Jordan Spieth appeared before the golf media on Tuesday in advance of the 2018 Sentry Tournament of Champions at Kapalua. Here’s a look at some of the highlights of the back and forth between the World No. 2 golfer and the Tour’s stenographers.
STARTING AT KAPLUA
Jordan, this is your first start here, officially, since TOUR Championship, a place where you’ve had some success. I think your worst finish is T-3 you had last year. So how does it feel to be back in a place that you had some success coming off of a bit of a layoff.
JORDAN SPIETH: It’s nice coming back here. I look at four or five courses in a year where whatever — for whatever reason I seem to have success, whether I’m playing great or feel like I’m kind of just kind of getting through it and this is one of those places.
So to start the year out the way that I have, the previous three times, has been a nice springboard to kind of feeling like house money, right? Feeling like you’re kind of free rolling as you go in after a strong start in the beginning of the year. So looking forward to this week and next week. And I got two third place finishes to start the year last year and felt like that was good momentum that led to a pretty strong start to the year with a win there at Pebble Beach. So a lot can come out of these two weeks here.
On a less serious note, as far as course views and places where you get to play, where does this place rank?
SPIETH: This is probably a top-3 of the year. Just to, you play so quick, it’s such an easy event, there’s 34 guys. And then the views that we have here, and I love this golf course and it seemed to fit me well the last few times I played it, so it’s certainly up there because of that, yeah.
Is there any way you could compare the difference to the heart rate or the nerves you felt on the back nine at the British compared to the back nine at Chambers compared with proposing?
SPIETH: I was certainly more nervous. I was probably most nervous at the British, yeah. I confidently — I was pretty confident this past winter. So but, yeah, no, it was a good off season. It was a fantastic year, 2017 was very memorable.
I forget kind of how I felt the back nine of the British, or I mean of Chambers. British is still fresh, engagement is still fresh, I’ll probably at some point end up forgetting the British, but I won’t probably forget the engagement.
What kind of details can you share with us?
SPIETH: Very few.
Give us your best.
SPIETH: Just confirmation. But, yeah, it was nice. We were able to have — my brother was in town and her sister got in town, so we had our families there afterwards and it was a great night, really excited.
How long had you planned it?
SPIETH: Not too long. I had a decent idea and then I was pretty sick. And so I didn’t think — I had to have a back up plan. But I woke up and felt good that day and went through with it.
ON 2018 COMPETITION
Since last year you responded in kind the way champions do, stepped up, had a strong year. The rising of the bar that since has been going on with your generation, everyone sort of just taking it to new levels, how much further do you think everyone’s going and then personally, yourself, given that 2018’s going to be a stacked year, trying to be the best.
SPIETH: I think this year, 2018, the unknowns are very exciting right now. I think with the amount of depth and talent at a younger age mixed with the guys in their 30s that are playing No. 1 in the world, D.J., what is he? 32 or something.
Some other phenomenal players that you would call maybe in prime, right. And then, obviously, the major question, which is, what’s it going to be like with Tiger coming back.
So I think 2018, these unknowns are extremely exciting starting out and within the next six months it’s a pretty special time to be a part of professional golf. I feel that way. I’ll just set my goals like we do all the time and try and get out there and accomplish them year after year. And that’s when I sit here every single year, I’ve got my goals for the year that by this time that I’m certainly set out to tackle.
But I think the overall view off the course, at least from my own and a lot of us younger players, is very exciting going into 2018.
ON TIGER’S COMEBACK
Talk about the excitement in golf right now. Do you think that Tiger’s return heightens that a little bit? And when I was talking to Doug about this, is it a different feeling than say last year when he was coming back, because maybe he looked better this time around at Bahamas, et cetera.
SPIETH: Yeah, I think Tiger’s return and the excitement based on how he looked is probably first and foremost, I think realistically I can say based on what it does for ratings, what it does for maybe a non-golfer’s interest in golf.
It’s got to be at the forefront of the excitement. I can say that, even given what I was mentioning before with a lot of younger players and maybe more of the knowns, if that makes sense. You know that there’s going to be young talent spread out and excitement because of that and depth. And with Tiger we just don’t exactly know what it’s going to bring.
But I think because of the way that the Hero went and the confidence that he’s talking with, the place that he’s at in life right now, I think he’s in the best position he’s been in in a few years to come back and be a regular out here competing. So that I would call the forefront of the excitement in golf right now.
Even more important than that, how many more spring breaks do you think you have in you after an engagement and pending marriage?
SPIETH: No, I think it’s important to have a really nice balance of, obviously, the grind, but then the stress-free kind of take your mind off and also enjoy the fruits of your labor.
So, if we don’t go kind of have celebrations of different things that we’re able to accomplish in life, whether it’s a wedding or it’s a great year, or whatever it is, then you’re going to look back in 20 years and say, I just worked my whole life and I don’t think anybody really — if we have the luxury of being able to go out and do that, then I think we enjoy doing so.
ON JUSTIN THOMAS & RIVALS
Have you or what would you say to Justin in terms of backing up the five-win year like you had to try to do?
SPIETH: He’s reached out and we have talked a bit about it on a serious note. Just what advice after coming off a year like he had similar to mine in 2015. And I was able to, I hope, to share just a couple insights that maybe I wasn’t prepared for that could have helped me, whether — not necessarily on the golf course, but more in just kind of way of life and blocking out stuff and staying focused.
And everybody’s going to be different in the way things are handled and hopefully, again, the one thing I wonder is if he’s — every time he steps in an interview room is he going to be compared.
