As a 16-year-old Texas phenom competing in the 2010 Byron Nelson Invitational, Jordan Spieth served notice that he was a player to watch in the coming years. This weekend at the RBC Heritage, the emerging PGA Tour star made it clear that those years are coming sooner than anyone expected.
Playing in only his sixth tournament as a professional, the 19-year-old Spieth claimed his third top-15 finish of the PGA Tour season at Harbour Town Golf Links while playing on a sponsor’s exemption. The steady performance provided further evidence that the former University of Texas star is the most promising American golfer to surface since Tiger Woods more than 16 years ago.
It’s been several years, but you might remember Spieth as the private school teenager who not only made the cut at the Byron Nelson but managed a top-20 showing with a four-under performance against some of the finest golfers in the world that year.
Fast forward to today, and you have a long-driving, consistent golfer with a smooth short game who has shown in four short months and under extreme pressure that he not only belongs on tour but that he will be a fixture on leaderboards for years to come on the most challenging of golf courses.
Prior to Hilton Head, Spieth placed seventh at the Tampa Bay Championship and preceded that showing with a tie for second at the Puerto Rico Championship a couple weeks prior. Given his temporary membership status, Spieth relies on exemptions to enter tournaments, meaning his play has to catch the eye of tournament directors around the PGA Tour in order to get a playing gig.
Like he did in Tampa and Puerto Rico—as well as San Antonio most recently—Spieth accomplished that heading into the Heritage and managed to take full advantage, just as he has several other times this year. Facing howling winds in his first experience at Harbour Town, Spieth bested many Sunday leaders, posting an impressive two-over 73 to finish the event three-under 281.
Given the final round pressure and weather, the showing equals his Tampa Bay effort and continues to push the young star far beyond even his own expectations for the season.
“The goal at the beginning of the year was to earn my tour card for next year,” Spieth said at the RBC Heritage. “To be able to play on the Tour this year is a dream come true.”
So much for simple expectations. In his limited PGA Tour starts heading into Harbour Town, Spieth had already earned more than $500,000, which if eligible, would put him among the top 65 players in the world—well above the top 125 needed to earn a tour card for 2014.
It’s a start that mirrors the success of Woods and Mickelson years ago and that of Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson among the younger American standout players. Further, his most recent performances have now come on two of the most difficult tour courses year in and out—Copperhead at Innisbrook in Tampa Bay and Harbour Town this past weekend.
In Tampa, Spieth put together three rounds under par, highlighted Sunday by a one-under 70 to get the top-10 finish. Likewise, his weekend in challenging cool and windy conditions at Harbour Town included back-to-back 69s on Friday and Saturday before Sunday’s back-nine 38 stalled the momentum.
Three years ago in the Byron Nelson, Spieth showed those same attributes to remain in contention until the end, but one-hit wonders are nothing new to the PGA Tour. Surviving the grind and the pressure to perform week in and out is entirely another thing, and in his first several months of “temporary status,” Spieth is already showing that he is so much more than a flash in the pan.
Whether he exceeds the early years of players just out in front of him and ever comes close to the greatest players just a generation ahead is likely too much to promise at the moment. But from a brief 2013 resume that was preceded by the unexpected just several years ago, the sky seems the limit for Spieth and American golf behind him.