This player won’t bust at 21

Spi­eth con­tin­ues his re­mark­able run and shares the lead af­ter three rounds

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - BILL DWYRE

UNIVER­SITY PLACE, Wash.— As many U.S. golf fans mostly drooled and silently prayed, the boy next door, Jor­dan Spi­eth, hung tough in the U.S. Open here Satur­day.

You don’t play the hor­rors of Cham­bers Bay. You sur­vive them. Who­ever does that best Sun­day wins a big check, a big tro­phy and the ti­tle of King of Pa­tience. If you al­low your­self to be be­witched, both­ered or even the slight­est bit be­wil­dered on one of these U.S. Golf Assn. cour­ses de­signed to baf­fle, you won’t win.

Spi­eth should be the like­li­est can­di­date to come apart. He is only 21 years old.

Most places don’t even al­low you to drink a beer be­fore you reach that age, much less ex­pect you to be able to coast along mer­rily through im­pos­si­ble pin place­ments, re­lent­less media scru­tiny and the pres­sure of ex­pec­ta­tions that comes with your re­cent Mas­ters vic­tory.

But then, as we have come to see, this kid is 21 go­ing on 40.

I got a per­sonal taste of it a year ago, and at the time, I filed it away, hop­ing that my im­pres­sion was cor­rect. A year later, it’s clear it was.

It was the Mon­day be­fore last year’s U.S. Open at Pine­hurst and Spi­eth was in the media in­ter­view room. He didn’t pack the house be­cause, at that point, he was promis­ing,

but hadn’t re­ally done any­thing. That is, un­less you count chip­ping in out of bunker at the John Deere Clas­sic the year be­fore to get him­self into a play­off that he won.

But stars are not cre­ated at the John Deere Clas­sic.

The in­ter­view ses­sion had gone well. Lots of the usual golf ques­tions, lots of pre­dictable an­swers from Spi­eth. Some­times these gath­er­ings are mind- numb­ing . “How are you hit­ting it, Jor­dan?”… “What are your chances this week?” Spi­eth volleyed back with ap­pro­pri­ate vanilla.

I had read an item about his sis­ter, El­lie, be­ing a spe­cial- needs child. She is seven years younger and I was cu­ri­ous about the fam­ily dy­nam­ics of that, of celebrity brother and autis­tic sis­ter. My in­ter­est was in­creased be­cause we have a spe­cial- needs son.

So I asked him about it. He looked up, kind of star­tled that he was get­ting a ques­tion not deal­ing with birdies and bo­geys and club­head speed.

He an­swered ar­tic­u­lately and even seemed to brighten up at the prospect of talk­ing about El­lie. But that ended the for­mal in­ter­view ses­sion. The prob­ings about driver ver­sus three­wood had lost steam.

I trailed him out­side, where he had stopped to sign au­to­graphs. He was alone. No Tiger pro­tec­tive en­tourage around this kid.

I told him I hoped I hadn’t of­fended him or gone be­yond the line of com­fort­able ques­tion­ing. I also men­tioned my per­sonal in­ter­est. He picked up on that im­me­di­ately, said he is al­ways happy to talk about his sis­ter and added, laugh­ing, “I can win a bunch of ma­jors and she will al­ways be No. 1 in our fam­ily.”

He has yet to win a bunch of ma­jors, but that seems like a given.

What also seems like a given is that Spi­eth, if he keeps his head level and his game sound, will be­come golf ’ s next in­fat­u­a­tion.

Fox’s Joe Buck taped an in­ter­view with Spi­eth be­fore this Open and re­marked later that he was the “kind of kid you want your daugh­ter to marry.” Ex­actly. But main­tain­ing that im­agery and re­al­ity, in the face of all the things that will be, well, in his face, will not be easy.

Spi­eth sank his sec­ond con­sec­u­tive birdie on No. 3 Satur­day and quickly took a three- shot lead at seven un­der ( that lasted about five min­utes). Fox couldn’t wait to get up a graphic that showed how Ben Ho­gan had won the Mas­ters, U. S. Open and Bri­tish Open in 1953.

Spi­eth was strug­gling just to stay near the top on the sec­ond leg of that ma­jors tril­ogy. In life, and in tele­vi­sion, that is called putting the cart be­fore the horse.

Not only does Spi­eth show amaz­ing po­ten­tial for be­ing a mul­ti­ple ma­jor win­ner. He also shows a real in­stinct for be­ing real. There seems to be no phony PR in him, no pro­grammed lines or im­age- en­hanc­ing spin.

Fri­day, TV cam­eras, which have never been more than five feet from his face here, caught him telling his cad­die how ter­ri­ble he thought No. 18 was as a par- four.

Asked about it af­ter­ward, there was no danc­ing, ra­tion­al­iz­ing or back­ing off.

“I think 18 as a par- four doesn’t make much sense,” Spi­eth said. “Of course, at the mo­ment when I didn’t hit the right shots, it’s go­ing to make less sense. And what­ever, if the mi­cro­phones are go­ing to pick up, they’re go­ing to pick it up . . . I’m not go­ing to put a smile on it.”

Satur­day, Spi­eth wasn’t even the story of the day, un­less you are giv­ing bonus points for pa­tience and per­se­ver­ance.

No. 1 had to be Jason Day’s in­cred­i­ble per­for­mance to get him to four un­der par and a share of the lead, af­ter look­ing like he might not even make it to the end. He han­dled both ver­tigo and Cham­bers Bay in one re­mark­able par­lay.

Dustin John­son and Branden Grace also bat­tled Cham­bers ef­fec­tively and also ended up at four un­der.

And the course it­self was pretty prom­i­nent in the pro­ceed­ings. Some per­spec­tive: To top this next year, the USGA might have to move the tour­na­ment to a run­way at O’Hare Air­port in Chicago. Also, re­duce the size of the cup by an inch or so.

But at the end, there was cool- and- col­lected Jor­dan Spi­eth. He hadn’t played great. He’d missed a bunch of mak­able putts. He shot one- over 71. But he still shared the lead. He hadn’t cracked.

Sun­day’s U. S. Open will bring even more tor­ture.

But we know one 21- yearold who seems up to it.

Char­lie Riedel As­so­ci­ated Press

JOR­DAN SPI­ETH LED by three shots early in the third round but even­tu­ally had to set­tle for a 71.

Char­lie Riedel As­so­ci­ated Press

JOR­DAN SPI­ETH MISSED some good op­por­tu­ni­ties late in the third round, in­clud­ing this birdie putt on the par- three 17th hole at Cham­bers Bay.

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