by Pete Kowalski
Cherry Hills Village, Colo. – For someone who will turn 19 on July 27, Jordan Spieth already owns a well developed sense of history – well, golf history at least.
When he walked through the Hall of Champions at Cherry Hills Country Club, which will host the 112th U.S. Amateur Championship from Aug. 13-19, he couldn’t help but be immersed in the golf history that the trophies, photos and memorabilia represent.
His appreciation of the displays that delineated the nine previous USGA championships at the 90-year-old club was shaped by the winners, which include Arnold Palmer at the 1960 U.S. Open, Phil Mickelson at the 1990 U.S. Amateur and Jack Nicklaus at the 1993 U.S. Senior Open.
“It’s remarkable that a golf course can hold that many national championships,” said Spieth, of Dallas, a University of Texas sophomore who was attending Media Day for the U.S. Amateur. “The winners of the events, Arnold Palmer and Phil Mickelson and the names go on… When you have great champions you know that your course is singling out the best players in the event. That’s what it looks like it’s been doing here.”
Spieth, who just completed a first-team All-America freshman season at Texas that included an NCAA Division I team championship, has already begun to weave his name into the golf history he so appreciates.
With two U.S. Junior Amateur titles (in 2009 and 2011), he shares a place with Tiger Woods as the only multiple winners of the 65-year-old championship. At age 18, he was arguably the most effective competitor for the USA Team at the 2011 Walker Cup Match at Royal Aberdeen Golf Club in Scotland. And in 2012, he shot rounds of 69-70 during the weekend of the U.S. Open at The Olympic Club in San Francisco to earn low-amateur honors and finish in a tie for 21st place in his first appearance at the National Open.
When last year’s U.S. Amateur runner-up, Patrick Cantlay, turned pro after the 2012 U.S. Open, Spieth ascended into the top spot in the World Amateur Golf Ranking supported by the USGA and The R&A. He continued to hold that position as of the last week in July.
Spieth’s summer schedule included some PGA Tour events, but he still strives for the next target on his competitive radar – the U.S. Amateur, where he advanced to the quarterfinals last year at Erin Hills in Wisconsin before losing to Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup member Jack Senior.
“I am extremely excited about this event,” he said at Media Day. “This is one I mark off every year. This will be my fourth Amateur. The first two years I missed the cut and finally learned how to play it. I am looking forward to making it a couple of matches farther on a venue such as Cherry Hills which I have heard so much about from the major champions I have talked to. I will get in here early a few weeks from now and play a few more rounds.”
Spieth will sort through his experience to craft a game plan for success against a field of 311 fellow competitors who will tackle Cherry Hills Country Club and the Colorado Golf Association’s CommonGround Golf Course in two rounds of stroke-play qualifying at the U.S. Amateur on Aug. 13-14. The low 64 scorers will advance to match play, which will be contested at Cherry Hills.
“The competition at a U.S. Amateur is similar to a [PGA] Tour event and the golf course is set up like a Tour event or even harder,” said Spieth, who won four Texas state high school titles. “I thought the courses I played during the U.S. Amateur were the toughest courses I have ever played until the U.S. Open this year. It’s not far behind. It’s fair and it’s set up great for match play – it always is. Preparation for the U.S. Amateur is the same as if I was preparing for the U.S. Open. It means that much to everyone who plays in this event.”
Match Play Trumps Stroke Play: With his run of success at the U.S. Junior (a 13-1 record over three years), Spieth has developed a fondness for match play, which can make for long weeks for those competitors who advance. He prefers the aggressive style that is favored in match play…. “In stroke play you want to stay consistent and find your swing – especially driving the ball,” Spieth said. “You are playing two courses and you want to stay consistent so you don’t have to shoot 62 or 63. You’d like to be medalist but you’d like to stay consistent. That way – at least when I play – I am more aggressive during match play. You have to be smart. On a venue like [Cherry Hills] which is difficult, you have to realize that par is going to win holes. There are going to be a lot of bogeys out here; that’s just the way it is. In my short career of match-play experience, I’ve had ups and downs with it. I love match play. I prefer match play over stroke play. There is a more mental part to it and I think experience pays off more.”
Prepping for Heat and Height: Spieth wants to arrive at Cherry Hills C.C. early to get accustomed to the altitude of the Rocky Mountains…. “I actually have not played much in altitude,” Spieth said. That yardage adjustment is critical because of the heavy rough and the sloping, speedy greens at Cherry Hills C.C…. In addition to the altitude, Spieth sees the heat that has enveloped most of the country of late as another obstacle…. “The weather is going to be hot here but I don’t know what it’s going to be in a few weeks,” he said. “It’s like Canada compared to what I am used to down in Texas. With that altitude you are going to have to hydrate. I believe it’s going to be a more physical test because of the lighter air and the hot weather. It could be pretty interesting playing 36 holes in a day in hot weather and light air. You have to be ready for it.