Golf

Spieth fans primed for Colonial arrival of Masters champion

His Masters triumph in April and subsequent interviews solidified Jordan Spieth’s rare mix as cult figure and boy next door.
His Masters triumph in April and subsequent interviews solidified Jordan Spieth’s rare mix as cult figure and boy next door. AP

As the PGA Tour makes its two-week trek through Dallas-Fort Worth, tournament officials at both local events are bracing for a powerful force that will debut at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial.

No one, at this juncture, is sure how many golf fans will march in galleries that follow Dallas resident Jordan Spieth, the 21-year-old Masters champion, when he begins his appointed rounds Thursday in Fort Worth. But recent spikes in ticket sales at both the Colonial and the AT&T Bryon Nelson, scheduled May 25-31 in Irving, suggest there will be legions of “Jordanians” tagging along when Spieth stalks the local fairways in quest of his first tour triumph in Texas.

He’ll also be making his first DFW appearance as the Masters champion, a designation Spieth earned with last month’s record-shattering performance in Augusta, Ga., that allowed him to match Tiger Woods as the youngest golfer to win a green jacket.

Ticket demand has been great enough that Colonial officials created a special promotion in conjunction with alumni from Spieth’s high school (Dallas Jesuit) to welcome back their conquering hero.

For Thursday’s opening round, the Jesuit alums are selling a one-day, $75 ticket that includes access to the tournament and to a hospitality area near the first tee. Those tickets are available through the Jesuit alumni group, not the tournament office, said Michael Tothe, Colonial tournament director.

“The goal would be to fill those bleachers for all the guys teeing off,” Tothe said. “But when Jordan gets there, they will welcome him back to the Metroplex for the first time since winning the Masters.”

Fans without connections to the school can still purchase Colonial tickets through multiple outlets, including the tournament website (www.crowneplazainvitational.com). Tothe noted that Spieth’s triumph at the Masters provided a “little extra push” of momentum at the sales window, but Colonial officials have not quantified the increase.

At the Nelson, where Spieth made his PGA Tour debut as a 16-year-old amateur in 2010, they have run the numbers. Jon Drago, Nelson tournament director, said sales for this year’s event are up 13 percent from the same juncture last year.

Sales of nonpackaged, walk-up tickets (online or phone sales) are up by 40 percent, with Nelson officials receiving a 70 percent spike in public sales over 2014 levels during the week following Spieth’s victory at the Masters. Drago said the Monday after the Masters marked the biggest single-day spike in ticket sales in tournament history.

“It was higher than a Tiger [Woods] day,” Drago said, reflecting on single-day spikes from past seasons when Woods announced a commitment to play in Irving. “There’s just a bigger buzz because of Jordan. We’re preparing for [logistical issues] just like we did during the Tiger days. He’s definitely got that kind of cachet now.”

Spieth, who led Texas to the 2012 NCAA championship in his lone season as a college golfer, has been a known commodity for years to golf fans. But he endeared himself to casual followers of the sport with his Masters triumph, followed by a series of appearances on national talk shows where he showed poise, perspective and old-school values while discussing his journey to the green jacket and reasons for establishing the Jordan Spieth Family Foundation to benefit special-needs children.

Spieth’s 14-year-old sister, Ellie, was born with a neurological disorder and Spieth frequently volunteers to work in classrooms at her school.

As a professional golfer, the past six months have marked a breakthrough stretch for Spieth. He has won four times, starting with the 2014 Australian Open and culminating with his first major championship at the Masters. He heads into Colonial week as the No. 2 player in the world golf rankings and the top-ranked competitor in Fort Worth.

By posting an 18-under-par total at the Masters, Spieth earned a share of the tournament scoring record with Woods. But Spieth set the Masters mark for most birdies in one tournament (28).

Spieth’s dominance in Augusta caused Dan Jenkins, the renowned author and golf writer from Fort Worth, to surmise that the Dallas native shared comparable traits with three World Golf Hall of Famers from Texas who also own Masters titles: Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and Ben Crenshaw.

On his Twitter account (@danjenkinsgd) during Masters week, Jenkins posted: “Jordan Spieth might be the perfect Texas pro: the focus and will of Hogan, the likability of Nelson, and the putting stroke of Crenshaw.”

