When Jordan Spieth won his first tour event at the age of 19, many saw it as his “coming out party”. That was, however, until his 2015 PGA Tour season which will go down as one of the most impressive in history.
Spieth won five events, two of those being majors (The Masters and U.S. Open), and he finished top-5 in the other two. He capped off his season by winning the Tour Championship, and in doing so, became the youngest winner of the FedEx Cup.
It had been a long time since a golfer showed such poise and control over the course of an entire season like Spieth did in 2015. The fact that he did it at such a young age begs the question, “How did he do it?”
We are not accustomed to seeing players come onto the world scene and dominate in their early 20’s. Golf usually requires years of experience to develop the knowledge and confidence necessary in order to win big events on a regular basis. We think of players like Jason Day and Phil Mickelson who had to put themselves in the position to win their first major numerous times before they were able to break through and actually capture one.
There are intangibles that a golfer must possess in order to become a great champion, and Jordan Spieth proved in 2015 that age is not one of them. Spieth simply possesses the qualities that take most champions a significant amount of time to develop. Let’s look a little deeper at this young man, and what allowed him to become a great champion so early in his career.
1. “Aggressive. Young. Fearless” - This is how Jordan responded in April 2015 when asked to describe his game in a few words. “I like to take chances; not be scared of the next shot…” Many golfers begin playing as children with this mindset. They don’t think about the consequences of a miss, they simply see the shot they want to hit and aggressively attempt to execute. While Jordan is no longer a child, he has benefited from maintaining this mindset.
2. Clutch Putting - It’s no secret that the short game is the key to good golf. It should also be abundantly clear that Jordan Spieth owes a significant amount of his success to his ability to keep a very hot putter. Continuously rolling the rock in the midst of pressure-packed situations left many speechless throughout the course of his 2015 season. Furthermore, it is what kept him in contention and allowed him to win five times. Jordan explained his success on the greens by stating that one must, “Get the read, think about the speed, and then pretend like you are just hitting another put on the practice green”. If this seems simple, it’s because it is. One can play their best golf when they prevent themselves from making things more complicated than they should be.
3. Expect Success - As his 2015 wore on, it was easy to see that Jordan expected to be successful on the golf course. It was evident in his body language, and the way he was playing the game. His early-career successes developed an inner confidence leading to increased personal expectations to succeed. Experience is what feeds confidence, and Jordan has been feasting from an early age.
4. Preparation - Spieth has stated, “When I step on the course it’s not about a cockiness in myself, it is more about a confidence in my preparation and gettin’ the job done.” He has also admitted that one reason he loves the game is due in part to the fact that it allows you to control your own destiny based on your preparation. This not only speaks to Jordan’s work ethic, but also allows us a glimpse into the mindset he carries to the first tee. While he understands the importance of preparation and how to effectively prepare for an event, he also uses his preparation to feed confidence and fuel his expectation to succeed in each circumstance.
5. Young in Age, Not in Experience - He won U.S. Junior Championships in 2009 & 2011. He was a member of the 2011 U.S. Walker Cup Team, and was an integral member of the 2012 NCAA National Champion Texas Longhorns. He made his PGA Tour debut at age 16 at the 2010 Byron Nelson Championship and finished T16. By his 2015 season, he had been on Tour longer than he had competed in college, and brought with him experiences winning at every level and on big stages. Spieth is no exception to the rule that experience breeds confidence; he simply had a head start having already experienced so much prior to turning professional.
6. Grounded - Jordan Spieth understands that he is not bigger than life. He recognizes the fact that he has tremendous skills, but that there are things in this world more important than his golf game. In press conferences you always hear him speak of his team, not just himself. This subtle choice of words reveals an attitude of humility. In addition to this, his love for his sister Ellie, a wonderful young lady with special needs, is evident in the way he speaks of her. I believe that Spieth’s attitude of humility, desire to share the limelight rather than putting himself on a pedestal, and recognizing that there are things more important than golf, have served to enhance his competitive mindset.
7. Plays Within Himself - Jordan understands his game and works to develop the abilities that he possesses. He has always stated, “I’m not the longest….but we find a way to get it in the hole”. While it can be extremely easy to fall into the trap of trying to keep up with other players, Jordan displays great maturity and wisdom in the fact that he accepts his capabilities and works to develop a well-rounded game. He is well-aware of his physical strengths and weaknesses and uses that knowledge to develop himself as a complete player.
8. Stick with What Works - When you find something that works for your game, you stick with it, and Jordan understands this. He has had the same putting stroke since he was a kid. He’s grooved it, owns it, and owes a lot of his success to it. At the beginning of his career, he signed an endorsement deal with Under Armour which kept him from having to switch from the Titleist clubs and balls he had become accustomed to. During the 2015 season, he at one point did try switching to a different model of Titleist iron, but was quick to switch back when he realized he did not have the same control of his game with the new set. He also has a swing which has aspects that are a little unorthodox. His left hand is placed somewhat weak on the golf club, and his left elbow bends through impact. Jordan has said that he understands that these aspects of his game are a little quirky, but he “knows” his swing, and builds upon it. He understands that while it may be unorthodox, he can perform consistently, which in the end is what matters on the golf course. He doesn’t get sucked into the process of trying to fix something that isn’t broken.
9. Good Fortune - For as good as he is, Jordan has definitely benefitted from some huge breaks along the way. His first Tour win at the 2013 John Deere Classic came as a result of a bunker shot that he holed on the 72nd hole to earn his way into a playoff. If that ball doesn’t drop, he does not win the event, and does not make it into the 2014 Masters. Although Bubba won that tournament, Jordan held the lead for a time, and many argue that this experience provided him the confidence necessary to win the event the very next year. Another break came a few months later at the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, when a Dustin Johnson three-putt on the final green gave Jordan the win. None of this should take anything away from Spieth’s success at such a young age. Every champion is going to receive good breaks, and poor ones. Some of the breaks that Jordan has received have come at some very opportune times and contributed to the success he has enjoyed while still a very young man.
10. Learn from Mistakes - Golf is a game of mistakes, and in order to succeed one must learn to limit them, but also learn from those they make. We saw evidence of Spieth’s ability to do this during his memorable 2015 season. The most obvious was his ability to rebound from his 2014 Masters loss, taking what he learned to claim the 2015 event with tremendous poise. He admitted to being frustrated with how he allowed Bubba Watson to overtake him on Sunday in 2014, and used what he learned to fend off a charging Justin Rose in 2015. Jordan’s ability to learn from his mistakes, and do so quickly, is a tremendous asset to his game, and one which can at times go unnoticed.
About the Author
This article was written by Jonathan Carr (@jonathanwcarr) as part of our weekly 'Top 10' series. As a scratch golfer himself, Jonathan has a keen eye for what it takes to be successful on and off the golf course. His passion for golf is surpassed only by his passion for his faith and his family.
Read some of Jonathan's other articles here.