Jordan Spieth was on the right side of the fairway at Albany Golf Club in the Bahamas, trying to figure out his next shot. He remembered the grass being a little thin on the left side, so any shot hit too hard in that direction was likely to run through into the scrub and dunes.
What he didn’t notice — or hear — was the guy sitting in a cart just outside the ropes.
“This kid is so smart,” Tiger Woods said as he leaned forward with his arms resting against the wheel.
More than his capacity to hole 20-foot putts, his reliable short game and the other parts of his game that don’t get enough credit, the 22-year-old Masters champion has an old head on young shoulders. It’s what led David Feherty to blurt out during an interview with Spieth, “This is like listening to Old Tom Morris.”
Woods might have remembered what happened last April at Augusta National.
Spieth and Ben Crenshaw were playing a practice round on Wednesday before the tournament started when Woods asked if he could join them on the back nine. They finished up on the 16th hole when Spieth looked back and noticed Woods putting from about 8 feet below and behind the Sunday pin placement.
So he headed back to take a look.
“I remember just watching that putt and noticing how much it broke, and it kind of threw me off,” Spieth said. “Wow. I watched him hit quite a few of them. He obviously knew that was a tricky putt. And sure enough, I ended up having a very similar putt, maybe a slightly different angle, for par to really clinch the Masters.”
Spieth knew about the slope toward the water. Everyone remembers how Woods’ chip in 2005 rolled down to the cup and had just enough momentum to drop, one of the most famous moments in Masters history. What he noticed that day was a slight bank coming off the bunker — Spieth said it was 4 degrees — that created a small valley.
Five days later, he made the par putt from about that spot to maintain his four-shot lead and finished off a wire-to-wire victory.
“I did see Jordan talk about that particular putt, and Tiger was putting from behind the hole on 16,” Crenshaw said. “To me, that shows you that Jordan doesn’t miss anything in his preparation. I think that he has shown us at an early age how well he prepares, not only physically but mentally.”
Bad shots happen.
Bad decisions bother Spieth more, which is one reason he left the Valspar Championship so irritated three weeks ago.
Cameron McCormick noticed something different about Spieth when he first began teaching the 12-year-old from Dallas. The kid was relentless with questions. McCormick attributes a big part of Spieth’s smarts to his parents. His father, Shawn, played baseball at Lehigh. His mother, Chris, played basketball at Moravian.
“It’s like he had a master’s degree before he ever won the Masters,” McCormick said.
The golf IQ is difficult to measure. Woods, as complete a package as golf has seen in his generation, prided himself on understanding how to play and how to win. He thought through every shot.
Is Spieth smart? Or does he just make a lot of putts?
“I think I have a high golf IQ, sure,” Spieth said. “I think what that means is I’m able to dissect different situations, different lies, winds and where pins are. Not only judging the distance, but judging — based on our knowledge of the golf course — the appropriate spot where to miss is and how to make par from there.”
Then again, he believes everyone on the PGA Tour has a high golf IQ or else they wouldn’t be out there.
“I think your love of the game makes you want to learn more about it and learn everything that goes into it,” Spieth said. “I have a passion for it.”
McCormick discovered that quickly, too.
One of the more famous stories was when they first played together at Brook Hollow in Dallas. McCormick challenged him on his short game by placing three balls around the green of various degrees of difficulty and assigning Spieth a score to reach. On the last hole, Spieth needed to get two of them up-and-down and hole the other one.
He holed out two of them.
“He doesn’t handle losing particularly well,” McCormick said with a laugh. “He has a very small level of satisfaction. That satisfaction is winning.”
Any golfer still needs all the shots, particularly at Augusta National, where Spieth will try to join Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Woods as the only back-to-back winners.
He already has the attention of Nicklaus, from his play and from the times they have sat down to chat.
“Very mature,” Nicklaus said. “Very savvy about how to play golf. And what Jordan does, I really admire, because it’s a lot what I tried to do. I always got something pretty good out of my game when I wasn’t playing well. … I think he’s a very savvy, smart, calm collected kid who thinks his way well around the golf course.”