Older, stronger Jordan Spieth returns

IRVING, Texas - Jordan Spieth couldn't help but chuckle when, while working out earlier this week, he saw some highlights of his 2010 HP Byron Nelson Championship appearance.

"I looked like I was 9 years old," Spieth said. "It was funny."

Then, he was a 16-year-old junior at Jesuit College Preparatory School of Dallas and playing in a PGA Tour event for the first time. He played pingpong in the media center and talked about fitting homework and final exam preparation into his busy golf schedule. He finished tied for 16th.

Tuesday, the 20-year-old admitted that debut four years ago feels like a long time ago.

"A different life, almost," Spieth said.

Now, Spieth has won a PGA Tour event and has played on the Presidents Cup team. In the past month, he was in the final group at the Masters and the Players Championship, although he wasn't able to win either one.

More proof that a lot has changed in four years: Spieth started his pre-Byron Nelson news conference with a business announcement. He has signed a multiyear agreement with AT&T. For Spieth, it's one connection to his hometown event. AT&T takes over as title sponsor of the Nelson starting next year.

Spieth, who was wearing a green and white Under Armour golf shirt and a white hat with the same logo, is a quick study in supporting his sponsors. At one point, his phone rang, and he apologized, noted that it was an AT&T phone and quipped: "It's got great coverage in here."

Perhaps that's just one more example of how he's wise beyond his years.

If Spieth is still dealing with the disappointment of faltering in the final round of a big tournament, he has come to the right place. He's back home in Dallas this weekend with a chance to put Sunday at the Players Championship behind him and focus on getting back in contention at a course that he knows well.

Spieth entered Sunday's final round at TPC Sawgrass tied for the lead and, just as he did at the Masters in April, he looked primed for a win early in the round. But things changed later on Sunday and Spieth shot 74, slipping into a tie for fourth, 3 shots back of champion Martin Kaymer.

As for whether he's preoccupied with coming up short this weekend, about a month after flirting with his first green jacket, Spieth seems to have already put it all in the proper perspective.

"I'm happy that I've been in these positions, because I understand how and I'm getting more comfortable each and every time that I'm in a position of high intensity and a lot of pressure," Spieth said. "So as they go on, just feeling more and more calm will allow me to keep on sinking into my game, and I get very lucky on the golf course normally, so one of these days it will happen on Sunday."

Four years ago, with his high school classmates filling the gallery at TPC Four Seasons Resort and Club Las Colinas, Spieth made the cut and then vaulted into contention, putting himself on the first page of the leaderboard as he neared the back nine on Sunday.

He wasn't able to keep the momentum going, maybe because nerves finally affected him. He had a 10-foot birdie putt on No. 11 to get within 2 of the lead, but missed it. He had a bogey and a double-bogey on two holes coming in and finished in the top 20. Jason Day ended up winning the event, but more Dallas-area fans remember it as Spieth's introduction to the professional golf world.

A lot has happened in four years. Spieth attended the University of Texas for one year and turned professional in 2013, betting that he could play well enough in limited sponsor's exemptions to earn his card. He certainly did. Spieth won the John Deere Classic that July at age 19, giving him full PGA Tour membership for two years.

This season, Spieth has six top-10 finishes, is ranked No. 8 in the world and is in position to earn a spot on the Ryder Cup in September. That last part is a big goal for Spieth, who has competed in the Walker Cup and the Presidents Cup.

"It's very high on my radar," Spieth said. "It's a huge goal of mine this year to try and make that team."

That impressive and unlikely run of success began with that Nelson sponsor's exemption four years ago and the confidence he gained from competing and contending despite his young age and inexperience on Tour.

"This tournament is so close to me that I look forward to doing it for as many years as they will allow me to," Spieth said. "I'll play it until I'm 70 if I can."

That's 50 years from now. Imagine Spieth's golf résumé by then.

And it all started in Dallas four years ago.