What We'll Learn About Jordan Spieth at the 2014 Byron Nelson Championship

Richard LeivenbergContributor IIIMay 15, 2014

Jordan Spieth will show us what he's got at the Byron Nelson.
Jordan Spieth will show us what he's got at the Byron Nelson.Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

Jordan Spieth, who made national news at the 2010 Byron Nelson as a teenage wunderkind, now has a chance to use his hometown venue as a launching pad to even greater success.  

The first time Spieth came to the Byron Nelson as a 16-year-old amateur, he stole the headlines by first making the cut, then placing seventh after 54 holes and finally finishing 16th.  At one point, he boldly stated that he was there to win the tournament. 

Pretty audacious stuff for a teenager, but it turned out that his precocious performance was a precursor for what would be commonplace when he turned pro just a short time later.

Spieth, who won the 2014 Rookie of the Year Award, has made good on his promise and then some.  

Now as he returns to the site of his early success, the media attention swirls around the Dallas-born Spieth as a favorite to win. 

Being from Texas may work in his favor, providing a comfortable setting after his disappointing albeit excellent finish in a tie for fourth place at The Players Championship last week. A month earlier, he came close to winning his first major at the Masters where he finished second.  Don’t shed any tears, though.  He is only 20 years old and has one win under his belt and a ton of upside going forward

Should Spieth actually be able to shed some of those final-day jitters and begin to not just contend but win, you may be looking at the next great American golfer.  At the Byron Nelson we will learn just how tough Spieth is. 

Spieth had some issues on final day at the Players Championship.
Spieth had some issues on final day at the Players Championship.Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Can he bounce back from the disappointment of The Players where he had another chance to win but ended up bogeying five holes and finishing two-over on Sunday?  We shall see.

Spieth appears to be ready for the limelight despite not winning in the last year.  He could have easily fallen backward after his second-place finish at the Masters but instead continued to play well by finishing in a tie for 12th at the RBC Heritage the following week.

For those with an eye on golf’s rising young stars, it is Spieth and not two-time majors champ Rory McIlroy who you should be watching. 

Meanwhile, Patrick Reed, Russell Henley, Harris English head a crowded list of 20-something emerging stars on the tour.

But it is Spieth who should be considered the best young player on the pro circuit, now ranked eighth in the world, two spots ahead of McIlroy. 

As the sixth player in the FedEx Cup race, Spieth has been spectacularly consistent this season.

He has placed in the top 25 in 11 of 14 tournaments, has six top-10 finishes and two runner-ups. Whenever he makes the cut, he is angling for success.

Somewhat humorously Spieth’s inability to get his second win is being questioned as critics wonder about his ability to close the deal. 

Was his inability to win the Masters and The Players a failure of heart, determination or talent? How can you discount anyone who has contended so competently?  Would you rather he not be there at all like another highly touted young player such as the continually befuddling Rickie Fowler?  

The Byron Nelson will be another test for Spieth who, if he should win, will be on the short list to compete for the upcoming U.S. Open title. The event may turn out to be the launching pad for him to actually win one of the three remaining majors.

It's Spieth vs. McIlroy for top ranked 20-somethings on the tour.
It's Spieth vs. McIlroy for top ranked 20-somethings on the tour.Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

Win or not, Spieth’s increasing time as a late Sunday contender can only bode well for the 20-year-old.

If you thought his rookie season was a fluke, think again. At this moment, it appears that whenever he tees it up and almost every time he makes the cut, he is a very dangerous opponent.

Whether The Players, the Masters or the John Deere, the site of his sole victory, he has proved himself on tough courses against the toughest fields.

We can look back at last year’s John Deere Classic when he had to make a spectacular bunker shot just to get into the playoff and then he won when others failed to perform. What appeared like a bit of luck can now be viewed as Spieth putting himself in the right place at the right time.

Statistically, you will not find Spieth in the top 20 in any key category.  In fact, he ranks horribly in driving accuracy (130th), driving distance (106th) and greens in regulation (102nd). Only in strokes gained putting, where he is 25th, and scoring average, where he is sixth, is he a standout.  

So, is he doing all of these great things with smoke and mirrors?  Not quite. Let’s call it a winner’s mentality based on guile, guts and the indisputable desire to beat the guy next to him. 

Those are Nicklaus and Woods’ qualities. He may have the boyish appeal of Phil Mickelson but he is not a run-and-gun player.  Nor does he seem prone to the spectacular or dramatic ala McIlroy or Bubba Watson.

What we are seeing in Spieth is the stuff of which champions are made. Perhaps he is more like Seve Ballesteros, the game’s greatest scrambler, as he is ranked eighth in that category. He is third in scrambling from the rough so when he gets into trouble, he doesn’t flinch but actually turns potential despair into a saving grace.

Or just maybe his game is reminiscent of that great Texas golfer Byron Nelsonwho said of his remarkable career, “One of the things I'm most proud of looking back in my little black book is that my career had a lot of consistency."

Nelson became famous for winning 11 consecutive golf tournaments and among his 18 career victories were five majors.

Suffice to say that Spieth has what it takes to match almost any of these great careers.  He has gotten an early start on success.  He has shown that he knows how to get into contention on the final day.

The next step will be up to the winner’s circle.