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Sunday, May 23, 2010
Some things you can't learn at school

By Richard Durrett
ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- Dallas' Jordan Spieth stood on the 17th tee Sunday and desperately wanted to hear one more roar.

The 16-year-old, who captivated the nation with his mature play on the course and his humble nature off it, generated enormous galleries at the HP Byron Nelson Championship. And with a full amphitheater sprawled out before him at the par-3 17th, Spieth decided it was time to see how loud it could get.

The fearless teenager took out his 7-iron and aimed at the difficult pin, tucked right behind the water.

"I chickened out the last three days on 17 and finally I said, 'All right, enough with this. You're going to look back and wish you'd fired at this pin even if it goes into the water,'" said Spieth, who added that it took some "cojones" to try that shot. "I think I got some people excited when I hit that shot."

Jordan Spieth
Jordan Spieth,16, appeared unfazed by the attention he received at the HP Byron Nelson Championship.

That included his father, Shawn, and mother, Chris, who were watching just behind the tee box and smiled as soon as they saw the ball safely on the green, to the right of the hole in an area that few dare explore.

"I knew he'd go for it," Shawn Spieth said, just after his son hit the shot. "If he was 1 or 2 shots out of the lead, he'd play to the middle of the green. But he's not. You could tell he enjoyed that."

Spieth gave his caddie a big high-five, looked around and smiled, as if taking it all in. Spieth knew he wasn't going to become the first amateur to win a PGA Tour event since Phil Mickelson in 1991. That dream ended with a double-bogey at No. 15.

But for four days, Spieth, who finished 4 under par and tied for 16th, got to see what it's like for Mickelson inside the ropes. The junior at Jesuit College Prep in Dallas got to pick the brains of PGA Tour players, including Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin, who got a chuckle even before both players showed up at the first tee Sunday. Salesmanship Club member Bob Simmons put a sign by Pavin's spot on the range that read: "Spieth for Ryder Cup." The 50-year-old laughed, along with Spieth and a few fans.

Spieth got the chance to see how a veteran who was regularly 20 or more yards behind the teenager managed his game and his emotions. Just like he learned from playing with Tom Pernice Jr. and Blake Adams, who ended up tied for second.

"It's all business out there," Spieth said. "They remain neutral. They know they can't get too excited or too down on themselves."

Center of attention

Spieth admitted he didn't do a good enough job of harnessing his emotions. But he's learning. He also got a taste what it's like to play in front of a throng of people. Spieth's fans rivaled the number Mickelson might get at this week's Colonial. It was a crowd not seen at the TPC Four Seasons Resort since Tiger Woods came in 1997 shortly after winning his record-setting Masters.

Thousands followed Spieth's every move. The Salesmanship Club, the red-pants clan that runs the event, decided to let anyone 16 years of age or younger into the tournament for free Sunday. And boy did they come. Some of them were barely old enough to pick up a club, but Spieth had them dreaming of glory.

Ravi Chhabra hoisted his 2-year-old nephew, Anthony Chambers, on his shoulders so he could get a glimpse of the teenage phenom.

"I just wanted him to see this kid," Chhabra said. "He's unbelievable."

Spieth woke up Sunday morning thinking he could make a run at a title. He was 6 strokes back of leader and eventual winner Jason Day. But the wind was howling and the course didn't play easy for anyone not named Brian Gay (who shot 63 and moved up 36 spots Sunday). That gave Spieth hope that with a good start, he could get the crowd going and ride a wave of momentum up the leaderboard. But bogeys at Nos. 2 and 3 altered that plan.

"After that I just told myself, 'Let's get back to even and go from there,'" Spieth said.

He did what he could, with birdies at Nos. 7 and 9 to get back to even as he made the turn. When Spieth rolled in the putt at No. 9, with a slight fist pump for good measure, it was like a gun starting a track meet. Crowds stampeded to the next tee, almost sensing he was about to put together a string of birdies to climb into contention. Spieth was walking fast, sensing it too. He hit a huge drive down the left side of the fairway past the bunkers -- and well past Pavin -- and his second shot landed 3 feet from the cup. Spieth rolled in the putt, and he was 7-under par.

