Standing on the tee of his 72nd hole at the John Deere Classic, Jordan Spieth likely needed a birdie to even have a chance to make a playoff. He had surged up the leaderboard over the back nine, notching birdies on four of his last five holes heading into No. 18, but was still one stroke behind the leaders. When his approach shot landed in a green-side bunker, it appeared Spieth would instead have to settle for another top-10 finish.
Then, he caught a break. Spieth hit his bunker shot a little thin, but it was right on line. The ball took one hop, hit the pin and dropped into the cup for a miraculous birdie. After the tournament, Spieth called the birdie "extremely fortunate." Sometimes in golf it's better to be lucky than good.
The chip-in would have been a great shot on its own, but what made it one of the top moments of 2013 was what came next. Zach Johnson bogeyed No. 18, setting up a three-person playoff with Spieth and David Hearn. The three matched scores through the first four holes of the sudden-death playoff.
Johnson, an Iowa native and the defending champ, is money at the Quad Cities event but Spieth upstaged him in the final hour. The playoff moved on to a fifth hole and the three players headed back to No. 18 for the third time. All three drove their tee shots into the right rough. Johnson landed behind a tree and his second shot found the water. Hearn missed the green and both he and Johnson went on to make bogey. Spieth hit his approach shot to the back of the green. Not needing a dramatic chip-in this time, he recorded a two-putt par to secure the win.
The victory was his first on the PGA Tour and good enough to make some history. The 19-year-old became the first teenager to win a PGA Tour event in 82 years. He was the youngest player to win since Ralph Guldahl won the Santa Monica Open in 1931.
Every year on the PGA Tour, there's a rookie, or a few rookies, who show signs of becoming something more -- not necessarily the next Tiger Woods, but one of America's next great golfers. In 2013, that kind of speculation and hype was warranted, because Spieth looks different than the annual "next big thing." He looks like a sure thing, and the next global superstar in the game.
Spieth had made noise on the PGA Tour as an amateur, but his first full season pushed him onto a level that he might not vacate for another 20 years. At 16 years old, Spieth not only made the cut but actually contended into the weekend at the Byron Nelson, the Tour's local stop in his hometown of Dallas. The next year in 2011, he received another exemption and again made the cut. The golf world deals with these teenage phenoms popping up on almost a monthly basis, but Spieth continued to make headlines and went on to star at Texas, winning an NCAA title and earning First Team All-American honors. In his first major, Spieth finished T21 at Olympic and earned low-amateur in the 2012 U.S. Open.
So Spieth didn't exactly come out of nowhere, but to be so successful, so soon, the golf world realized by September that they had a different kind of prospect now on the scene.
He started the year without his PGA Tour card, relying on sponsor exemptions and lesser events to put a makeshift schedule together in his first professional go-round. He finished with:
- a PGA Tour win
- a weekend contention at the British Open
- three second-place finishes (including a playoff loss)
- nine top 10s
- only 5 of 23 missed cuts
- a rookie appearance as one of the final 30 in the FedExCup finale in Atlanta
- a 19th, a 4th, a 16th, and a 2nd pace finish in the four FedExCup events
- an eighth-place finish in the FedExCup standings
- a Presidents Cup roster spot as one of America's top 12
It was an astounding inaugural season for the 19/20-year old star, whose run through the FedExCup in the fall only solidified his status as America's best young player.
In addition to securing his full-time PGA Tour card, the win automatically qualified him for a berth in next year's Masters. The victory also opened the doors to the FedExCup, and we saw what he did with that opportunity. It's not difficult to see him making a run at the Masters, or any of the other three majors, in 2014. Amercia's next great golfer is already here.