Bremerton, Wash. – What do Eddie Pearce, Mike Brannan, Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth have in common?
Besides the fact that all of them have displayed remarkable proficiency in hitting golf balls, they are also members of a rare U.S. Junior Amateur fraternity. Each golfer made it back to the championship match after winning a Junior Amateur title.
But only Woods managed to get a second championship. In Woods’ case, he won three consecutive Junior Amateurs from 1991-1993.
Spieth, a 17-year-old from Dallas who turns 18 next Wednesday, has the chance to join Woods as the only golfers to win multiple Junior Amateur championships. The 2009 titlist put himself in position for that achievement by winning a pair of matches Friday on the Olympic Course at Gold Mountain Golf Club. In his 7-and-5 semifinal victory over Adam Ball, he was the equivalent of seven under par, with the usual match-play concessions. At one point, he made six consecutive birdies.
“That has definitely been in my head,” said Spieth of joining Woods as the only multiple champions in the 64-year history of the event. “It was in my head last year.”
Spieth has turned the Junior Amateur into his own personal playground. In four appearances, his match-play record is 16-2. The only guys to beat him are Evan Beck (2008 semifinals) and Robby Shelton (2010 second round). In 2009 at Trump National in Bedminster, N.J., he not only won the title, but also was the stroke-play medalist, becoming the first player in nine years to accomplish both feats.
Obviously, Spieth, who will attend the University of Texas in the fall, has figured out match play. He admittedly had not played his best golf through the quarterfinals. Yet he managed to find ways to scratch out victories. Andrew Whalen of Ephrata, Wash., went toe-to-toe with Spieth in Friday’s quarterfinals. But down the stretch he faltered, making a critical double-bogey 5 at No. 16. Spieth then closed him out on 17. Spieth had similar encounters in rounds two and three against Wesley Gosselin of Knoxville, Tenn., and Wilson Bateman of Canada, respectively.
That was something Woods mastered during his remarkable six-year match-play run of winning the Junior Amateur and U.S. Amateur (1994-96).
“All I want to do is find a way to stripe it like I did today,” said Spieth of the championship match. “If anyone wins it from me and I shoot eight under or something [like that], I think they deserve to win. If I strike it like I did today, I feel good things will happen to me tomorrow.”
Saturday’s final match against Chelso Barrett of Keene, N.H., will be a 36-hole affair. It’s a long day of golf that requires patience. Spieth knows this well. He defeated Jay Hwang, 4 and 3, in 2009.
“I love the fact that it’s a 36-hole final,” he said. “Even if you lose the first 18, you get lunch and get to regroup.”
Physically, Spieth should also be prepared. He spent the last eight months re-sculpting his body and swing in preparation for amateur and college golf. He put on 20 to 25 pounds and retooled his swing with instructor Cameron McCormick at Brook Hollow Golf Club. He also does a lot of work with trainer Damon Goddard, who operates Synergy Golf Fitness and works with several PGA Tour players in the Dallas area, including Ryan Palmer, two-time USGA champion Colt Knost and Paul Stankowski.
The work has paid off. Spieth said he’s not fatigued, although his feet hurt a little bit.
“I am just worried about my caddie,” he said. “My feet are sore. But other than that, I am fine.”
Chelso Barrett admittedly had a little deer-in-the-headlights syndrome when he faced Jordan Spieth in the first round of last year’s Junior Amateur. He was 15 and competing in his first major golf championship, and Spieth was the defending champion. Barrett played decently, but was still whipped, 7 and 5.
Don’t expect the Keene, N.H., resident to have the same feelings in Saturday’s 36-hole championship match. Barrett’s game has evolved and he’ll march to the first tee with some confidence.
He’ll also be a decided underdog, which he relishes.
“I’m just going to go out there and play the course and not play the competitor,” said Barrett, whose father, Hugh, won the 1980 New Hampshire Amateur and competed in the 1981 U.S. Amateur. “I’m sure at some point I’ll be nervous to face him. But once I’m on the first tee, I think I’ll overcome it and just play golf.
“I like being the underdog. It’s pretty cool.”
History could be on Barrett’s side, especially when it relates to USGA events at Gold Mountain. When the Olympic Course hosted the 2006 U.S. Amateur Public Links, little-known Casey Watabu beat a future PGA Tour winner and Ryder Cup member, Anthony Kim, 4 and 3, in the final match.
Earlier this week, Barrett defeated defending champion Jim Liu in the second round, 2 up. He also defeated second-seeded Will Starke in the quarterfinals, 1 up.
“I’m definitely stronger,” said Barrett. “My ball-striking is a lot more solid. My putting is a lot better. And then mentally, my [older] brother [Brett] has helped me a lot.”
Odds and Ends
Barrett’s brother, Brett, will be flying across the country on Saturday morning to attend the final. He had a baseball game on Friday night and planned to be in the air early in the morning. Chelso said he should be on the property by the time they make the turn of the morning 18… Barrett is looking to become the first golfer from New Hampshire to win a USGA title since Austin Eaton won the 2003 U.S. Mid-Amateur. New Hampshire native Pat Bradley also won the U.S. Women’s Open in 1981 and Laura Shanahan-Rowe claimed the 2001 U.S. Women's Mid-Amateur… Barrett said people were following his matches on Friday on the Internet at Bretwood Golf Course. Bretwood is owned and operated by Barrett’s family. His grandfather and great uncle founded the 36-hole course, his father designed nine holes, one uncle is the head professional and another uncle is the superintendent… By making the finals, both players are exempt into next month’s U.S. Amateur at Erin Hills. Spieth was already exempt based on his top-50 standing in the World Amateur Golf Ranking… Barrett also will be exempt into next year’s U.S. Amateur Public Links at Soldier Hollow G.C. in Midway, Utah, as well as the U.S. Junior at the Golf Club of New England in Stratham, N.H. Both states will be hosting their first USGA championships.
David Shefter is a USGA senior staff writer. E-mail him at email@example.com.