Despite youth, Spieth has confidence of a veteran

Posted: June 13, 2014

PINEHURST, N.C. - Unless maybe you're Tiger Woods, you're not supposed to win the Masters when you're 20. But 2 months ago, Jordan Spieth almost did, tying for second in the first major of the year.

So what now? The newest next-big-thing comes to Pinehurst No. 2 as, well, one of the blokes being taken the most serious. And maybe that's asking a lot, even of a two-time U.S. Amateur winner. After 19-year-old Sergio Garcia nearly beat Tiger at the 1999 PGA Championship, many said the same thing about him. Of course, we're still waiting.

Spieth was 5 when Payne Stewart made history here at the 1999 U.S. Open.

"It's an incredible place," the Texan said of Donald Ross' signature course, which has been renovated to how it looked 75 years ago, yet is still defined by the crowned greens. "It's really cool. I've never played anything like it. This is my third U.S. Open. The one 2 years ago [at the Olympic Club] feels like it was a decade ago. I've been waiting for this for a couple of months now . . .

"I just always loved watching major championships. No experience really watching here [the last Pinehurst Open was in 2005]. But that's nothing new for me. And there's only a few guys that have experience here. It's going to be very interesting to see."

He's played five times since Augusta. His best finish was tied for fourth at The Players Championship in May. Two weeks ago at the Memorial, he closed with a 75 to tie for 19th.

"As far as [this] stage, I feel very, very comfortable," said Spieth, who missed the cut last June at Merion after tying for 21st in his Open debut in 2012 after getting in as an alternate. "From 2 years ago to now, it's very different. I don't really notice the crowds or the people anymore, just in a couple of years of playing in front of it here and there. I don't feel tension or nerves. I'm very excited and pumped to get going.

"I'm [still] learning different things from . . . being in contention. But at this point, this week, I don't think I could necessarily be surprised. I'm sure I can be. I'm sure guys that have played out here for 30 years still find things that surprise them about golf courses, or whatever. But a course like this, nobody has experience in tournament play. Even the people that were here in '05 or '99, it's a different track. There's only one [major] that plays the same golf course every time, and I really enjoyed that."

Whatever happens this week, or any week for the rest of his life, Spieth is sure he can always count on his sister being his biggest fan. Ellie, who's 7 years younger, was born 8 weeks early and has special needs.

"She's the best thing that's happened to our family," Spieth said. "She's hilarious. She's going to be here. My family is coming in. She's come to a few golf tournaments and she really enjoys it. They kind of stay away from everything . . . Just rather not be in the middle of everything. They can watch from afar.

"My brother [Steven], as well, is home for the summer from college. Maybe my uncle and grandpa. It'll be fun. They're all going to stay with me. I'll feel at home. Hopefully, some home-cooked meals. So we'll see."

Indeed we will.

"I believe I can win this golf tournament," said Spieth, who will tee off on the 10th hole at 8:13 this morning in an opening-round pairing with Hideki Matsuyama, who won the Memorial in a playoff, and Ricky Fowler, another young gun whose amateur career spawned enormous expectations. "And when I step onto the first tee, that's what I'm trying to do. The goal isn't just to [contend]. This is the hardest tournament to be patient in the world. Now it's to really try and put into place what Augusta and the Players have taught me. That's only going to help me. And I feel like I will be able to close this one out, if I get an opportunity."

And nobody, no matter how promising, is certain how many of those await.

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