GULLANE, Scotland – Jordan Spieth has a problem that would be a major irritation to most teenagers.
His cellphone keeps cutting out since he arrived in Scotland.
“Honestly, my service plan is not working too hot over here,” Spieth said Tuesday, strolling slowly toward the lunch tent at Muirfield.
But Spieth isn’t like most teens.
This past weekend the 19-year-old from Texas became the youngest PGA Tour winner in 82 years. Within hours he was on a charter flight across the Atlantic, where he’ll play in his first British Open beginning Thursday. And thanks to that spotty phone service, he hasn’t been able to spend much time dwelling on his grueling, landmark victory in the John Deere Classic.
That’s not a bad thing, either.
“It’s interesting not being able to watch any of it, to not be able to see some of the responses I would normally want to see afterward,” Spieth said. “I can refocus, think of it as just another week. I can reflect on (the John Deere win) more after this week. But today I had to turn my attention here because it’s one of the biggest weeks of the year.”
Spieth turned pro after one season at the University of Texas, intent on earning his Tour card even though he didn’t have status on any circuit. His agent promised to line up at least seven events through exemptions, perhaps enough to earn a few playing chances and give him a realistic shot at earning his card for 2014.
Instead, Spieth has played in 16 tournaments, finishing in the top 10 five times before his breakthrough victory. It didn’t come easy. He needed what will surely be remembered as one of the shots of the year, holing out from a greenside bunker on the 72nd hole for a birdie that pushed him into a three-man playoff. Then, on the fifth extra hole, Spieth finally finished off David Heard and Zach Johnson.
The most immediate benefit was earning a spot at Muirfield. But there’s all sorts of perks that came with the win, including a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour, a spot in next year’s Masters and a chance to play in the season-ending FedEx Cup playoff after he soared to No. 11 in the standings.
“I never would have expected this at the start of the year,” Spieth said. “I just wanted to get my Tour card for next year. To play in the Tour Championship would be unbelievable, to be one of those 30 guys.
“There’s still a long way to go.”
Some fellow players realized he had plenty of game even before he began playing regularly on Tour. Phil Mickelson, who started getting noticed while still in college as well, has been watching Spieth’s play for three years.
“But he’s more than that,” the four-time major champion said. “He’s enjoyable to be around. He’s got charisma. People are drawn to him. He’s going to be a real asset to the Tour.”
Lefty is already looking forward to the day when Spieth is playing for the U.S. in events such as the Ryder Cup. Now he doesn’t have to fret about whether a tournament will invite him to play. He can set goals much higher.
“He’s not dependent on sponsor exemptions,” Mickelson said. “It allows him to start thriving on the PGA Tour rather than having to worry week to week. And I love his game. I love everything about it.”
It might be a bit of a reach to expect Spieth to contend this week at Muirfield, which he played for the first time Tuesday, facing a tight schedule that will allow him to get in only one full round on the tricky links course before the tournament begins.
But he’s got plenty of experience with this style of golf, representing the U.S. in the 2011 Walker Cup at another Scottish course, Royal Aberdeen. Even though the Americans fell to a combined British-Irish squad, Spieth did his part by winning both singles matches and halving his team event.
He also got a chance to practice extensively on a layout that looks nothing like the ones back in the States.
He quickly took to the creative shots required in the bumpy, windy conditions. He looks forward to breaking out a few of them again this week.
“This is my favorite type of golf,” Spieth said. “It’s fun. You get to use your imagination. You can use all types of clubs around the greens. You can play off ridges. I can pretty much play with (caddie Michael Greller’s) head. There’s nothing basic. I’m sure he’ll be saying, ‘What the heck are you trying to do?’ a couple of times.”
He’s still trying to adjust to the six-hour time difference and the long flight, struggling to get more than a few hours of sleep. But he did take in some of the sights in nearby Edinburgh before turning to golf.
“The towns around here are just awesome, with the stone walls lining just about every road you go on,” Spieth said. “It’s different than back home.”
On the way to lunch, his agent, Jay Danzi, suggested Spieth sit while talking to a small group of reporters.
“Ahh, that feels so good,” Spieth said, his time-lagged legs still a bit woozy.
At least he doesn’t have to worry about looking at his phone all the time.