Ever since, the description has been embraced by peers and individuals who know him best. J.J. Henry, a Fort Worth resident and fellow Colonial competitor, has developed a close bond with Spieth. The two are clients of the same management company, Lagardere Unlimited in Fort Worth, and were seated together at a Dallas Mavericks’ playoff game when Spieth made an appearance wearing his Masters green jacket.

“He’s mature beyond his years and he’s great for the game,” Henry said. “He’s truly the all-American kid, a really great guy who remembers where he comes from. From a golf perspective, he really adds to the event next week and the week after that at the Nelson. There’s an extra layer of excitement with Jordan in the mix.”

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, a frequent golf partner with Spieth in recent years, believes the best is yet to come for the Masters champion.

“He’s the best. He’s got no weaknesses in his game, and he’s really been like that since I’ve known him, since he was 15 years old,” Romo said. “He’s just special. They don’t make them like that very often. He’s a great person. That’s the thing that’s exciting.

“To me, he’s an athlete who’s playing golf and he’s just got a great quality about him and who he is. He’s got a great future ahead of him.”

That future, if Spieth maintains long-term status among the world’s best golfers, could be a boon to tour events in Texas and to the DFW stops in particular. On multiple occasions, Spieth has said he enjoys the “home-field advantage” he gets by playing the four Texas-based events in front of home-state fans and has expressed an affinity for all four venues.

“I love playing in Texas,” Spieth said. “Most Texans play every event in Texas… That’s something I plan on doing as long as I’m out here, playing all the Texas events [each year].”

As long as he sticks to that plan and remains at the top of his game, Spieth will provide a powerful magnet for the DFW events as a top-10 presence that attracts other elite players to those tournaments. In professional golf, top competitors prefer to play in fields with other elite golfers because that helps them boost or maintain their status in the world rankings.

“That’s exactly right. I definitely see him playing that role,” Drago said. “I definitely can see him keeping this momentum going, and it just continues to build. The more Texans we have up there, the better it is for our tournaments.”

But only one Texan can top the list. For now, and for the foreseeable future, that is Spieth. Without question, the Dallas native longs to hear himself announced as the “Masters champion” in front of tournament crowds in DFW.

“When you’re the Masters champion, it’s a different legacy,” said Spieth, adding that his runner-up finish at the 2014 Masters “left me hungry” to close the deal last month in Augusta, Ga.

Now that Spieth has claimed the title, Colonial officials welcome the opportunity to help him begin a two-week journey that will serve as both an extended victory lap in front of DFW golf fans and an opportunity to continue his strong showing at 2015 tournaments in Texas. Before claiming his Masters title, Spieth finished as the runner-up at both the Valero Texas Open in San Antonio and the Shell Houston Open.

“We couldn’t be happier about that, for him and for us,” Colonial club president Chuck Scherer said. “Any time you see a great individual do great things, it makes you feel good. And he is a great individual. Anybody that’s ever been around him will tell you that his quality runs very, very deep.

“Ben Crenshaw just glows when he talks about him. And it wasn’t just the Longhorn connection. It wasn’t just the Texas connection. He was glowing about how much Jordan respects the quality of the game and respects the history of the game. That means so much to Ben.

“And when Lee Trevino was here recently, Trevino was saying the same things. He said, ‘This is an outstanding young man. Let’s don’t talk about him winning the Masters because that’s just the first major he’s going to win this year.’”

For the next two weeks, Spieth will focus on trying to win his first tour title in DFW. And the folks who watched him, as a high school junior, tie for 16th at the 2010 Nelson marvel at the progress the Masters champion has made in that five-year stretch.

“As a 16-year-old, he was scrawny,” said Paul Earnest, director of golf at the Four Seasons Resort, the Nelson tournament venue. “His swing definitely was not refined. It was loose. But that week, he had a belief. A deep-seated belief that he belonged in the field and that he could win. That’s what still sticks with me today is that image of a non-intimidated kid. Regardless of the surroundings, he thought, ‘I’m in the tournament. I can win this.’ He genuinely had it. He still does, obviously.”

Earnest said he expects Spieth, the first golfer to reside in DFW at the time of his Masters triumph since Ben Hogan (1953), to receive a homecoming “like no other” over the next two weeks.

“He’s quintessential Texas, for sure, in terms of golf,” Earnest said. “And I think he wears it well.”

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @Jimmy_Burch

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