Commentary

Jordan Spieth takes his Masters shot

Updated: April 7, 2014, 5:29 AM ET
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

DALLAS -- The best thing about Jordan Spieth's first PGA Tour victory in July wasn't the $828,000 winner's check (though that was nice). Or his pick of the sponsor's off-road utility vehicles (the four-wheeler sits in his parent's carport). Or the exclusive 100-seat charter flight to Edinburgh for the Open Championship (first class for everyone).

The best thing arrived around Christmastime in a 7½-by-5½-inch envelope. It cost 66 cents to send, but Augusta National could afford the extra postage.

Hello, Masters invitation.

[+] EnlargeJordan Spieth
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallWhen Jordan Spieth defeated 2007 Masters champion Zach Johnson and David Hearn in a playoff at the John Deere Classic, the 19-year-old knew immediately that he earned an invite to play Augusta National in April.

"It's just heaven on earth," said Spieth.

Sometimes it really isn't about the money. Sometimes it's about something as basic and innocent as a dream come true. And Spieth's dream has always been to play -- and win -- the Masters.

Spieth is one of 24 players appearing in his first Masters this week. He's doing his best to act as if it's just another business trip, but it isn't working. He's 20 going on 12.

This is a guy who, during one of his first visits to Augusta National, took a right off Washington Road onto Magnolia Lane and was attacked immediately by goose bumps.

"Where's the driving range? Where's the putting green? Where's the first tee? I just wanted to get out and look at everything," said Spieth, the 2013 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year.

This is a guy who has already made millions, played in the Walker Cup and Presidents Cup, played with a U.S. president, won the U.S. Junior Amateur twice, contended in a PGA Tour event when he was 16 and had nine top-10 finishes last season -- and he still got a case of the first-tee nerves during his first round at Augusta National.

"And that never happens unless it's a PGA event," said Spieth, who shot 68 that day. "I don't think I can remember the last time I've been nervous to play a standard, fun, social round."

And he can't remember the last time he got to the 17th hole of a practice round and told his playing partners, "Now it's getting depressing, because we're almost done." But it happened to him at Augusta National.

Spieth has had a crush on the Masters since he was a kid. He said so when he was 7, hitting early morning wedge shots over a neighbor's tree before school and landing them on a tiny, self-mowed green in his front yard.

"Pretending it was the last shot, hitting it close and making the putt to win a tournament, win a major like the Masters," said his younger brother Steven, now a freshman basketball guard at Brown.

He said so when he was 9, waking up his mom, Chris, on Saturday mornings and asking for a ride to nearby Brookhaven Country Club.

"He'd be fully dressed in golf clothes, hat and all, with his golf bag over his back," said Chris. "'Can I go now? Can I go now?'"

He said so when he was 12, meeting for the first time with Cameron McCormick, a golf instructor at Brook Hollow Golf Club in Dallas. McCormick asked Spieth the same question he asks all his prospective students: "What are you looking to achieve in the long term?"

"I want to win the Masters," Spieth told him, without hesitation.

"He said it with such a conviction, such a self-assuredness that it made me instantaneously believe and embrace that, wow, this kid really thinks he can achieve it," said McCormick.

And he said so when he was a teenager at Brookhaven.

"We're always having putting contests and yelling out across the green, 'This is to win the Masters!'" said Spieth. "Then you make a 50-footer ... and start going crazy. The members would all complain, would come out and say, 'Keep it down. Keep it down.'"

So you should have seen the Spieth family July 14, as the final round of the John Deere Classic unfolded for 19-year-old Jordan, who was there only because of a sponsor's exemption.

"We had said if he were within 3 shots, we were going to jump on a plane Sunday morning, fly to Chicago and drive down," said Shawn Spieth, Jordan's father. "But he was 6 back starting the day, so we said we'll just watch [on TV]."

Said Steven: "I was playing soccer with some buddies and saw he was 6 shots back, and I was like, 'Oh, well, may as well go have some fun on Sunday.'"

[+] EnlargeJordan Spieth
AP Photo/Darron CummingsJordan Spieth, center, along with Presidents Cup teammates Phil Mickelson, left, and Hunter Mahan, helped the Americans to their fifth straight victory in the biennial event.

Then Spieth, ranked 120th in the world at the time, began to creep up the leaderboard.

"We finished up, and I realized he had about six holes left and he was right there," said Steven. "We went back to a buddy's house and everyone else went swimming. I stood there. I didn't sit down the rest of the time."

Spieth birdied five of his final six holes, including a greenside bunker shot on No. 18 that dove into the cup and squeezed him into a three-way playoff. Spieth, the John Deere crowd and his Dallas audience went wild.

"I think I might have been even more pumped up than him, running around the house," said Steven.

"I didn't find out until my last lesson of the day," said McCormick. "[The student] comes in and says, 'I can't believe Jordan's in a playoff.' At that point he said, 'Let's just go watch it.' He couldn't care less about his lesson."

So they all watched -- McCormick and his client at Brook Hollow, Steven at his buddy's home, Shawn, Chris and daughter Ellie at the house with the grown-over makeshift green -- as Jordan outlasted Zach Johnson and David Hearn in a five-hole playoff. The victory earned him that $828,000 check and a place on the charter jet that would take him from the Quad Cities Airport to Edinburgh and the Open Championship.

"I was crying when it happened," said Chris. "Your heart was beating so fast and just wanted it so bad for him because he wanted it so bad."

But guess when Spieth got misty eyed? When CBS' David Feherty, in the post-round interview, mentioned the M-word (the Masters) and the automatic 2014 invitation to Augusta National.

Nothing against the other three majors Spieth has played in, but the Masters had him at hello. Asked what Jordan would choose, the winner's check at the John Deere or the Masters invite, Shawn didn't think twice.

"Oh, the Masters," he said. "Every time."

Spieth, now ranked 13th in the world, isn't afraid to say that he thinks he could win the green jacket in his Masters debut. (Fuzzy Zoeller was the last one to win on his first try, in 1979.) The course, he said, "fits my game well."

He also isn't afraid to admit that he wandered into the Champions Locker Room at Augusta National, saw the brass nameplates on the oak lockers and dreamed again.

"I went in there and kind of told myself, 'This is where you need to be,'" said Spieth. "This is the pinnacle of golf. ... It's not easy to get into that room, and those guys that have are in pretty elite company."

Spieth's Dallas midtown home isn't a shrine to his golf career. There are a few sets of clubs in the garage, some yardage books on his desk, a handful of flagstick flags and putters on the wall and assorted golf books, including several on the Masters, on a shelf. But all in all, nobody is going to mistake it for the World Golf Hall of Fame.

But as soon as it gets framed, there is one item that will get special treatment in Spieth's house. Remember that 7½-by-5½-inch Masters invitation?

Spieth does. And always will.

Gene Wojciechowski | email

Columnist / College Football reporter

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