ORLANDO, Fla. – Except for the the crowd, and the significance of the stage, the moment was reminiscent of 17-year-old Justin Rose chipping in on the final hole at Royal Birkdale in 1998 to tie for fourth in the British Open.
This was much more valuable for 19-year-old Jordan Spieth.
He needed a birdie on one of his final two holes in the Tampa Bay Championship to complete an amazing trip through four countries in as many weeks and essentially lock up a spot on the PGA Tour for the rest of the year.
His ball was in the rough to the right of the 17th green. With a smooth swing, Spieth produced a flop shot that came out pure and rolled into the cup for birdie.
He followed with a 7-foot par putt on 18, a rapid-fire fist pump and a tie for seventh worth $148,893, pushing his Tour earnings to $521,893 and giving him special temporary membership.
As he sat near his locker at Innisbrook scrolling through text messages, the mention of Rose didn’t register immediately. That was a long time ago in his world.
“I was born in 1993, if that helps,” he said.
That year, another polished Longhorn from Dallas, Justin Leonard, turned pro and did well enough in seven starts to earn a Tour card without going to Q-school.
Spieth still has a ways to go. He probably needs another $150,000 or so to secure a full card for next year. He technically would not fall into that group of players who never went to Q-school – Gary Hallberg, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Leonard, Ryan Moore and Bud Cauley – because Spieth failed to get out of the second stage last year when his putter let him down.
Instead of returning to Texas for the spring season and a chance to repeat as NCAA champions, his heart was set on turning pro, hopeful of getting a mixture of exemptions on the Web.com and PGA tours.
The special temporary membership means Spieth can take unlimited exemptions the rest of the season. He already is committed to play three times in Texas – the Houston Open, Texas Open and Byron Nelson – and more exemptions are sure to follow.
Starting this year, no tour cards are awarded at Q-school, only a spot on the Web.com Tour. It took away the instant path to the PGA Tour. The complaint was that it meant even the best college players spend a year in the minors.
But it can be done. Good play goes a long way.