Golf is supposed to be hard. A game played by millions but mastered by very few. Even those good enough to reach the PGA Tour or European Tour face a stiff challenge to stay there. The sport has built-in protections against meteoric rises. The top amateurs in the world often struggle to earn a Tour card once turning pro and many spend multiple years grinding away on a lower tour, trying to make a living and eventually play their way into the big time.
Then there is Jordan Spieth.
The 20-year-old will make his second British Open start this week and he's not just happy to be there, he's one of the favorites to win. That is a remarkable fact when you consider 53 weeks ago, Spieth didn't even have full-time status on the PGA Tour. He turned pro at the start of the year and played well enough in a few sponsor exemptions to earn temporary Tour status. He solidified his place on the Tour at the 2013 John Deere Classic when he holed a birdie shot from the bunker on the 72nd hole and went on to notch his first PGA Tour win in a playoff. That earned him a spot in the 2013 Open Championship and he's only continued to rise from there.
Just how quickly has Spieth risen? He started 2013 as the 810th ranked player in the Official World Golf Rankings. When he tees it up at Royal Liverpool on Thursday, he'll do so as the No. 10 player in the world. Golf is supposed to be too hard for those sort of climbs to happen, but Spieth is one of the select few to push through all the barriers and defy the odds. He's made significant gains even in the last year, rising from 59th in the world at the 2013 Open to No. 7 before settling in at No. 10.
The 2014 Open Championship will be his second appearance in the event, but his first under normal circumstances. Last year, Spieth was riding the high of winning for the first time only to have to make immediate travel plans to get to Muirfield. Oddsmakers pegged him as a 125-1 favorite to win and he didn't contend, finishing 44th.
This year, it's a completely different story. Spieth is no longer the teenager with the great story. Now, he's established himself as a top player in the world and contending for and winning majors is his next step. He was within range in the first two majors of the season, finishing tied for second at the Masters and tied for 17th at the U.S. Open. He's still only 20 years old, but Spieth's game has grown well beyond his years. He's played well in big events and on the biggest stage. He nearly won the FedEx Cup last year, firing off a final-round 64 to finish second.
The British Open
The British Open
Can he contend for The Open Championship? It would almost be more of a surprise if he didn't. He's played in 20 events on the PGA Tour this season and finished in the top 25 16 times. His last missed cut came in the first week of April. Since then? Seven top 25 finishes in eight events. That includes a T2 finish at the Masters, a T4 finish at the Players Championship and a T17 finish at the U.S. Open. His worst result in the last three months was a T37 at the Byron Nelson Championship.
When he tees it up this week, he'll do so as a 25-1 favorite to win, tied for the ninth-best odds. There is a major difference, however, between being favored to contend and actually contending. At first look, it might appear Spieth is at a disadvantage compared to many in the field. Links golf on a course like Royal Liverpool is a very different style than what they play on the PGA Tour. Spieth doesn't have much experience playing links golf. That said, he didn't have much experience playing on the PGA Tour last year, or playing at Augusta National this year and that didn't seem to be an issue.
Jordan Spieth's rise to golf stardom has been fairly incredible and the next chapter could be written this week.