Scottie Scheffler’s run? Jordan Spieth says it’s had 1 curious effect

Jordan Spieth says Scottie Scheffler's run has inspired him.

Jordan Spieth says Scottie Scheffler's run has inspired him.

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Jordan Spieth thinks comparisons can be unhealthy.

He touched on that on Wednesday in his pre-tournament press conference. This week marks his 12th start at the CJ Cup Byron Nelson (formerly the Byron Nelson) at TPC Craig Ranch (formerly elsewhere), just northeast of his native Dallas. Nobody’s suggesting this week is the fifth major, but for Spieth, it’s obviously meaningful; it’s his hometown event, a chance to play in front of family and friends and a raucous Texan crowd. It’s also a chance to reflect on his former self; this tournament served as Spieth’s PGA Tour debut all the way back in 2010, when he was just a high school junior.

He’s experienced plenty in the years since. He became the Golden Child, winning PGA Tour events and then major championships early and often, his first win the John Deere Classic at age 19, his first major a Masters at age 21, his third an Open Championship at age 24. That was the good. There was plenty of challenges, too, like his tumble from World No. 1 to the edge of the top 100 before a return to the winner’s circle and the World top 10 in recent years (he enters this week at No. 20). Early on, he made golf look easier than any of his peers; in recent years, it’s looked like a high-wire act.

Enter the comparisons.

“I think a lot of things I struggled with that have certainly affected me mentally are a lot of comparisons,” Spieth said Wednesday. He’d been asked an open-ended question about May being mental health month; that’s where his mind went. And he acknowledged the comparisons weren’t just from the outside — he made them, too.

“It’s hard not to, especially when you have so much success early in your career,” he said. “Not only are you compared to the outside world to that person, but I have a hard time wondering why I can’t do that every week, too.”

Spieth added that he’s worked hard in recent years to build up his mental arsenal so he’s better equipped to tackle things like pressure or comparison. He talked about podcasts, about reading, about breathing, about working with professionals. He said it’s helped.

“Different tactics on how to manage it and bringing you down to reality and say, ‘This is what I do and not who I am.’ It’s hard to separate that a lot of times, but I feel like I do a lot better job of that now than I used to.”

If that last bit of self-talk sounds familiar, it’s because you, my dear golf fans, have heard it plenty of late. It’s the go-to press conference answer and de facto mantra of World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler. Golf is something I do, it’s not who I am. He’s said it before and after tournaments, win or lose — and recently there’s been more winning than losing. The Masters champ talks often about how he does not want golf to define who is he, at least not to himself and the people closest to him. Scheffler’s mind is among the strongest weapons in his own golfing arsenal.

It makes sense that Scheffler and Spieth would share vocabulary; they’ve known each other for years and are regular golfing partners. But it’s particularly interesting to hear Spieth echo Scheffler given something else Spieth said in the same press conference, when asked what it’s been like to watch the ascension of the World No. 1.

“It’s a very good question, because I have known Scottie since he was really, really young,” he said. “Not that I wasn’t, but he was really, really young.”

Spieth was effusive in his praise for Scheffler, saying that he’s a better person than player, calling his success well-deserved and expressing his excitement for him. But naturally it’s more complex than just excitement, too.

“On the flip side, like, it’s kind of the first time I’ve ever looked at somebody younger than me and it’s driven inspiration,” he said. “Like, I’m inspired by what he’s doing. It makes me want to go out and get better, and that’s always been someone that’s older than me. Kind of the first time I’ve felt that way about somebody that’s younger.”

That makes sense; for Spieth — who turned 30 last summer — there would have been Tiger Woods (who’s 48) to look up to or Phil Mickelson (53) and then perhaps the next generation of major champs like Rory McIlroy (34) and Brooks Koepka (33). But Scheffler doesn’t turn 28 until next month. It’s hard for Spieth not to make that comparison.

“Because I play a decent amount of rounds with him here in town, I’m constantly seeing it and trying to beat him at home, and when he’s playing better than I am, it sucks. I don’t enjoy it when I’m side by side because there were however many years of our life it wasn’t that way,” he said.

Still, that doesn’t mean Spieth has ceded the high ground for good.

“It’s flipped and I feel like I’ve got plenty of runway to be able to get it back. It’s inspiring at the same time to try make that happen. I have nothing in my way of being able to make that happen but my own self. I’ve got enough. I believe in my ceiling, and I believe my ceiling is as high as anybody’s.”

With Scheffler sidelined due to the imminent arrival of his first child, Spieth enters this week as the narrow betting favorite at 14-1 odds. That’s thanks to reputation and history as much as it is recent form; he’s missed three of his past five cuts and continues to manage a wrist injury. But as he stares down the rest of major championship season, Spieth hopes this week is the start of something special.

“I would love to win this event,” he said. “It would mean more to me than most events. I think that can be a good thing to think about it that way. I can get really fired up for it and it’s a good opportunity to, like I mentioned earlier, to reset the season, too.

“So I can look at it as a place I can maybe look at a successful season and say it wasn’t what I wanted until the Byron Nelson, and then I used the tournament that’s been so special to my heart to turn things around and go forward and start a nice run.”

In other words, Spieth’s hunting for the sweet spot where he can seek inspiration from comparison without being consumed by it. That’s a tough but inevitable balance to pursue; golf is fundamentally about comparison, after all. Your score compared to par, compared to your expectations, compared to everybody else’s. Spieth would just like his to compare a little bit more favorably.

Starting this week.

Dylan Dethier

Dylan Dethier Editor

Dylan Dethier is a senior writer for GOLF Magazine/ The Williamstown, Mass. native joined GOLF in 2017 after two years scuffling on the mini-tours. Dethier is a graduate of Williams College, where he majored in English, and he’s the author of 18 in America, which details the year he spent as an 18-year-old living from his car and playing a round of golf in every state.

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