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Jordan Spieth faces temptations of success

Already practicing this week at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, Jordan Spieth hopes to get his 2016 started off right with a victory at the winners-only event in Hawaii. Tom Pennington/Getty Images

There is little reason to worry about Jordan Spieth as he plays his first competitive rounds in 2016 amid the crashing waves and mountain backdrop of Kapalua in Hawaii.

The calendar has flipped and Spieth has joined the winners-only field (it remains hard to believe he didn't qualify a year ago) at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, every bit as determined to achieve more glory after a year in which he seemingly could not have added much more.

The questions came up almost immediately after finishing second at the PGA Championship to cap one of the best years in the modern history of the majors. How do you stay motivated?

After going on to win the Tour Championship, capture the FedEx Cup and receive player of the year honors, Spieth acknowledged that matching last season -- two majors, five overall victories, FedEx title -- will not be easy, although it won't be for a lack of trying.

"When I have done some thinking, in my mind I can certainly improve in spots of my game,'' said Spieth, 22, who begins 2016 ranked No. 1 in the world. "It doesn't necessarily mean the results will happen the way they do where you get two majors and five wins.

"For that to peak at the right time, it's a bit of good timing and luck and it's a bit of believing in our team and the plan we set forth. So we're going to try and do the same thing. I believe I can get better certainly in different specific parts of my game and I can grow mentally as a player as well. I don't know if it will lead into the same kind of accolades that [2015] brought forth, but I can certainly finish feeling like I'm a better player than I was [in 2015].

"And if that's the case, wins will fall my way. I hope they come at the same time that they did this past year, but you just never know.''

It's true that Spieth could play better and have worse results to show for it. That is the nature of a game even without all the competition he faces from the likes of Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose and a slew of others who are poised to chase those same titles.

McIlroy, for one, knows just how difficult it is to follow a successful year. Following big seasons in 2012 and 2014, he was unable to recapture the same glory in the odd-numbered years. McIlroy won just once in 2013. In 2015, despite four worldwide victories and a season-ending Race to Dubai title, he felt left out because of a soccer-induced ankle injury that could have been worse but forced him to miss three tournaments, including The Open.

"It will feel completely different for Jordan,'' McIlroy said during a media gathering in Dublin prior to Christmas. "If you look at the stats how those who have had a double-major season have performed the next year ... well, it's hard to back up. It just is. There's so much expectation, so much attention and focus. And I think it's more self-inflicted pressure really as your expectations are so high.

"This time last year mine were through the roof coming off a great season, winning those back-to-back majors and although I started well, I never felt I really got into my stride with injuries and stuff.''

Spieth's goal, understandably, is to again peak for the major championships, and he did a brilliant job of it in 2015.

He won a month before the Masters at the Valspar Championship and was in contention in two tournaments prior to winning at Augusta National; following a lull, Spieth tied for third at the Memorial two weeks prior to winning the U.S. Open; despite criticism, he went to the John Deere Classic the week prior to The Open, then was in contention down to the final hole at St. Andrews before missing a playoff by a stroke; and he was in the final group at the PGA Championship, finishing second to Day, who won by 3.

Changes to Spieth's schedule this year will be closely followed. He is going overseas in two weeks for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, a European Tour event, followed by the revived SMBC Singapore Open, sanctioned by both the Asian Tour and Japan Tour. Hefty appearance fees are likely involved, part of the spoils that go to a major champion.

Curtis Strange knows that part of the game well. The Hall of Famer and ESPN golf analyst won the 1988 and 1989 U.S. Opens, then sought to cash in. "I went to Japan and Australia three times in six weeks,'' he said. "Some of that was during the West Coast [part of the PGA Tour]. That was the start of my decline. I played a bunch around the world and it affected my performance.

"We did chase the dollar because we weren't making what they are making [today]. His team has to realize they are managing a career and whatever is best in the long haul is best for him. I got tired back in the day. Going overseas two or three times at the end of the year.

"But being 22 [for Spieth] is an advantage. It's relatively new to him. He's young and has the energy. But it's a lot of traveling. And it does weigh on you. I was one who said it was admirable that he played the John Deere last year. I loved that he played. But jet lag is a real thing. I went through it. I made decisions for the short term and it affected me.''

Since wrapping up PGA Tour player of the year honors with a victory at the Tour Championship, Spieth has made trips to South Korea for the Presidents Cup, to China for the HSBC Champions, to Australia for the Australian Open and then immediately to the Bahamas for the Hero World Challenge.

He's had most of the past month off, but did make it to Augusta National for a weekend outing. Now he's in Hawaii, a five-hour time change from his Dallas home. He'll then head to the Middle East, a 10-hour time change from Texas. It's then a 10-hour flight from there to Singapore -- where it is 14 hours ahead of Dallas. He'll have a week off after that before heading to California for the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, after which things will settle down some as he gears up for the Masters.

"He likes to play,'' said Spieth's agent, Jay Danzi. "He's not a guy who is going to sit. You have to have balance. He has goals on the course, peaking at the majors. There is a plan in place to do this.''

Spieth played 28 times in 2015 including the Presidents Cup and it is tough to envision that number falling much this year, which includes the Olympics and the Ryder Cup.

Then there are the commercial interests. Danzi said Spieth could have signed double or triple the number of endorsement contracts following his Masters and U.S. Open victories. In addition to Under Armour and AT&T, Spieth also has deals with Rolex, Titleist, SuperStroke and Perfect Sense Digital, with another major partner to be announced soon.

Undoubtedly, those companies like their message spread beyond the shores of the United States.

"It's important for him to extend his brand internationally,'' Danzi said. "All the top players have done it for years. For him and his sponsors and everybody ... you're talking about key golf markets. At the end of the day, these are important events. And to carry the flag of golf, it's important to do so.''

Danzi also pointed out that Spieth's maturity serves him well. It remains hard to believe that he is so grounded at age 22, that the pressure and the travel and the success have hardly changed him. Spieth appears to be enjoying life, as the trip to Augusta showed or the photo his mom, Christine, tweeted earlier this week of Spieth snorkeling with his sister in Hawaii.

"It's the way he was brought up,'' Danzi said. "It was the way his parents got him off to a great start and leads to the great decisions he makes now. I'm lucky enough to be a father and if I could have my sons be half the young man he is or a quarter of the young man he is, then I've done a great job as a dad.''

There will undoubtedly be rough patches this year. There were in 2015. Some might forget the missed cut at the Players Championship. Or the weekends off at the first two playoff events. That's golf, and Spieth managed his way around them.

"He just seems like a young man who handles everything so well,'' Strange said. "You have to remind yourself he is 22. He's been in the game, in the spotlight. He's been at the top of his level every time. The one thing he has to be careful of because everybody gets into this, don't demand too much out of yourself on the golf course.

"To repeat what he did last year is going to be a hard task. He could play well and not do what he did. Don't demand too much. Every year I got so anxious because you start from scratch. You can't force it. You have to let it come to you. All the clichés are so true in this case.''

Spieth knows his follow-up year in 2016 will be no easy task.

"We worked really hard [in 2015]," he said. "In the offseason last season and throughout [the 2015] season, there was a lot of balls, a lot of putts hit in practice. I'm going to need to maintain that to maintain the level of play.''