Jordan Spieth, who has played throughout his inaugural PGA Tour season like a man mature beyond his years, finally acted like a 20-year-old in his first-ever Presidents Cup competition Thursday. So when the 2013 Rookie of the Year showed some newbie nerves in his and Steve Stricker’s match with grizzled Internationals vet Ernie Els and Prez Cup rook Brendon de Jonge, Spieth was thankful that his partner, 46-year-old Stricker, acted his age.
One-up and faced with having to get up and down from a tricky, plugged lie in a green-side bunker on the 18th hole to win the match he and Spieth pretty much controlled all day, Stricker splashed his ball out to some three feet. When de Jonge, who had already drilled seven birdies, missed his 18-foot birdie putt, Tiger Woods’ putting guru calmly sank his for par and the match.
Spieth, who got off to a rocky start and finish, when he drove his tee shot into the water at 18, began shouting and celebrating after Stricker’s spectacular save.
"You don't want anybody else to have to get that up‑and‑down other than Steve Stricker, so, God, what a match," Spieth enthused to Golf Channel after watching his partner seal the deal. "It was incredible, the vibe out here, the U.S.A. chants, looking forward to tomorrow."
Stricker, the even-keeled Wisconsin native who never expected to be at Muirfield Village Golf Club this week after playing a limited schedule, took it all in stride.
"I had an uphill lie and went straight in the air and came up perfectly, I guess," Stricker said. "It was a tough match all the way around. Both teams played well. Hate to see somebody lose in that end of it all, but we had a great time."
It was baptism by fire for Spieth, who several times dropped his club after errant shots and left Stricker on his own through the first five holes. On the fifth tee, Stricker sought counsel from assistant captain Davis Love III about how to help Spieth regain the confidence he showed all season and that earned him a spot, as a wild-card pick, on the U.S. team.
Love’s advice? Tell him a joke.
"The more you tell him to calm down, the worse it's going to get," Love told PGATour.com’s Helen Ross.
It must have worked, because Spieth birdied No. 6 and made three more before finding the water on No. 18.
"Steve came up to me, and said, ‘when are you finally going to start playing?’" Spieth remarked. "He took care of me at the end, and all in all it was a match you hate to see somebody lose but couldn't have been happier that he got that up‑and‑down."
To put things in perspective, Spieth was three in 1996 when Stricker, whose daughter, Ross noted, was just six years younger than his partner, played his first Presidents Cup.
The Stricker-Spieth team will take on Branden Grace and Richard Sterne in a Friday afternoon foursome match.