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Spieth Looking to Build on Stellar Rookie Campaign
Jordan Spieth had a banner 2013, his first full season on the PGA Tour. After dalliances - and surprisingly good performances as a teenage amateur - in PGA Tour events, the Dallas native became a full-time pro midway through his sophomore year at Texas, where he was an All-American for the Longhorns.
In 32 events, Spieth recorded 16 top-25 finishes, nine top-10s, three runners-up, and a maiden victory when he emerged on top after a three-way sudden-death playoff in the John Deere Classic. With the victory in the Deere, two weeks before his 20th birthday, he became the fourth-youngest PGA Tour winner ever and the first teenager in 82 years to triumph on golf's major circuit.
Those performances netted the two-time U.S. Junior Amateur champion a total of $3.8 million, 2013 Rookie of the Year honors, a place on the victorious U.S. Presidents Cup team (he went an impressive 2-2 at Muirfield Village Golf Club in the American victory over the Internationals), a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour, and an automatic spot in all four major championships this season.
Spieth also earned the right to play in the 18-player field Northwestern Mutual World Challenge, a $3.5 million invitational event that starts Thursday at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, Calif. Spieth, ranked 22nd in the world golf ranking, will be paired in the first round with veteran Steve Stricker.
"It's been an incredible year," Spieth said at Sherwood on Tuesday. Now comfortable as a touring pro, he has his sights set on loftier goals. "Each year going back to when I was 12 years old, I've improved. This year, a big focus of mine is on the majors.
"Now I'm in all four of them and can pick my schedule leading up to them to have the best success I can versus not even knowing I was going to be in a couple of them, one of them the day before (the Open Championship by virtue of his Deere win). So that will be a big focus, trying to play all four weekends and really getting competitive in the majors and try to see what it feels like."
Here's what else the remarkably mature player had to tell reporters at the site of the World Challenge, a benefit for the Tiger Woods Foundation that will be played at Sherwood for the final time before moving to Isleworth Golf & Country Club in Windemere, Fla., next year.
Q. Jordan Spieth, thank you for joining us for a few minutes here at the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge. How do you even start with a year like the year you had in 2013. Your first PGA Tour win, first Presidents Cup team, Rookie of the Year honors and so forth. With that, I'll just turn it over to you for some comments on being here this week.
JORDAN SPIETH: Yeah, I'm very excited. I got in by an unfortunate way, I guess. Obviously, we're wishing the best to Brandt to be healthy. This is actually the second time he's let me into an event. He let me into the U.S. Open back at Olympic Club. So I owe him a Christmas present, I think. But, yeah, it's been an incredible year. I thought that I was going to have a lot of time off. I've been getting anxious. I've been watching some of the golf. Events I could have played in and chose to take off just to recuperate. Just I was very, very excited to get the call that I was in here and needed to get my game ready quickly, because I was a little rusty getting some of it off. You know, with China and here as the only two events since the Presidents Cup before I go to Hawaii to try to make the most of this week.
Q. What would you be doing if you weren't playing this week?
JORDAN SPIETH: Probably practicing pretty hard. The weather has been pretty good in Dallas the past few days. There's about to be a winter storm that hits, so I would have been doing whatever, hanging with my family. My friends are all in finals right now. So it would have just been kind of a work week, working out and practicing in Dallas.
Q. How many golf balls have you struck since Shanghai?
JORDAN SPIETH: You know, I practiced once in a two-week span really trying to - that was the longest break I've had in I don't even know how long. Then from there I found out I was in and quickly the next day shot to the course to start getting ready. I would have - that was about the time I was going to get back into getting ready for January anyways. But, yeah. Not as many balls as I would have liked. But I had a good week and a half, couple weeks to prepare. Even with the bad weather, I was able to get plenty of reps in, so I should be ready to go when Thursday morning comes.
Q. A year ago at this time, I guess you would have been a couple weeks removed from not having made it through second stage, and Q-school traditionally was around now. What was going through your mind at that point? Were you upset with yourself for not getting through or were you sort of a little unclear of your immediate future and what this year was going to hold? Obviously, it turned out a lot different.
JORDAN SPIETH: Yeah, there is a lot going off the course and figuring out plans. I knew I was going to turn professional - actually, I think today or last year, might have been my second to last day or last day of finals in college. So I was pretty busy down in Austin. But after that, there is a lot to figure out, looking at schedules, writing notes to tournament directors and figuring out management and trying to see what relationships corporately I could start. So there was a lot going on. But, yeah, outside of all of that there was a little bit of maybe a little bit of fear that crept in on, hey, I'm going to need to make the most of these starts when they come, and they were a long way off. So, all in all, I was excited. I was practicing a lot, working out a lot. Ultimately when the new year started, all that fear was pretty much gone. I had gotten mentally prepared for the year and just kind of went with it.
