Golf: The transformation of Spieth

American Jordan Spieth assessing the situation while his caddy kept score during the third round of the SMBC Singapore Open yesterday. Going into today's final round, Spieth is three shots behind leader Song Young Han.
American Jordan Spieth assessing the situation while his caddy kept score during the third round of the SMBC Singapore Open yesterday. Going into today's final round, Spieth is three shots behind leader Song Young Han. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Much of Texan's life has changed after his rapid rise, but he insists he treats everyone the same

Change, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, is often necessary for perfection.

For Jordan Spieth, the can't-miss kid turned golfing superstar, the transformation over the past 12 months has nonetheless been sudden and sweeping.

The clearest sign, he told The Sunday Times earlier this week, has been his own expectations of himself. Already sky-high previously, they have since rocketed up several notches.

 

"I understand that it's not feasible (to win every time I play), but at the same time, don't try and tell me that when I'm actually on the golf course," he said.

That self-inflicted pressure is understandable.

In the 2014 PGA Tour season, he did not record a win in 27 starts. Last term, he won five times, including the Masters and US Open, and broke the PGA Tour single-season prize money record with more than US$12 million (S$17 million) earned.

PLAYING TO WIN

I understand that it's not feasible (to win every time I play), but at the same time, don't try and tell me that when I'm actually on the golf course.

JORDAN SPIETH , world No. 1 golfer, on the expectations he sets for himself.

A large part of his success was down to his Scotty Cameron 009 prototype putter, which he has used since he was 15.

Spieth led the 2015 Tour's putting statistics in six categories and converted over 27 per cent of his attempts from 15-25 feet. To put that in perspective, of the last seven leaders in this category, nobody was better than 24 per cent.

He has already begun the year with a win, at last month's Tournament of Champions in Hawaii, and is in contention for a second title of the year at the Sentosa Golf Club.

Heading into today's final round, the 22-year-old is joint-fifth and three shots behind SMBC Singapore Open leader Song Young Han.

In some ways, Spieth is the living embodiment of French philosopher Voltaire's opinion that "the perfect is the enemy of the good".

Said Spieth, who as a child obsessed over his piano lessons and wanted to participate in all the local competitions in his home town of Dallas: "I go into each week and really expect my game to be able to beat everyone else who's there...

"It's frustrating when I don't win, especially if I'm anywhere near being in contention on the weekend."

Learning to say no has also been a difficult transition for the fresh-faced Spieth, who begins his 19th week overall as the world No. 1 today.

The meteoric rise for the American, who is the second-youngest No. 1 after compatriot Tiger Woods (21 when he ascended to the top in 1997), comes with unrelenting requests from all directions.

"The hardest part for me... is when somebody will come tell you, 'Wow you used to have time for me before you made it big', and it's normally local people from where I grew up, friends, family friends, the media there," Spieth mused.

"But at the same time when I'm home I want to rest. There's craziness that happens on the road."

The tag of best golfer on the planet is not without its perks though. He is a very rich man, for someone who doesn't turn 23 until July, with an estimated US$53 million in winnings and sponsorship deals from 2015.

He has since upgraded from the US$2.2 million home he bought in December 2014 to a US$7 million mansion that boasts a 12-car underground garage, indoor basketball court, pool, golf-simulator room, grill room and wine cellar.

The baseball fan was also invited to throw out the first pitch at Fenway Park last September for the Boston Red Sox's match against the New York Yankees. Two weeks later, he was honoured during a home American football game at the University of Texas, his alma mater.

During the game's half-time performance, the military band even spelt his last name on the field.

"Standing in front of 100,000 people, it was really, really cool," chuckled a bashful Spieth, who also watched last year's Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao superfight in Las Vegas with National Football League icon Tom Brady.

The level of interest in the United States has increased several fold, noted Spieth's manager Jay Danzi.

"A lot of it is coming from non-golf, non-sports media. He's got calls from all the major US talk shows and we're going back in the spring for a second round with them," he said.

"Part of it is because of what he's done on the golf course, but it's also Jordan's personality, how he treats people."

That is one aspect that the Texan, who volunteers at his younger sister Ellie's special needs school, is determined to keep constant.

Furrowing his brows, he said: "People say to me a lot, 'man it's so great that you haven't changed.' Why would I? Why does your position mean that you should treat anybody any different? That's something I never understood."

In the meantime, the golfing axis around him has shifted. The world rankings for the last week of January 2015, read Rory McIlroy (aged 25), Henrik Stenson (38), Adam Scott (34) and Bubba Watson (36).

Fast forward a year and only McIlroy, at world No. 3, remains in a youth-driven top four including also Rickie Fowler and Jason Day, 27 and 28 respectively.

Perched at the summit meanwhile, is Spieth, and he is enjoying the view.

"I felt we did everything the right way last year," he said. "There'll probably be a lot that I want to change about my life I'm sure 20 years down the road...

"But for now I wouldn't change anything from last season. Just enjoy every single one of these experiences."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 31, 2016, with the headline 'THE TRANSFORMATION OF SPIETH'. Print Edition | Subscribe