A lot of eyeballs were focused on Spieth in 2009, and he delivered, becoming the first medalist to win since fellow Texan Matthew Rosenfeld nine years earlier.
“This is the biggest junior tournament in the world,” said Spieth, then 15, after defeating Jay Hwang in the 36-hole final. “So at the beginning of the year, you’re thinking about how you’re going to prepare for that tournament.”
Junior golfers have plenty of competitive options, but the U.S. Junior Amateur always ranks at the top. Not only is it a national championship, but it can open countless doors.
It did for Spieth.
The following year, the PGA Tour’s HP Byron Nelson Championship extended the then-16-year-old a sponsor’s exemption, the first for an amateur in 15 years. The American Junior Golf Association named Spieth its 2009 player of the year, with his Junior Amateur victory likely pushing him ahead of the class.
He got into the next two U.S. Amateurs as well. When he won the Junior Amateur again in 2011, it not only earned Spieth a third consecutive trip to the U.S. Amateur – where he advanced to the quarterfinals at Erin Hills – but also put him on the radar for the 2011 USA Walker Cup Team.
Although he was the youngest member of the 10-man side that lost at Royal Aberdeen in Scotland, Spieth registered a team-best 2-0-1 record with a pair of 3-and-2 singles victories over Jack Senior and Andy Sullivan, the former having eliminated him in the U.S. Amateur three weeks earlier.
Fulfilling expectations seems to be a trait Spieth has mastered since his first Junior Amateur win. A lot of golfers have a tough time handling pressure, but Spieth channeled his emotions to join Woods as the only multiple champions of the U.S. Junior Amateur by defeating Chelso Barrett in the 36-hole final at Gold Mountain Golf Course in Bremerton, Wash., in 2011.
Spieth understood at an early age that it took more than sheer physical talent to win a USGA championship.
“This is a really tough tournament to win,” said Spieth after his first U.S. Junior Amateur victory. “It’s just because you have to play great golf six days in a row. It’s just so tough to do when you can run into [an opponent] who is just clearing it in one round.”
“If I had gone through without winning this … I wouldn’t look back on it as a bad junior career or anything like that.”
Only a year after his second Junior Amateur triumph, Spieth, fresh off helping the University of Texas to the 2012 NCAA title, got into the U.S. Open as an alternate and edged future Longhorn teammate Beau Hossler for low-amateur honors.
Three years later, Spieth’s name was being engraved on the U.S. Open Trophy.
Now, he’s one PGA Championship victory away from the career grand slam.
Not bad for a 24-year-old kid.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.