Jordan Spieth hungry for success at Hilton Head’s RBC Heritage

ablondin@thesunnews.comApril 16, 2014 

SPORTS GLF-MASTERS 20 AT

Jordan Spieth looks over his par putt on the third green with caddie Michael Greller during the final round of The Masters in Augusta, Ga., Sunday, April 13, 2014. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/MCT)

CURTIS COMPTON — MCT

— Jordan Spieth has been lauded for his maturity on the course and in his dealings with the press, and his performance and behavior during and after the final round of the Masters Tournament on Sunday only affirmed those compliments.

The honoring of his commitment to play in this week’s RBC Heritage presented by Boeing following the disappointment of his Masters runner-up may speak even greater to the 20-year-old’s maturity level.

“Not for one second,” said Spieth, when asked if he considered withdrawing from the event teeing off Thursday at Harbour Town Golf Links. “The whole plan was to drive over here, and I left Monday midday to head on here to one of my favorite stops of the year.

“… It definitely left me stinging. And it definitely left me hungry and ready to play golf again, which I get to do [Thursday].”

After his press conference that followed the final round, Spieth gathered at a house with friends and family for a dinner and some ping pong and billiards, and to thank his supporters. He slept in before driving to Hilton Head. Spieth said professing to love the tour stop wasn’t just lip service.

“This is a fantastic golf course. You have to be a shot-maker,” Spieth said. “… I think the way this tournament is held, the whole atmosphere, the cool lighthouse, the signature holes, and the overall design and just feel of Hilton Head Island is special. I like playing golf here.”

Spieth spent much of Wednesday accepting congratulations as he made his way from the practice area around Harbour Town in the pro-am.

“Michael [Greller], my caddie, was like, ‘Man, I’ve never seen somebody get so many congratulations for losing,’ and he’s right,” Spieth said. “Since I’ve gotten here from fans, my partners and other players at this event, it’s amazing.

“Hopefully I can create some more noise this weekend.”

Not everything went smoothly for Spieth on Wednesday, however. Midway through his pro-am round one of his amateur playing partners skulled and shanked a wedge that struck him in the back of the leg, which Spieth said caused a sting but no lingering damage.

The shots of much more accomplished players will be Spieth’s concern over the next few days at Harbour Town.

The Heritage field includes 19 of the top 30 players in the FedExCup standings, 20 of the Top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking and 19 major champions.

Spieth, who turned professional midway through his sophomore year at the University of Texas and began the 2013 season without status on any tour, finished ninth at Harbour Town last year after receiving a sponsor’s exemption as he was trying to gain standing on the PGA Tour.

It was his seventh tour start and he had already tied for second in Puerto Rico and seventh at the Tampa Bay Championship.

The Dallas native would solidify his tour standing with a win in July at the John Deere Classic, and his Masters runner-up moved him to No. 9 in the Official World Golf Ranking.

“I like the way he plays the game,” 2014 U.S. Ryder Cup Team Captain Tom Watson said. “He’s got a passion. … and he’s very mature and has a good sense of who he is, and I like that about him.”

Spieth is paired in the first two rounds with Watson and five-time Heritage winner Davis Love III.

“This is a really exciting pairing for me,” Spieth said. “I think that with a couple of the great veterans and really legends of the game, any time you get a chance to play with those kind of guys it really is a humbling experience for me, and one that hopefully I can talk to both of them about different things.”

Spieth said that if he had a mulligan last week, it would be to be more committed to the shot on the par-3 12th tee that landed just shy of the green and rolled back into Rae’s Creek. “I let the 20-year-old inside of me just barely slip out,” Spieth said. “I held it in so long.”

But he said he has no regrets from his Masters experience and final round – he played every round par or better and didn’t make worse than a bogey – and believes he’ll learn from the experience rather than be scarred from it.

“I haven’t relived anything in my mind,” Spieth said. “I’ve looked back with all positives. … There’s nothing that’s haunting me from last week.”

Still, it’s hard not to imagine what could have been for a 20-year-old trying to become the youngest ever champion at Augusta and youngest major winner since 1922.

“It really was just the [approach] shots on 9 and 12, it was a couple of yards here and there, a putt goes in versus a putt not going in, and I could have a green jacket, which is really, really cool to think about,” he said.

Spieth believes he’ll earn redemption for his runner-up finish after holding a two-shot lead through seven holes in the final round of the Masters, and that can only come at Augusta National.

“The only way to kind of redeem myself and to get rid of that will eventually have to be at Augusta,” Spieth said. “So I’m very excited, but at the same time a little bit bittersweet to come that close, and I truly believe that I’ll be back.”

The road back begins this week at Harbour Town.

Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.

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