IT WAS the “Dream Team” that suffered a nightmare. But, having now produced three PGA Tour winners and a European Tour one as well, the United States side that slumped to a shock defeat in the 2011 Walker Cup at Royal Aberdeen is starting to live up to its billing.
Russell Henley (Sony Open), Harris English (St Jude Classic) and Peter Uihlein (Madeira Islands Open) had already entered the winner’s enclosure in the paid ranks and now they’ve been joined by Jordan Spieth after the 19-year-old landed the John Deere Classic on Sunday night.
Outlasting former Masters champion Zach Johnson and Canadian David Hearn on the fifth hole of a play-off, Spieth became the youngest winner on the PGA Tour in 82 years, the first teenager to taste victory on the circuit since 1931 and also secured the last spot up for grabs at Muirfield this week.
When the draw was made yesterday, he was grouped with fellow American Russell Henley and amateur Matthew Fitzpatrick, and the trio will tee off at 12.50pm on Thursday.
“I didn’t think it would happen this early,” said Spieth, who won both his singles, against English pair Jack Senior and Andy Sullivan, in that biennial match at Balgownie before turning professional in December. “I had a plan. I guess the plan got exceeded.”
Six behind overnight leader Daniel Summerhays heading into the final round in Illinois, Spieth forced his way into the play-off by holing out of the bunker from 44 feet on the 72nd hole – an effort he was quick to admit had more to do with good fortune than skill.
“The shot on 18 was the luckiest shot I ever hit in my life,” Spieth said, the only player other than Tiger Woods to win the US Junior Championship more than once.
“The fact that it bounced right and hit the pin and dropped down to the cup, it’s just extremely fortunate.”
While Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy were all 20 when they earned their first victories, Spieth has eclipsed all of them and, in doing so, is now the fourth-youngest winner in Tour history.
“Just got so lucky – that’s what it is,” he added. “But right now I’m extremely pleased, and a little worried about only having short sleeves going to Scotland.”
Johnson, the defending champion at Deere Run, had seized control midway through the final round of regulation, but he simply couldn’t get enough birdies to put the field away, and his uncharacteristic bogey on No 18 set up the three-man play-off.
All three players had their chances to make a play-off-ending shot – with Johnson narrowly missing from the back of the green on a chip shot that clipped the cup on the first play-off hole.
Johnson hit the ground in disbelief. It would turn out to be the closest he would get to victory.
“I had my chances on the back side in regulation. I mean, I hit some really good shots and just didn’t make anything,” Johnson said.
Hearn also had a shot at the win, which would have been his first on the PGA Tour, as well. But he missed a makeable putt on the fourth play-off hole.
“Congrats to Jordan. He’s going to have an amazing career, obviously.”
“He’s an incredible talent to come on Tour at his age and have as much success as quickly as he has. So hats off to him,” said Hearn.