The following year, Spieth missed his high school graduation ceremony after making the cut again at TPC Four Seasons.
Now at the ripe young age of 20, Spieth is the eighth-ranked player in the world. He comes home to the Nelson as the Masters runner-up and only days after playing with champion Martin Kaymer in the final group at The Players Championship.
“I owe a lot in my career thus far for this golf tournament and those first couple of starts that I was given to gain the confidence of knowing that I can come out and make cuts and really compete, even at a young age,” Spieth said Wednesday. “I thought this is what I wanted to do for a living. .... The weeks when I was 16 and 17 here kind of put an exclamation point on it that this is possible.”
Since last year’s Nelson, his first getting a paycheck, Spieth became the youngest PGA Tour winner since 1931, earned a captain’s pick on the Presidents Cup team and was named the 2013 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year.
When he glanced up at the television during a workout Wednesday morning, Spieth caught a flashback video from his first Nelson.
“I looked like I was 9 years old. It was funny,” he said. “It seems like it was years and years and years ago, a different life almost.”
Kaymer, who tied for fifth at the Nelson last year after four rounds in the 60s, was delayed getting to North Texas because of a cancelled flight Monday night. But he never considered withdrawing a week after winning at TPC Sawgrass.
“I played decent last year and I enjoyed the golf course. The whole tournament was comfortable and very confident” Kaymer said. “I believe once you play well, you should continue, and I was committed to play. ... It was my plan, and I usually stick to my plan and my work.”
Plus, the German said this week is “pretty much” the last PGA Tour event this season except for the majors and the four straight weeks in the FedEx Cup later this year.
When the Nelson starts today, Spieth will be paired with defending champion Sang-Moon Bae, the 27-year-old South Korean who in his last six tournaments has missed three cuts and finished no higher than 34th.
“I couldn’t play well after this win. So I’m trying hard,” said Bae, with no top 10s in 27 tournaments since last May at the Nelson. “I had a little bit of pressure and a little stress too, because I worked really hard. ... Just playing, just practice, stay patient.”
While Bae has struggled for good results, Spieth has six top-10 finishes this season.
Spieth shared the 54-hole lead at the Masters and at The Players, last week going his first 58 holes without a bogey before five on the next 11 holes and tied for fourth.
“I’m happy that I’ve been in these positions, because I understand now and I’m getting more comfortable each and every time that I’m in a position of high intensity and a lot of pressure,” he said. “I get very lucky on the golf normally, so one of these days it will happen on Sunday.”
Like Spieth in the past, another top-ranked junior player from Dallas has a sponsor exemption to play the Nelson. Scottie Scheffler, a 17-year-old senior at Highland Park High School, is committed to play at the University of Texas, where Spieth spent one season before turning pro.
“It’s been mentioned for a while and I don’t mind,” Scheffler said of the comparisons to Spieth. “It’s a pretty good person to be compared to.”