Jordan Spieth, His Feet Firmly Grounded, Puts a Sensible Shoe Forward

by admin February 20, 2017 at 12:42 am

Be it his signature shoe or his life, Spieth prefers form over flash. Just as his golfing attire leans toward grays, blues, browns and whites, his public persona leans toward vanilla malted. Except for Spieth’s results, nothing about him screams “Look at me!” That made Nobu, where the beautiful people go to be seen while grazing on yellowtail sashimi, a novel place for Spieth, 23, to promote the shoe last Monday.

The day before, Spieth had held his first 54-hole lead on the PGA Tour since flubbing the 2016 Masters, and this one he converted into his ninth Tour title. His four-stroke victory, at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, was just what the psychologist had ordered for Spieth, who hoped he would not have to return to Augusta National in April weighed down by the baggage of the five-stroke lead he squandered in the final round last year.

“It was definitely in the back of my head all day,” Spieth said. He added: “You have that voice in your head that says: ‘Who cares what anybody else says or thinks? We just do what we do.’ But, obviously, that round was going to be on my brain because it was the most recent lead that we had. If I didn’t hold this one, what kind of repercussions would that have?”

Having exorcised the ghost of leads lost, Spieth could have slept in the next morning, enjoyed a sun-splashed day, and then luxuriated in the rave reviews of his new shoes that night. Instead, he was out at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif., when the sun came up, playing in the Collegiate Showcase with amateur partners who included the heralded Texas senior Gavin Hall. Spieth was accompanied by his coach, Cameron McCormick, who took videos of his swing to review between shots.

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Spieth on Thursday at the Genesis Open. Through Saturday he had not posted an over-par round all year, a total of 18 rounds.

Credit
Ryan Kang/Associated Press

Spieth, who dropped out of Texas early in his sophomore year to turn pro, said he was striking the ball as well as he did in 2015, when he came close to winning the first three legs of golf’s Grand Slam. He posted 27 consecutive rounds under par in stroke play until his one-over-par third round at the rain-plagued Genesis Open on Sunday. But you would never know it from watching him prepare. In his practice rounds, he bemoaned approach shots that found the green but were more than 10 feet from the pin and lamented drives that were not perfectly struck but nevertheless found the fairway.

Last month, Spieth played a pro-am round with another Under Armour athlete, the swimmer Michael Phelps, who said he had been struck by how much Spieth expected of himself. McCormick and Spieth’s caddie, Michael Greller, consider Spieth’s perfectionist streak a double-edged sword: It motivates him to keep working diligently, but he can be steered off track by the internal torrent of negativity when he falls short.

“I’m very reliant on Michael for positive energy, positive voice,” Spieth said of Greller.

Then there are the external pressures. A story in a local newspaper two days before the start of the Genesis Open mentioned that Spieth, a five-time winner in 2014-15, had “only” two victories last season, as if he had fallen on hard times. If that is struggling, most of Jordan’s contemporaries have never experienced such success: of the 144 players in the Genesis Open field, 88 had fewer than two PGA Tour career victories.

“If that’s those individuals’ perception, they’ve got an extremely high perception of what I’m capable of, so I guess, thank you,” Spieth said, adding, “If that’s a low point for a year, then we’re going to surpass Phil Mickelson.”

Mickelson, 46, has 42 PGA Tour victories but is winless since the 2013 British Open. That, combined with Tiger Woods’s being sidelined with a bad back and stuck indefinitely (perhaps enduringly) on 79 Tour victories, has tagged Spieth, 23, America’s “it” player in a high-stakes game with no discernible safe zone.

Before the tournament in Pebble Beach, Spieth tried to accommodate young fans seeking his signature while ignoring the professional autograph hunters, a few of whom became profane when they realized he was not going to engage with them. Spieth later expressed frustration over the adults who obtain his autograph to sell online, saying, “Get a job instead of trying to make money off of the stuff that we have been able to do.”

Appropriately, then, Spieth’s inner circle is a few hangers-on short of an entourage. Greller, his caddie, eschewed the chic boutique properties that ring the nearby beaches and spent the first two nights here with his wife at a budget hotel. Spieth’s parents missed his victory in Pebble Beach because they were watching their younger son, Steven, a senior starter on the Brown basketball team, play in home games against Harvard and Dartmouth. Spieth’s girlfriend, Annie Verret, was in Pebble Beach but did not accompany him here.

Spieth has his friends on the tour, like Justin Thomas and Kelly Kraft, the runner-up in Pebble Beach, whom Spieth has included in his favorites on his PGA Tour app, which allows fans to track their favorite players’ statistics and results.

One player not on Spieth’s favorite list: himself. That would be too meta, the equivalent of talking about oneself in the third person.

“I normally check my app when I’m not playing that week, so there’s no use in having myself on there,” Spieth said. Grinning, he added, “Plus, I kind of know where I am at all times.”

Spieth is also close to his Under Armour family, whose members are always no more than a text away. After his victory in Pebble Beach, Spieth received messages from the Patriots quarterback and Super Bowl most valuable player Tom Brady and the two-time reigning N.B.A. player of the year, Stephen Curry.

Both of those stars have found themselves, intentionally or not, thrust into the political conversation. Brady has been questioned over his friendship with President Trump, and Curry has taken issue with the relationship of Under Armour’s founder, Kevin Plank, with the president.

The understated Spieth was apologetically quiet when asked about Plank during a pro-am round on Wednesday.

“I have been advised to not say anything politically by my team,” he said.

He added, “I’m sorry.”

At the shoe event, Spieth sat in a director’s chair with his back to the sun as it set over the Pacific. It was a scene straight out of Hollywood, replete with a celebrity interviewer. The model and actress Kelly Rohrbach informed those in attendance of her own accomplishments — filming a new “Baywatch” movie and swimsuit modeling for Sports Illustrated — before turning her attention to Spieth, who corrected her when she described his win at Pebble Beach as his 10th Tour victory.

At the end of the event, as they were saying their goodbyes, Rohrbach blurted out, “You’re lovely.” When Spieth was out of earshot, she said: “I was struck by how well spoken he is and how incredibly humble he is. He’s focused, but in the warmest way. There’s a confidence in him that seems to come from work ethic and not bravado.”

During their interview, Spieth told Rohrbach that he felt “so strongly” about his role in the design of the shoes, which was all geared toward performance. It is about science, he added, not style or even sales.

“It’s like when I’m playing golf,” Spieth said. “It’s about how am I going to shoot the best score, even if it’s not the prettiest.”

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