Q. (Indiscernible) bother you, or I don't know the circumstances.
JORDAN SPIETH: Yeah, it was interesting. Second stage I hit the ball better that week than I did any week this year. I just didn't make anything. It was one of those weeks where I had a lot of lip-outs. So I knew I was striking the ball well enough. Yeah, it was tough because final stage at the time I could either get a Tour card or worse case, if I hit the ball the way I was hitting it at the time, if I wasn't putting well, I'd still probably get Web.com status which is what I was looking forward to trying to get. But, yeah, it was difficult watching Q-school and watching those guys that I had just played against a couple weeks prior. All in all, that's what happened. That was part of the risk and I knew it, so I needed to suck it up.
Q. How often do you look at last year as being a fantastic year? How often do you look at it as I could have won four or five tournaments?
JORDAN SPIETH: Well, I mean, I look back - I don't look back at it in a greedy sense. There were a couple that slipped through my hands. In the playoff, there wasn't a whole lot I could do when I lost the playoff. I played it well. The Tour Championship was another second place. Obviously, Henrik was playing some phenomenal golf as he continued to throughout the rest of the year. But I really haven't looked back much.
I went pretty much a week after the Presidents Cup to my instructor's office, and we went and looked over statistics. We talked about the year, we talked about my schedule this next year and then goals. You know, that's been our focus since that day is our goals for this season because China was the start to this next year. I don't really consider it part of 2013. I consider all of this part of this next season. So I have certain goals for this year and I'm focused on those. It's great to look back at what happened to be in this scenario and learn from the positives. But all in all, I think the way to have success this year is to not dwell too much on the past and focus on the best players in the world that I'm playing against now week-in and week-out.
Q. You were talking about taking finals this time last year. Do you remember what subjects they were in?
JORDAN SPIETH: I had an English and I had a Rhetoric, I remember. I had a big paper and then I had a test, both of which are being very useful to me now.
Q. Rhetoric, particularly?
JORDAN SPIETH: Are you guys persuaded? I don't think so.
Q. Jordan, you mentioned your goals for 2014. How do you back up the Fairy Tale year? You say you're not looking backwards, but are you the sort of player that puts pressure on yourself to try to match what you've done this year?
JORDAN SPIETH: Yeah, definitely. Each year I think going back to when I was 12 years old, I've improved. My dad always, a big thing for him was to say just try to look back at each month and see if you got a little better each month at something. This year a big focus of mine is on the majors. Now I'm able to be in all four of them and pick my schedule leading up to them to have the best success I can there versus not even knowing I was going to be in a couple of them until one of them a day before. So, all in all, I'll be well-rested with, I think, a better game plan this year for the majors, and that is going to be a big focus on trying to play all four weekends and really getting competitive in them and just try to see what it feels like. I know what it feels like right now down the stretch at a Tour event. What it feels like to win having done it once but I have a feeling it will be a little different kind of pressure in a major championship. Nobody knows what it's like unless you've been in it. So the only way to get better is to put myself there and learn from the experiences.
Q. Jordan, you mentioned looking back on this year. Is there anything that surprised you about it either positively or negatively? Secondly, what did you learn about yourself whether it's your game or things off the course from this past year?
JORDAN SPIETH: Yeah, honestly, I got really lucky. Looking back it was pretty funny because the key shots that kind of got to each stage or level to where I got my status and then getting over the hump to winning were all holed-out shots. You don't expect it that to happen. Whether it was a hole in one in Puerto Rico at a time I really needed it. You don't expect that to happen. Then Tampa, 17, my 71st hole, I had to go 1-under on the last two, and I hit a flop shot that happened to release right into the hole. Then obviously the John Deere bunker shot to get into the playoff. It's funny that it came down to that. When I was looking back, I wasn't focused on necessarily certain putts or different shots I hit. It was funny looking back and noticing how many times I holed out where it was really important. A lot of it required luck, so sometimes it's better to be lucky.
Q. Jordan, you mentioned the majors and knowing that you have your schedule set now. We've seen the last few years guys now go to the venue the week before. Some people like to play the week before. Now that you have this mapped out, what is your philosophy going to be in preparing for the majors?
JORDAN SPIETH: Yeah, throughout last year, I had never played - before last year I had never played more than two weeks in a row. Last year I saw what it was like to play four in a row a couple of different stretches. It's amazing my best golf was always played the second, third or fourth week in a row. Even more so, the third and fourth week in a row is when I was hitting the ball best and making the best decisions. I would have never known that before this year. So, yeah, I will be planning my schedule to definitely be playing and peaking at those tournaments which looks like it would be playing in a week or two or both of them prior to the majors.
