UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. - Jordan Spieth was "free rolling" on Sunday in the final round of the U.S. Open. That's the phrase he and caddie Michael Greller used to remind themselves that Spieth already had won his first major at Augusta in April while most of the guys, and notably Dustin Johnson, still were pressing for a first major title.
Bumping along over the Chambers Bay greens down the stretch, it was Spieth's youthful exuberance and ability to turn the page when he made a mistake that carried the day over players toting the baggage of past failure.
Spieth thought he had it won when he birdied the 16th for a three-stroke lead. Then he thought he gave it away with a double bogey at the 17th to fall into a tie, but he rebounded to birdie the par-5 18th hole to regain the lead.
Spieth and Greller sat together in a room near the scoring office and watched on TV as Johnson lined up a 12-foot eagle putt at the 18th to win the tournament. When Johnson three-putted, they sat silent for a moment. "We didn't really know what to do," Spieth said. "Then Michael got up and said, 'Dude, give me a hug. You did it.' It was really cool."
Spieth joined Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan and Craig Wood as the sixth player to win the Masters and U.S. Open and have a shot at golf's Grand Slam. Woods once won four majors in a row, but no one has won all four in the same calendar year.
Pondering the significance of what he has achieved before his 22nd birthday in July, Spieth said, "It gives me goose bumps. Those names are the greatest that have ever played the game, and I don't consider myself there. But I'm certainly off to the right start in order to make an impact on the history of the game."
Next up is the British Open at St. Andrews, where Spieth played one round when he visited Scotland with the American Walker Cup team. "I remember walking around the R&A clubhouse and seeing paintings of royalty playing golf, and it was dated 1460-something," he said. "I'm thinking our country was discovered in 1492, and they were playing golf here before anyone knew the Americas existed. That amazed me and helped me realize how special that place is."
History is everywhere Spieth turns these days. Before his formal news conference Sunday, the USGA moderator listed several "youngests," but the note that caught his attention was that he was the first to birdie the 72nd hole to win the championship since Bob Jones in 1926.
"That was an amazing stat to me," Spieth said. "The rest of them, I was more aware of the list and the history I was joining."
Now Spieth has become a central figure in the modern game along with 26-year-old Rory McIlroy, who will be the defending titleholder for the British Open at St. Andrews and the PGA at Whistling Straits, and Spieth noted that 26-year-old Rickie Fowler holds the "fifth major" as Players champion. "It's awesome that the game is in young hands," Spieth said.
But he downplayed his budding rivalry with McIlroy, saying, "Rory has four majors and dozens of wins, and I'm just starting out. I'm just happy to have this and to be chasing that No. 1 spot, which he holds."
McIlroy finished strongly at the U.S. Open with a closing 66 that got him to even par, and he pronounced his ball-striking as good as ever in a major. But Spieth said he and Greller have a "secret formula" for majors, and his win over the links-style U.S. Open layout gives him confidence.
"Now I take it to the truest British-style golf course in the world," Spieth said. "I'm just excited for the opportunity coming, and I'm not going to think about what could possibly happen after."
Oh, to be young and free rolling.