Spi­eth brings his own roars to Au­gusta with a record 36 holes

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - BILL PLASCHKE

AU­GUSTA, Ga. — Three women were walk­ing among the mas­sive crowds sur­round­ing the 18th green here Fri­day when one of them spot­ted a pur­ple shirt in the dis­tance and stopped.

“Wait,” she said. “I want to hear this.”

Jor­dan Spi­eth was walk­ing up the 18th fair­way and, yeah, by midafter­noon on a day he set hu­mid Au­gusta Na­tional ablaze, it wasn’t about the sights but the sounds.

There were con­stant roars that echoed from here to South Carolina. There were stand­ing ova­tions that knocked over plas­tic cups and top­pled a lawn chair. There was the sym­phony of youth­ful en­ergy and pos­si­bil­ity that rat­tled the pines, loos­ened the green jack­ets and turned the Masters at­mos­phere into a dif­fer­ent kind of air Jor­dan.

“Fan­tas­tic . . . it just got big­ger and big­ger . . . some­thing you can only dream about,” Spi­eth said of the cheers, but he could have also been talk­ing about the mo­ment, which be­gan in cu­rios­ity and ended in his­tory.

This 21-year-old Texas phe­nom, who merely led the Masters af­ter the first day, ab­so­lutely owned it af­ter the sec­ond, shoot­ing a six-un­der-par 66 to set a Masters 36-hole record with a 14-un­der 130.

He leads by five strokes. He

has one bo­gey. He has zero three-putts. He has missed only eight greens in reg­u­la­tion.

“He’s on,” said Ernie Els, whose tone of amaze­ment adds to the ca­coph­ony be­ing cre­ated by the kid.

There was the sound of youth. On vir­tu­ally ev­ery hole, Spi­eth gave a speech to the most un­usual re­cip­i­ent. He talks to his golf ball.

“Sit down, sit down!” he shouted.

“C’mon, hit the wind, hit the wind!” he cried.

He pleaded for his tee shots to curl and for his ap­proach shots to slow. He looked at the ball while beg­ging it to be­have. He talks so much he’s be­com­ing em­bar­rassed by it.

“I guess it’s just the com­peti­tor in me, just want­ing it some­times,” he said. “I’d like to think I don’t do it the most of any­body, but if that’s the case then maybe I should dial it down a lit­tle bit.”

To which his brother Steven, a Brown Uni­ver­sity bas­ket­ball player watch­ing from the gallery, of­fered this re­minder: “Hey, the ball’s lis­ten­ing.” Spi­eth is also about the sound of fam­ily, as his par­ents, his grand­fa­ther and his long­time girl­friend joined Steven wait­ing for him be­hind the 18th green, as if hang­ing out for the start of a pic­nic. Back home, his 14year-old sis­ter El­lie, born with an un­di­ag­nosed neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­or­der and with the men­tal ca­pac­ity of a 5-yearold, was cheer­ing him through video and Face Time.

It is this fam­ily who sup­ported him when, as a child, he mowed a “green” into the front yard of his fam­ily’s Dal­las-area home and would chip to it from nearby yards, break­ing win­dows twice. It is this fam­ily who re­mains his cor­ner­stone even as he moved swiftly into golf ’s elite.

Spi­eth is a two-time U.S Ju­nior Am­a­teur cham­pion, the only one be­sides Tiger Woods. He won an NCAA ti­tle at Texas. He was the third-youngest player to win mul­ti­ple PGA Tour events, and has one victory and two sec­ond-place fin­ishes in his pre­vi­ous three tour­na­ments. Oh yeah, and he’s also the world’s fourth-ranked golfer with a sec­ond-place fin­ish in his first Masters last year.

Yet he still lives just 10 min­utes from his par­ents’ home. He still brings over his dirty laun­dry. And, be­fore ev­ery round, his mother still re­minds him to put on sun­screen.

“We don’t mind the laun­dry,” his fa­ther Shawn said with a grin. “It gives us a chance to see him.”

El­lie gives him a more rare form of in­spi­ra­tion, as he finds it hard to stress over his golf when he watches her han­dle daily chal­lenges with dig­nity and grace.

“It’s hum­bling to see her and her friends and the strug­gles they go through each day,” he said. “But at the same time, they are the hap­pi­est peo­ple in the world.”

From the sounds of youth and fam­ily have come the cho­rus of im­pend­ing great­ness, which sur­rounded Spi­eth on Fri­day when his dom­i­nance fu­eled be­lief that he could be­come only the sec­ond golfer in 30 years to turn a first-round lead into a tour­na­ment victory.

Spi­eth was so calmly pre­cise it was as if he was play­ing a dif­fer­ent tour­na­ment on a dif­fer­ent course. By the end of the round, fans weren’t even wait­ing for him to reach the green be­fore ac­knowl­edg­ing their ap­pre­ci­a­tion. Fans were rain­ing down cheers on the empty green it­self, giv­ing huge ova­tions to his ball.

“It’s al­most in­de­scrib­able to see him up there,” Steven said as he turned his 6-foot-6 frame back to­ward the gi­ant 18th-hole score­board where Spi­eth’s red “14” dwarfed ev­ery other score, in­clud­ing the red “9” mark­ing sec­ond­place Charley Hoffman.

A lit­tle far­ther from the score­board’s shadow, fa­ther Shawn shrugged.

“It’s a lit­tle sur­pris­ing,” he said. “I’m not shocked, but the process might be hap­pen­ing faster than any­body ex­pected.”

It is a process born of his fi­nal-round strug­gles here last year against Bubba Wat­son. Re­mem­ber how Spi­eth ac­tu­ally led by two strokes on the front nine? Re­mem­ber how he got too ag­gres­sive and al­lowed Wat­son to steal it?

Spi­eth re­mem­bers. His fam­ily re­mem­bers. And, yes, his cad­die, Michael Greller, a for­mer sixth-grade science and math teacher, re­mem­bers.

On the 13th hole Fri­day, af­ter putting his tee shot into the pine straw, Spi­eth clearly wanted to at­tempt to knock a shot 243 yards over Rae’s Creek and on to the green. But Greller stopped him.

“No point in push­ing it,” Greller said.

“I’m with ya, I’m with ya,” Spi­eth said be­fore lay­ing up and then fin­ish­ing off a birdie on the par-five.

It is this sort of pa­tience and calm that makes Spi­eth the over­whelm­ing fa­vorite to hold off a leader­board that in­cludes for­mer ma­jor win­ners Justin Rose at seven strokes back, and Phil Mick­el­son eight back.

Said his fa­ther: “He’s got a lit­tle dif­fer­ent de­meanor this year. He’s walk­ing more com­fort­able, a lit­tle slower.”

Said Spi­eth: “It’s cool. I just need to keep my head down and find greens in reg­u­la­tion.”

He might in­deed have a chill week­end. It will cer­tainly be a noisy one.

Char­lie Riedel As­so­ci­ated Press

THAT SCORE­BOARD NEEDS to be up­dated: Jor­dan Spi­eth just went to 14 un­der par with a birdie on the 15th hole. The run­ner-up at Au­gusta Na­tional last year as a 20-year-old, Spi­eth has a num­ber of tour­na­ment records within his reach.

Ezra Shaw Getty Images

JOR­DAN SPI­ETH DIDN’T miss much dur­ing the sec­ond round, but he failed to make a birdie putt on the 18th hole and had to set­tle for a 66.

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