team. Fred Couples made him a captain's pick, which was exactly the right thing to do considering Spieth's play this year.
Spieth, playing on a sponsor's exemption, tied for second at the Puerto Rico Open in March. He was off and golfing his way to a spot on the Presidents Cup team. He won the John Deere Classic in July, where he defeated David Hearn and Zach Johnson in a playoff. Spieth wasn't yet 20 years old. He played his way into the FedEx Cup playoffs and made a run on the last day of the season-ending Tour Championship in Atlanta, where he shot six-under-par 64 the final round to tie for second behind winner Henrik Stenson.
Spieth by the end of the season had posted that win, three second-place finishes, and nine top-10s in the 23 tournaments he played. Nobody else had more top-10s. He's 21st in the world golf ranking. That's beyond impressive, considering that he came that far in one year. He made $3,879,820, good for 10th on the money list. Spieth was voted the PGA Tour rookie of the year. Nobody else was in the running.
Above all, Spieth has shown a presence of mind and self-confidence far beyond his years. He walks down the fairway as if he's been a PGA Tour player and winner for a decade. Spieth hasn't for a moment betrayed any anxiety or nervousness about the moments he found himself in during a tournament. There was a bit of luck involved in his holing out from a greenside bunker on the final hole of regulation play at the John Deere, which ultimately got him into the playoff against Hearn and Johnson. The ball came out hot from the bunker. But it slammed into the flagstick and fell, and Spieth then seized the moment and won the playoff. Pow.
Spieth demonstrated all season that he welcomes being in contention and feels comfortable there. Asked about Spieth, his Presidents Cup teammate Tiger Woods – the PGA Tour player of the year because he won five tournaments, even if none was a major, and the vote for him was also exactly right – said the following.
"Certainly, I think the inner belief in one's self is certainly a key, and I think Jordan does that," Woods said during the rookie of the year and player of the year press conference.
Certainly Spieth possesses inner belief. Oodles of it.
Spieth knew that he wouldn't be able to play his way on to the Presidents Cup team on points, no matter how well he was doing this year. He wasn't able to accumulate points for the entire two-year period, because he started the PGA Tour only this year. He knew he would have to depend on Couples picking him. That makes it all the more impressive that he did manage to play so well, knowing he would have to do so to make it almost impossible for Couples not to pick him.
The Deutsche Bank Championship in Norton, Mass. the first week of September was a pivotal tournament for Spieth's chances of being a captain's pick. That was the second of the four FedEx playoff tournaments. Spieth had shot 67-66-72 the first three rounds, and knew he needed to come up big on Sunday. So what does he do? He shoots 62 to tie for fourth. He eagled the final hole to do that.
"I knew I really needed to make a statement," Spieth said after the round.
Spieth refers to being part of a Presidents Cup or Ryder Cup team as "the greatest honour you can have in golf." Now he's at Muirfield Village, part of a team that includes Woods, Phil Mickelson, Keegan Bradley, Jason Dufner, Steve Stricker, and six more of the best players in the world.
Couples announced on Sept. 4th that he was picking Spieth, along with 2012 U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson. Of Spieth, Couples said that he had "an incredible year with really only one crack at it this year."
As for Spieth, he said, "he's just super-stoked," that he has a lot of confidence in himself, and, well, as Woods said of him, "just a lot of belief."
All of this means that it will be, to use one of Captain Couples' favourite words, "fun" to focus on Spieth during the four days of the Presidents Cup. He's part of the team, and who would have thought that when the 2013 PGA Tour season started. Remarkable, indeed.
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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association's first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada's Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round's on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf's Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein