Winning on the PGA TOUR is a major accomplishment for any golfer. The best players in the world compete week in and week out for a chance to join the fraternity of players who have hoisted a trophy on TOUR. First-time winners are even a rarer breed. Since 2009, a mere 26 percent of the victories on the PGA TOUR have come from first-time winners.
The Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide Insurance has had a total of 28 winners in the Tournament’s 38-year history. Of those 28 there have only been four first-time winners. Keith Fergus was the first to accomplish this in 1981, followed by Kenny Perry ten years later. Tom Lehman was next in 1994, setting the Memorial Tournament scoring record of 268 20-under-par in route to his victory. The last player to make the Memorial his first TOUR victory was reigning U.S. Open champion Justin Rose in 2010.
Posting a PGA TOUR victory before turning 20 years of age is exceptionally uncommon. In fact, it has only been accomplished four times since 1900. Some of the greatest golfers in the history of the sport have failed to accomplish this feat. Names like Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, the Memorial Tournament’s host and founder Jack Nicklaus, and five-time Memorial winner Tiger Woods.
Rookie sensation Jordan Spieth joined that short list this month with his dramatic playoff win at the John Deere Classic. At the time of his victory, Spieth was 19 years, 11 months and 18 days old. The last player to accomplish this was Ralph Guldahl in 1931. Guldahl is a Memorial Tournament Honoree from the 2008 class.
Spieth’s victory was no fluke either: He has enjoyed a rookie year that includes six top-10 finishes over 17 events, including a runner-up finish at The Puerto Rico Open presented by EverBank to go with his win at TPC Deere Run. Only four players on Tour so far this season have recorded more top-10s. 2011 FedEx Cup Champion Bill Haas and 2012 FedEx Cup Champion Brandt Snedeker lead the way with eight, while and Billy Horschel and 2013 Memorial Tournament winner Matt Kuchar have seven. Spieth’s six top-10 finishes have been matched by 2011 PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley, Lee Westwood, Woods and 2013 Open Champion Phil Mickelson.
Spieth’s early success on the PGA TOUR comes as no surprise. Even as an amateur he demonstrated a special ability to contend in both amateur and professional events. The former Texas Longhorn’s accolades are impressive indeed, chef among them are the two United States Junior Amateur titles he holds. Together with World No. 1 Tiger Woods, they are the only two golfers in history to have won the coveted amateur award at least two times. In 2012 at the U.S. Open, Spieth finished tied for 21st and received low amateur honors, which propelled him to the No. 1 position in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. In addition, as a 16-year-old, Spieth finished tied for 16th at the 2010 HP Byron Nelson Championship, at the time becoming the sixth-youngest player to make a cut on the PGA TOUR.
In his first full season as a professional Spieth began his campaign in style, recording his second-place finish in Puerto Rico in just his third start. His season thus far has been truly special. As a result of his win at John Deere, the soon-to-be-20-year-old competed in his first major championship last week at the Open Championship at Muirfield in Scotland. He made the cut and finished tied for 44th place. It was Spieth’s second trip to Muirfield this season. In May he made his first start at the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide Insurance at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio. He made the cut at Jack’s house just as he did at its namesake. His final round 4-under-par 68 tied for the second-lowest round of the day, equaling the score posted by Kuchar.
Will Spieth’s next win come at the PGA Championship in Rochester, New York at Oak Hill Country Club, the final major stop of the season? Or will he take advantage of the spot he has earned in the FedExCup Playoffs and unseat 2012 champion Snedeker to become the youngest ever FedExCup Champion? Time will tell. But one thing seems certain: Spieth appears to be a force to be reckoned with on the PGA TOUR for years to come. By virtue of his win this season he has earned fully exempt status on TOUR through 2015 as well as a much-coveted invitation to Augusta National Golf Club for the 2014 Masters Tournament.