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Future bright for 19-year-old Greenbrier contender

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. - To say 19-year-old Jordan Spieth has exceeded his expectations in his short professional career is an understatement.

Not anybody else's expectations, his own.

The two-time U.S. Amateur champion knew he could play big-time golf, having made a PGA Tour cut at age 16 and finishing 21st in the 2012 U.S. Open. But ...

"I really planned on playing the Web.com Tour this year," he said Tuesday. "Trying to get to a good start there and play in as many events as I could, which is what I thought was going to happen to begin with."

Spieth will tee it up at the Greenbrier Classic at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, going off the 10th tee.

The Dallas native's first shot at making either tour came in November, and it fizzled just as quickly when he failed to advance to the final stage of "Q School." He wouldn't say at the time if he was still turning pro, or if he would return to the University of Texas to continue his sophomore season.

He turned pro in December, planning to play on sponsor's exemptions from the beginning of the new year. With his successful amateur career and a manager with good connections, Spieth had no problem making enough fields on the Web.com and PGA tours.

For the record, he played on the Web.com in Panama and Colombia, earning top-10 finishes in both. But when he left Colombia on March 3, he was going to leave the "Triple-A" tour for good.

He just didn't know it yet.

With a 22nd-place finish at Pebble Beach already in his bag, he nearly went to a playoff in the Puerto Rico Open. He followed that second with a seventh in the Tampa Bay Championship and upped his earnings total to $521,893.

That total gave him special temporary member status on the Tour, and his seven-exemption limit was lifted. Three top-10s later, Spieth arrives at The Greenbrier having blown by the $1 million mark and clinching his card for 2014.

"He's a 19-year-old, already rich," said golfing great and CBS analyst Nick Faldo. "Don't you just hate that?"

But everybody loves watching him play. He is creating quite the buzz

"Jordan is certainly unique among the players now that get on the Tour," said another golfing great, Tom Watson. "The Tour is going to a whole new qualifying system where the Web.com Tour is the only way you can qualify, basically - unless you can do what Jordan Spieth's done.

"That's remarkable."

Resort owner Jim Justice has been paying attention, and was eager to give Spieth an exemption. As it turned out, Spieth didn't need it, automatically qualifying with a sixth-place finish last week at the AT&T National in Bethesda, Md.

"Jordan is an incredible talent. That's just plain all there is to it," Justice said. "And what a career he's got in front of him. He'll have to keep his head straight and I'm sure he will, [but] I don't know the young man personally to say that he's got everything all together.

"Golf is a tremendously demanding game, and if you just tweak your mindset or your confidence just in the least little bit, I mean the wheels can really fly off and it's difficult to get back."

You mean, like Rory McIlroy? The one who changed his equipment from Titleist to the Nike swoosh and has swooned ever since?

"Yeah, Rory very simply messed with a winning formula. That's the way I would put it," Faldo said. "He had an equipment company, he went from Rookie of the Year to world No. 1 and had been through a lot and thought he could start again.

"I tweeted right when it was announced: This is a dangerous move."

Spieth isn't at the point to make such a decision. He has yet to win a tournament, which he needs to do to enter the FedExCup playoffs.

Right now, he's dialing in on the Old White TPC course and enjoying the West Virginia scenery. And he's enjoying being further along than planned.

"It's been a little bit of a surprise," he said. "I didn't think too far ahead; I wanted to stay in the present. In that sense, it's different."

Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5140, dougsmock@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.


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