Q. You mentioned you sat down and looked at stats with your instructor, what kind of - what stats interest you to look at? What are the things that stood out for you?
JORDAN SPIETH: Yeah, overall, I was extremely happy with the all-around stat, whatever that is called, encompassing all of them. Two major things, well, one, putting. My putting the second half of the year strokes gained versus the first half of the year was significantly different getting used to the greens and I putted a lot better. But the two things that I really need to focus on this year are my long-iron play, and I just need to hit some more pitches around the greens. Par-5s, I would get around the green in two and even in smart places. That 20- to 40-yard range, pitching the ball, it just wasn't getting it close enough. So luckily that's something that is based on how many reps you hit and just getting the feel of the grass each week. So I think if I had the same kind of routine and put a little extra time into those two departments, I'd just improve from last year.
Q. The whirlwind few days from the John Deere to Muirfield, do you think back at all of wham, wham, wham, it just happened so quickly? Do you ever have time to sit and reflect?
JORDAN SPIETH: Yeah, a little bit. I have recently. I figured I would after everything kind of stopped. But, all in all, back to what I was saying, I've reflected briefly and then just tried to look forward. I mean, it's cool. I think maybe later in life I'll look back at the year more than I am right now. I don't think that really dwelling on this past year, as great as it was, is the best way to have success in this next season. I think that what I did throughout last season was adjust goals and set new goals that would be based on the tournaments I was getting into, and I think that that just needs to continue. I don't think that a break for a couple months needs to stop any momentum or the way I was thinking. So I'm just going to try to adjust my goals and see what happens the first half of the year and see what goes from there.
Q. You walk on the 18th green, and next thing you're getting on an airplane and a jet. I mean, do you know who you are at that instance?
JORDAN SPIETH: Not really. That was - yeah, I didn't sleep on that plane as much as I wanted to. There was no chance. I just kind of sat there. It went by very fast. I was sitting, replaying everything. I was still nervous, even though it was a couple hours later. Yeah, I didn't really - it almost - I didn't want to sleep, because I didn't want to wake up. I didn't want it to be a dream. So that was a really cool experience. Your first win you're always going to remember, and that was a cool one to have to getting to to the British.
Q. What is your emphasis on the physical, and when did that start? What kind of gains have you made do you think since either high school or your freshman year?
JORDAN SPIETH: Oh, I think it's a huge part of the game now. For me, I started with it based on injury prevention. I kind of tweaked my back back when I was 16. Just I was actually playing in the St. Jude as an amateur and did it. From there I started work with Troy Van Biezen who obviously travels out here with a lot of the guys, and chiro, and just started working out and wanted to get stronger. My body was pretty messed up. It just wasn't strong. I wasn't doing the right things when, and if I ever worked out at that time. Then I got to a stage my senior year from the first semester to the second semester over that winter break, there was about a four-month period I put on 20 pounds. That was kind of a strength phase where I was eating a lot of meals a day and working out a lot harder.
Honestly, from there, at this point, my body hasn't really changed much. I've been stronger sometimes and weaker other times based on if I'm consistently working out like I should be on the road. But all in all, now it's just maintaining that. I can still get stronger without putting on any more weight, and that is what we're working on this off-season.
JORDAN SPIETH: In a day?
JORDAN SPIETH: Yeah, typically it's a couple hours a day for the fitness, and then I'm golfing for the rest of the day. That's including work with Troy.
Q. I know you were fired up about being part of a team at the Presidents Cup, but other team sports that you played, what types of things are transferable to this sport? What types of things do you reach back and use in tough situations on the golf course?
JORDAN SPIETH: It's difficult. It's still an individual sport as much as it is team events. The only one I can think of, the only format is alternate shot. I mean, that is the true team. That is where golf becomes a true team event, I think. From there, the only thing I can take from what happened and in other sports is just how you're motivating your partner. How you're reacting to positive and negative things that have happened throughout the round. Yeah, there is not a lot that - I'm just trying to think of being on a basketball team. I'm not going to be the coach out there, especially Steve. I mean, Steve's the one with experience. That is who I played with. I just sat back and let him do his thing there. I was kind of the quiet teammate. But a couple times when I made a couple putts and really wanted to get him excited to get on a roll, I would just kind of try and pump him up. I don't know if it did or not, but in my mind it did, so it helped me out too. But it is difficult to transfer it into golf. But, I mean, it's the only time where we're rooting as hard as we can against the guys we play every week, which is kind of abnormal in any sport.
MODERATOR: Jordan, congratulations on a great year and best of luck this week.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.