Thursday, August 18, 2011

Chasing Down Jordan Spieth

Note: This article appears in the August issues of DFW Links and Houston Links magazines.

A funny thing happened last month on the way to covering Jordan Spieth’s second national championship in the final match of the U.S. Junior Amateur in Bremerton, Wash.

Well, hold on. It was more than one thing. And it wasn’t funny at all. Not then. It was about as far from funny as you can get.

It started at exactly 10:30 a.m., Friday, July 22. That’s when Spieth’s quarterfinal match began. I was writing a few stories for the magazines with one eye focused on’s real-time scoring of the Junior Am. If Spieth won his quarterfinal match, my publisher would book me a (refundable) flight to Seattle to cover the 36-hole final match.

Ah, but nothing is simple.

The first catch: Spieth had to win in the quarterfinals and semis before I would step on the plane. Any loss pre-finals, and I was playing golf instead of covering it that weekend.

If he advanced to the finals, I would fly the red-eye to Seattle. Same routine as 2009, when Spieth won the U.S. Junior at Trump National in New Jersey. Good trip, there.

If Spieth advanced this time, I’d get to Seattle about 1 a.m., plenty of time to find the Jimi Hendrix statue, locate the apartment complex from the movie Singles, listen to some Pearl Jam and still make it to the golf course in Bremerton for the 8 a.m. start of the 36-hole final.

The perfect plan. Right? Well, let’s see...

10:40 a.m., Friday: Spieth goes 1 up through 2 holes in quarterfinals. Where’s my travel bag?

10:51 a.m.: Spieth birdies, now 2 up. Start packing.

11:03 a.m.: Spieth drops a hole, 1 up.

11:14 a.m.: He drops another, all square. Packing stopped.

It went on like that for the next 90 minutes. Four times Spieth went 1 up then back to all square. Drove me nuts. Start packing, stop packing.

1:28 p.m.: Spieth wins 16 with a bogey, 1 up with two to play. My publisher finds a 6:50 p.m. flight to Seattle. His finger hovers on the “buy now” button.

1:39 p.m.: Spieth wins 2 and 1. Publisher goes to buy flight. Sold out. Of course.

1:45 p.m.: We find a 7:11 p.m. flight to Seattle on United Air, non-refundable. We book and pray Spieth advances.

That afternoon, fully packed and watching the semis online, Spieth loses the first hole. Son of a … wait. He wins the third hole. And the fourth. Fifth. Sixth. Seventh. Count ’em up: Five straight birdies! I can taste the Starbucks now.

4:24 p.m.: Spieth is 5 up. Rental car? Booked. Hotel? Booked.

5:20 p.m.: Spieth wins 7 and 5. Downloading Nirvana’s Nevermind for the flight.

5:59 p.m.: Flight delayed till 8:30. These things happen. No big deal.

7:05 p.m.: Leave for airport.

7:35 p.m.: Staring at Departures Board. My flight was just canceled. Suddenly I was 8 years old again, finding out Santa isn’t real. Beyond deflated. United books me on a 6 a.m. flight the next morning via Chicago. Puts me in Seattle at noon PST, in Bremerton at 1 p.m. Maybe I’ll catch the second 18.

10:48 p.m.: Send Spieth text: “Flight canceled. Leaving at 6 a.m. Hope to get there by noon. Play well!”

10:49 p.m.: Receive text from Spieth: “What? Come on, you’re good luck. Hurry up and get here!”

4:00 a.m., Saturday: Alarm goes off. Hit snooze.

4:10 a.m.: Alarm again. Climb into shower.

6:02 a.m.: Board flight to Chicago. Sleepy.

8:41 a.m.: Plane lands. Grab iPhone to check progress of Spieth’s match. Two problems: 1) No wifi at O’Hare. 2) It’s only 6:41 a.m. in Bremerton. My brain is mushy.

Killing time at O'Hare.
8:42 a.m.: Check connection flight. Delayed till 11:22. Eight inches of rain in Chicago flooded the streets and put O’Hare at half-staff. Hopeless.

9:30 a.m.: Delay pushed to 11:35. Publisher says I can just fly back to Texas. Hell no. Made it this far, can’t stop now. Maybe I can make the awards ceremony.

10:50 a.m.: Delay pushed to 11:45. What’s the difference? Check on Spieth’s match. Oh yeah, no wifi. Helpless.

So I finally get on the plane and arrive in Seattle at 2:58 local time. Spieth was 6 up through 26 holes when I landed. He wins 6 and 5 a few minutes later. I text to tell him congrats and ask him not to leave the club till I get there. Like I have that kind of pull. Not even close.

After a 15-minute wait at Avis (only counter with a line), I get my car and floor it. Forty minutes later I’m in the course parking lot. Running up to the clubhouse.

Spieth is finishing up interviews.

“You missed it,” he says with an embrace. Then he sees what a travel-beaten wreck I am. “Geez, did you run here from Texas?”

So, yeah. Missed the golf. But spent the next two hours hanging with Spieth, his dad, caddy and a family friend. We had drinks. Spieth gave me shot-by-shot recounts of his day. I took some photos.

Flew back to Texas at 6 a.m. the next morning. Eighteen hours of travel time for the 14 hours in the Pacific Northwest. But I got my story.

It’s funny now.

- Mark Button, Texas Links Magazines

No comments:

Post a Comment