AUGUSTA, Ga. — While his older brother stood on the 18th green, ready to become the youngest 54-hole leader in the history of the Masters, Steven Spieth leaned over to three friends near the back of the gallery, throwing out a line from “Happy Gilmore.”
“All right, Jordan, nice and easy,” Steven Spieth whispered, repeating the famous Bob Barker line from the golf classic. “That was not nice and easy.”
This was Saturday afternoon, right before 20-year-old Jordan Spieth tapped in a 2-footer to complete a 2-under 70 in the third round and tie Bubba Watson for the overall lead at 5-under par.
Spieth, a Dallas native, is now one round away from becoming the youngest Masters champion in history — younger even than a 21-year-old Tiger Woods in 1997.
And if it sounds crazy that a 20-year-old could win the Masters on Sunday, you don’t have to go far to find reminders that Spieth should be a junior in college right now.
There are the movie quotes from his little brother, a freshman basketball player at Brown. There are his parents, Shawn and Chris, two former college athletes lugging around folding chairs like a couple of parents headed to a Saturday soccer game. There is also Spieth’s habit of referring to his elder golfing friends as Mister (Ben Crenshaw is “Mr. Crenshaw”; Jack Nicklaus is “Mr. Nicklaus.”)
And in the moments after his round, there are three high school friends from Dallas, gathered in front of the sprawling Oak trees in front of the Augusta National Golf Club.
Hays Myers is a junior at LSU, using his spring break trip to catch up with an old friend at the Masters. Eric Leyendecker and Blaine Simmons, two other friends from the Dallas Jesuit High class of 2011, just decided that those college lectures would be there when they got back.
They made a Masters pact last summer, after all, when a 19-year-old Spieth clinched his spot in the Masters by winning the John Deere Classic.
“I’m playing a little bit of hooky,” Simmons said. “But it’s definitely worth it. It’s pretty unreal to see one of your best friends come down here and do something so spectacular.”
All week, while Spieth took on the emotions of his first Masters, he would spend his evenings hanging with his brother and three friends. Spieth swore off his cell phone this week — pretty impressive for a 20-something — using it only to communicate with his caddie and family. But he’s been able to unwind through games of pool and ping-pong with his boys.
“We even tried to find a way to watch the Dallas Mavericks game on television,” Myers said. “But we couldn’t get it down here.”
On Friday night, just a day before Spieth charged into the lead, the friends gathered just to hang out and bond over old stories. The night seemed to pass quickly, and by 10 p.m., Spieth was bailing on his friends.
Sorry, dudes, I’ve got to play in the Masters in the morning.
“He’s like, ‘OK, guys I’ve got a tournament tomorrow,’ “ Myers said. “ ‘I’ll see you. Time for bed.’
“He’s given himself a curfew.”
The rise of Spieth, of course, is not unexpected. It’s just, well, nobody thought it would come this fast.
When Spieth was going to high school in Dallas, he became a local prodigy, scoring golf rounds with Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo and an invitation to play in the local PGA Tour event — the Byron Nelson Championship — as a 16-year-old.
Spieth played one year at Texas, but his star potential was unmistakable. He wanted to turn professional after his freshman season, but his dad convinced him to wait an extra semester. He turned pro in December 2012, and was selected PGA Tour rookie of the year in 2013.
“He was always a kid that wanted to take things to the next level,” said Shawn Spieth, who played college baseball. “Always.”
When Spieth arrived in Augusta earlier in the week, he talked of his childhood dreams of winning the Masters, which, let’s be honest, wasn’t that long ago. He dreamed of making the final putt like Woods or Phil Mickelson, and slipping on the green jacket in the twilight of Augusta National.
“You just dream of what it would mean and how cool it would be,” Spieth said, “and all those putts I hit when I was real young with my friends … trying to make it to win the Masters.”
On Saturday, those same friends watched Spieth record consecutive birdies on the par-4 14th and par-5 15th, putting himself in the thick of the tournament. He then closed out the round with three steady pars.
During moments on the back nine, Spieth would mouth a few words to himself. Mostly, he says, it’s a reminder to stay patient and respect the golf course. This is the Masters, and par is a good score.
“I’m 20 and this is the Masters,” Spieth said, simply, “and this is a tournament I’ve always dreamt about and, like Mr. Crenshaw has always said, it brings out more emotion than ever in somebody.”
Spieth continued: “Really, a lot of it is just kind of guiding myself, trying to pump myself up and be really positive, which is abnormal. I mean, typically I’m quiet.”
Now Spieth will prepare for the highest of levels, a final-round pairing with Bubba Watson, the 2012 Masters champion. PGA Tour veteran Matt Kuchar is right behind at 4 under, and if Spieth is going to make history at Augusta, he’s going to have to earn it.
But before Spieth left the course to relax with family and friends, he had to clear one more thing up. Watson is 35, 15 year older than he is, so when they take the course on Sunday, will it be Mr. Watson or will it be Bubba?
“Yeah, Mr. Watson, for sure,” Spieth said, smiling. “Just because it’ll mess with him.”