CHARLOTTE, NC – The child prodigy is now the seasoned veteran.
Jordan Spieth has been a part of all but one US Cup team since making his Presidents Cup debut as a 20-year-old who made history in 2013. Simple times back then: He was the star rookie who dazzled with its release. style and impressed with his poise and maturity. But now, with the game getting younger and with some LIV-forced turnovers, Spieth has compiled the deepest record of any American player here at Quail Hollow. The guy with the second most experience: his partner, Justin Thomas.
They are 29 years old and apparently old war horses.
“Weird, right?” Thomas said.
Every fall, we are fascinated by the dynamics of the team room and the composition of the roster. There are definite roles to fill: the alpha, the spark plug, the goofball, the breeder, and we yearn for a greater understanding of how, for one week a year, 12 self-serving, individualistic golfers learn to co-exist in a team environment.
Justin Thomas ready to pull his own weight in the Presidents Cup
At last fall’s Ryder Cup, US captain Steve Stricker approached Thomas with an assignment: This week, he said, we need you to be the emotional leader. And so at Whistling Straits, Thomas pleased, leading meet, cheering on his teammates and shooting beers on the first tee. Influential on and off the field, he helped propel the Americans to the largest victory in Cup history, 19-9.
Thomas has not been given the same mandate this week. Actually, he has not been given any mandate this week.
“Maybe my leadership role has been passed down,” Thomas said with a laugh. “Just go score points I guess.”
Spieth’s unique role is not so easily defined. But throughout his history in the cup, he has always been one thing: the model. He is sharp. He is passionate. And, most importantly, he is a winner (8-5-1 in this event). As rookie Max Homa said of Spieth and Thomas: “They’re two great people to watch what they’re doing. When they talk, I listen.”
The same goes for Scottie Scheffler. He may be the No. 1 in the world, the PGA Tour Player of the Year and the Masters champion, but he’s not the first in line to give advice.
“I see Jordan and JT as those guys,” Scheffler said. “They are the oldest, especially Jordan, and I think there are certain guys where their voice carries a lot of weight. I couldn’t tell you if I’m one of them, but I know Jordan definitely is. He has been around a long time, and you have to earn your stripes.”
Jordan Spieth gets more excited than nervous now
Spieth’s debut on the team made an immediate impression on Davis Love III, then an assistant on the 2013 team. That year, in the final event before the captain’s picks were determined, Spieth shot a 62 in Boston alongside Phil Michaelson. Mickelson then texted Captain Fred Couples: “Dude, you gotta pick this guy.” Since then, Spieth has been a mainstay for Team USA, missing only one cup, in 2019, when he was more concerned about the deteriorating state of his game than any slight.
In 2013, at least, there seemed little that could stop him. “I’ll never forget Jordan walking into the team room on Monday in shorts and a t-shirt and started throwing ping-pong balls,” Love recalled Tuesday.
Love’s wife, Robin, asked him: Who is that boy?
“That’s the future of our team,” Love replied.
And Spieth has been.
In 2017, Love recalled how Team USA was absorbing the scene in New York City, chartering boats to sail down the Hudson, but it was Spieth who wanted to put the spotlight back on the competition.
“He said, ‘Hey, wait, wait. It’s going to be windy tomorrow. We have to prepare. This is going to be a tough game,’” Love recalled. Heavy favorites as usual, the Americans came within a point of winning the title on Saturday, with Spieth giving up 3 ½ more points.
Presidents Cup Capsules: Meet Team USA
“Since then,” Love said, “the guys have seen him as a leader. He is a very smart guy. He is a very confident guy. And that’s what we need, guys to step up.”
At 38, Kevin Kisner might be the oldest member of the Americans, but Spieth, Love said, “is the most experienced. The guy that people look for to pick up the basketball and take the last shot.”
Spieth naturally just wants to do his part, whatever that means at the moment. He tries to be passive, but if someone asks about a particular experience, he details it. And if a teammate asks about first-tee jitters, strategy, or mentality, he shares it, too.
But as he reflected on his experience over the past decade, he noticed a distinctive change in the makeup of the team. This group is the youngest in team history (29.6 years old, the exact age of Spieth and Thomas), and is filled with players who have competed against each other for more than a decade. They are competitive. They are familiar with each other’s games. And they are close.
Spieth and Thomas personify this next generation that could unleash a wave of American domination.
“There’s not much need for a super imposing leadership presence at all,” Spieth said. “If it’s not necessary, then don’t force it, because everyone does their thing pretty well here.”
Look no further than the top, with the two, uh, veterans paving a winning path.