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Spieth leads charge of young guns into FedExCup playoffs

By Larry Fine

JERSEY CITY, New Jersey (Reuters) - Jordan Spieth is soaking up the atmosphere at scenic Liberty National for the start of the FedExCup playoffs, but the 20-year-old will be all business by Thursday's first round of the lucrative series.

"I haven't been to New York City since I was probably 10 years old, so I don't remember it much," the American told reporters on Tuesday.

"Just being in the area is really special, seeing the Statue of Liberty (from) the golf course and the course in general, there's not a blade of grass out of place.

"I'm just extremely kind of honored to be here. Starting the year, I had no idea that this would be a potential opportunity for me, and I'm happy to be in the top‑10 starting the FedExCup playoffs and control my own destiny from here."

The Texan leads a group of young guns into the playoff series which pays the overall winner a $10 million prize.

Spieth, who last month at age 19 became the youngest winner of a PGA Tour event in 82 years, lost a chance to notch a second tour win in a Wyndham Championship playoff on Sunday against another up-and-comer, 23-year-old compatriot Patrick Reed.

"It's pretty wild," Spieth said about a season that started with him playing on sponsors' invites and blossomed into seven top-10s from 19 starts and $2.6 million in earnings.

Spieth's giant step in 2013 has put him into the company of FedEx points leader Tiger Woods and this year's majors winners Phil Mickelson (British Open), Justin Rose (U.S. Open) and Adam Scott (Masters) among the leading contenders.

Four years ago, when The Barclays was last played at Liberty National, Spieth was winning the U.S. Junior Amateur about 40 miles away at Trump National in Bedminster, New Jersey.

"At the beginning of (each) year, I've had a goal to achieve, to reach that new, higher level," said Spieth, who won his maiden PGA Tour title at the John Deere Classic.

"So far each year, I've been on track, and this year, maybe skipped a few steps. I don't really think of my age as my age. When you're out here, everyone's your peer. New goals come up each day that I'm trying to reach out and accomplish."

LATEST GOAL

His latest goal will be to win the first step in the four-event FedExCup series at Liberty National, a reclaimed landfill that affords spectacular views of Lady Liberty and the lower Manhattan skyline.

Spieth said he and other young players - including 2013 winners Russell Henley (Sony Open), Derek Ernst (Wells Fargo), Harris English (St. Jude Classic) and Reed - were well prepared.

"The game's getting younger. There's just more better, younger players. You have to step up your game just to compete against kids your own age," he said.

"You see teenagers now consistently making cuts on the PGA Tour when they get starts, and that I think just has to do with the fact that the AJGA (American Junior Golf Association) now is playing golf courses set up like PGA Tour events.

"The other players are getting better and better, and same at the college level, that's just a step up."

Spieth, who left U.S. national college champions Texas to try his hand on the tour, said he greatly admires what Woods has accomplished but is not cowed by the numbers.

The confident American stands 78 career wins behind 37-year-old Woods, who has won five times on the PGA Tour this year.

"It is extremely hard to fathom 78 times, but I'm going to strive for it," Spieth said.

When asked what he thought about a possible eventual Tiger target of 100 career PGA wins, Spieth said: "He's separating himself as No. 1 in the world right now again, just like he was when I was growing up, and that's something that me personally and everybody else...is striving to close the gap, and surpass.

"Everyone wants to be the best player in the world. If that means you've got to win 101 times, that means you're going to try."

(Reporting by Larry Fine; Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)

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