By Sean Martin, Golfweek
SAN DIEGO –- Usually the young prospects don’t start appearing at PGA Tour events until June, when school is out of session and the NCAA Championship is over. Jordan Spieth’s journey is beginning a bit earlier in the calendar, while the Tour is still on the West Coast and long-sleeved jackets are necessary even when the sun is shining.
Spieth is making his pro debut at this week’s Farmers Insurance Open. His amateur resume doesn’t need to be repeated, nor does he dwell on it. Name recognition earned during one’s amateur days can help get sponsor exemptions, like the one he received this week, but now money matters more than those past trophies.
“I haven’t done anything yet,” Spieth, 19, said after a Tuesday practice round at Torrey Pines’ South Course. “I have to prove myself.”
He’s been in the San Diego area for nearly a week. He played both the pre-qualifier and Monday qualifier for the Farmers Insurance Open. His 66 Thursday at El Camino won the pre-qualifier. His 68 Monday was two shots shy of a spot in the field, though. Spieth was given the sponsor exemption when it was confirmed that all Web.com and Q-School graduates got in the Farmers field; that allowed the tournament to invite two additional players. To Spieth’s credit, he tried to earn his spot to give the tournament an additional exemption to hand out.
Those qualifying rounds were his first competitive rounds since the second stage of Q-School, and first rounds as a professional. Spieth said he’s “hitting it farther than ever,” but his putter was his main focus this offseason. Putting struggles kept him from advancing out of Q-School’s second stage. “The whole year, I’d moved into a more technical thought process with my putting, so all I did this offseason was work more on feel,” he said. “Not necessarily making (the stroke) look perfect, but just getting the ball in the hole.”
The putter is usually the strength of his game. Proficiency with that club can solve a lot of problems. Spieth hopes it will help him earn his PGA Tour card this year, in spite of not having status on either the PGA or Web.com tours. He has multiple ways to earn that Tour card, though.
He could try to pull a Bud Cauley and use sponsor exemptions to finish in the top 125 on the FedEx Cup points list. The top 25 on the Web.com Tour money list before the Web.com Tour finals also earn Tour cards. Twenty-five more cards are available via the inaugural Web.com Tour Finals.
“Getting my card would be my No. 1 goal for the year,” Spieth said. “It’s like a challenge. I’m pushing myself to get out here.”
Spieth is the second consecutive first-team All-American to turn pro in the middle of the college season. Peter Uihlein did so during the 2010-11 season, but he didn’t try to assemble a full PGA Tour schedule, focusing on the European and Challenge tours.
Spieth also has exemptions into the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-am and Puerto Rico Open on the PGA Tour, as well as the Web.com Tour’s season-opener in Panama. PGA Tour non-members, like Spieth, are limited to seven sponsor exemptions per year. It’s likely Spieth will meet that limit. He has three in the bag, and is a strong candidate to earn invitations to the Tour’s events in his native Texas.
“The reception tournament directors have given him has been great,” his agent, Jay Danzi, said. “He’s media-savvy and he’s able to be a marketable guy off the golf course.”
It was announced last week that Spieth would be the first staff player for clothing manufacturer Under Armour. Several Tour players wear the company’s clothes, but Spieth is the first to wear the company’s logo on the front of his hat and the side of his staff bag. He’ll also wear Under Armour golf shoes and gloves when they are developed. Spieth hasn’t signed a sponsorship deal with a club company, which allows him to play the same clubs he used as an amateur. “That was one thing a lot of pros said, don’t make major changes right off the bat. You want (golf) to feel as normal as it has been.”
Money is the biggest difference between professional and amateur golf. It’s what will determine whether Spieth has a successful first season as a pro.
“I haven’t really thought about the money,” he said. “I think that just makes it even cooler. You get paid to play golf.”
If all goes well, that first paycheck will come this week.