Jordan Spieth
Spieth reacts after sinking a birdie putt on No. 16, a hole after he double-bogeyed.

"I think he can do this," said one fan, wearing a Jesuit cap. "I really think he can do it."

So did Harry Sellers, who at 66 years old was pleased that he got to be the standard bearer for Spieth's group, holding the sign with Spieth's score on it.

"The kid can play," Sellers said. "He was bigger than I thought he'd be."

Spieth had to wait at the No. 11 tee while the green cleared on the short par-4. He didn't pace, something he did at various times during waits on the tee during the week.

Instead he sat in a folding chair, adjusting his navy blue shirt with white stripes, which included an HP logo, something that probably pleased the Nelson's title sponsor. He chatted with a few of his friends. He didn't know it, but as he sat there, a bogey dropped the lead to 10-under.

So with eight holes left, a 16-year-old amateur was 3 shots off the lead. He looked to close the gap to 2 with a deft approach shot from the right side of the green. But the 10-foot birdie putt grazed the edge.

A bogey at 13 and a double-bogey at 15 ended Spieth's chance to scare the leaders.

"It's really rare to see him double a hole," said Cathy Marino, Spieth's Jesuit golf coach. "But he'll bounce back. That's what he does."

It was Spieth's demeanor at 16 that pleased his father the most.

"He was smiling and enjoying himself after the tee shot despite the double bogey," Shawn Spieth said. "There were times when it would take days for him to get over a double, not minutes."

Maybe that's one lesson he's already learning from his four-day crash course on the PGA Tour. It was an experience that Spieth's parents and his coach, Cameron McCormick, figured he'd have one day. They just didn't think it would be this soon.

Fast Learner

McCormick met Spieth when he was 12. At that point, he'd never really had any serious lessons and his father thought it was time. McCormick asked Spieth what he wanted out of golf.

"I want to win the Masters and majors," Spieth told him at the time. That goal hasn't changed.

McCormick knew right away he had a talented player headed for greatness.

"I don't know how many 12-year-olds could have done what I asked him to do," McCormick said. "He was hitting balls on the range, and I asked him to hit different shots, testing the depth of his shot repertoire. I asked him to hit it nine different ways, and he could do it. It was all self-learned. He created it in his mind and it manifested itself in movement and the ball came out that way."

McCormick said he refined Spieth's swing, making it more fundamentally sound and repeatable. Spieth's competitive drive and work ethic did the rest.

In four short years, he's become the No. 1 ranked junior in the country, has won the 2009 U.S. Junior Amateur Championship and finished in the top 20 in a PGA Tour event.

"He looks like he's got all the game in the world, you know?" said Day, who became the second-youngest winner of the Nelson at the age of 22. "If I was 16, I wouldn't have been where he is right now. Right now, to make the cut in a PGA Tour event is unreal."

Day's advice for Spieth: "Keep learning, keeping playing a lot of tournaments and try to win as many as you can. Make it a habit and keep pushing through, no matter what happens."

Despite some exhaustion from four days of play, Spieth was back out near the 18th green just after the tournament ended, signing autographs and posing for pictures. He did so for 45 minutes.

"He might need to shorten his autograph to 'J.S.,'" Shawn Spieth said.

Spieth found a few of his friends and handed them a piece of paper, which had the amount of money he would have won had he been on Tour. It read: $91,185.71.

"That sure is a lot of money," Spieth said.

A Nelson official told him he'd have plenty of time to earn that in a few years.

For now, Spieth's focus is navigating through a mountain of schoolwork that's grown thanks to eight missed days because of the Nelson and the Class 5A state tournament, which he won 10 days ago.

"Reality starts at 6:30 a.m. Monday," Chris Spieth said. "He may need more than the alarm to get up. But he'll be at school."

Richard Durrett covers golf for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.