And I guess that’s only natural for you guys and the general public to do, but it’s also not necessarily fair because last year I had a lower scoring average and better statistics than I did in 2015 and my results were not identical to 2015. They actually, because of the lower scoring average, they should have been better than 2015 results-wise. But it’s just a matter of where the cookie crumbles, it’s a matter of who else plays great that week when maybe you played great.
Like I had D.J. and Justin a couple times that prevented me from a five- or six-win season this last year, that maybe in 2015 they just didn’t quite play that good — somebody else didn’t play quite that good. So it’s just very difficult to go off of straight results. It’s easier to look back on statistics and how you can improve each and every year.
So the stuff that I told Justin is between me and him and it will stay that way. But I feel like there’s a tremendous opportunity he has to continue what he was doing and to get better every single year.
Is he your greatest rival? Not necessarily talent, but you’re somewhat mates and not mates or whatever else, is there someone that you want to beat more than others?
SPIETH: No, I don’t think there’s anybody I want to beat more than others. I don’t play to beat people. I play to try and finish first on the leaderboard. To be able to battle it out with somebody, Justin’s certainly at the top of the list.
I really haven’t had any chances competing down the stretch with Rory. And I think I would really enjoy that because he plays so fearlessly and it would force me to play that way as well. I’ve had a lot of battles with D.J. and J Day. Very few with Justin, only a couple now. And really none with Rory. So I look forward to those kind of opportunities.
STAYING GROUNDED & ENTERTAINING
When you talk about big years especially at a young age, how do you avoid having great confidence morph into having a big head? And have you ever been guilty of that do you think?
SPIETH: I’m sure I have been guilty of it. Say something that maybe is looked at out of context or whatever, but. And I’ll be the first to tell you, when everyone tells you you’re great all the time, it’s difficult to at some times stay grounded, while still maintaining that kind of confidence that you need to have to feel like you’re over the ball and you’re the one that’s going to be the one that’s hitting the shot, pulling off the shot to win or whatever.
So there are times where I certainly fall into it and I’ve got people around me to bring me back out of it and to bring me level headed. And there is difficulty in any sport, entertainment, entertainers, that you get told enough times that you’re special and you’re great and you’re better than this and that and that.
Well, no one’s better than anybody else, we just, we’re entertainers, that’s what we do. And if you can think about that but then keep your head down and try and do it to the best of your ability. If I stay really focused on just me and what I’m doing, that’s when I am confident, but not big headed.
IN THE ARENA & TEDDY ROOSEVELT
You talked about how comfortable you are here and the fact that you accomplished a lot of your goals from last year. New year, new calendar year, excitement, optimism. How would you describe where you are with your optimism now as we turn the page to 2018 compared to the beginning of years in the past?
SPIETH: Yeah, I’m just in a fantastic place compared to what I would say, where I was last year. I thought 2016 — you know, 2014 was kind of a difficult year given I had a lot of chances and didn’t quite close out and I missed out on being able to play this tournament in 2015.
And then worked hard in my ability to close over that winter — that fall/winter of 2014, going into 2015, and made big strides to lead into the 2015 year. Then ran into, you get yourself in position enough times, it will go your way, like it did at the U.S. Open, in an unorthodox manner for me at Chambers Bay. And sometimes it will go the other way like it did at the 2016 Masters and I wasn’t prepared for the other way.
Personally, to be able to handle the I don’t know stress that it put on me for a lot of the rest of the year, that inhibited some success and inhibited confidence in my own game and my ability. Which it shouldn’t have.
I think that 2017, the British Open, the Open Championship, it just did wonders for me individually. And not only my view of myself, but my view on being the man in the arena and being, I’m the one that’s out there, that’s putting it on the line every single week.
I’m going to fail and learn and I’m going to succeed, but I’m the one in the arena and it’s — anytime I’m criticized, it’s that quote from Teddy Roosevelt, it’s like my favorite quote from all time: There are going to be critics, and that’s not you guys whatsoever, I’m saying in general there’s going to be critics and people that disagree with the way you do things or whatever, but I feel like I’m in a great place of who I am and what I’m doing going forward. And starting 2018 I’m kind of ready for anything. I’m ready for failure, for success, and everything in between.
I’m sorry, I don’t quite understand the man in the arena feeling. Can you explain that a little better?
SPIETH: No, it’s essentially, it’s a great quote. I wish I could recite the exact quote to you, but it’s the man that puts it on the line every day, that pretty much I should only care about myself putting it on the line every single day, recognizing what’s going to come with it.
And in sport, nobody’s perfect. You’re going to get criticized. It’s not the critic that matters, it’s the man that’s actually there risking everything, that’s going to fail, that’s going to learn and make adjustments.
Were you aware that you were feeling that at the Open Championship as it was going on?
SPIETH: Yeah, I struggled a little bit with it — throughout that round it felt like it was like three tournaments in one.
I felt like that round was eight hours long because of the stuff I was juggling, the comparisons I was making in my head to the Masters in 2016 at some point, to being able to shut that off and pretty much say, so what, if you don’t end up winning today it really doesn’t matter you constantly put yourself in these chances in Majors and you should take enough confidence about being able to do that to recognize that the only person that’s going to get in the way from me doing that going forward is myself.
And to not let anybody else get in the way, which I felt like I had let outside influences get in the way for a good year of my ability to free up and to be okay with not winning, but to still stay focused and play fearless golf.
Back to the Teddy Roosevelt quote. When did you, when did that sort of was that something you came across in history class in high school?
SPIETH: No, it was just something I kind of was told and learned last year. It was around that time, too. It was just as I was battling it was, it came through, it came from my trainer who mentioned it to me and I thought it was really profound and very much helped.
Credits: ASAP Sports, Getty Images