ATLANTA – Tiger Woods knew he was ready to turn pro when he shot a 66 at age 20 in the second round of the 1996 British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. He closed with a pair of 70s and tied for 22nd, his best finish as an amateur in 14 professional events. His father referred to it as his "coming out party."
Woods won the U.S. Amateur for the third straight time a month later, turned pro and was on his way.
For Jordan Spieth, his moment of realization came at the U.S. Open when he was 18.
His amateur career was nowhere nearly as decorated as Woods, though the Texan experienced early on what it was like to play deep into Sunday afternoon at the HP Byron Nelson Championship as a 16-year-old.
Spieth made the cut on the number at The Olympic Club in the summer of 2012. He closed with rounds of 69-70, a 36-hole weekend score topped only by winner Webb Simpson. He was low amateur at the U.S. Open, tied for 21st at 7-over 287.
"So being able to play the weekend of a major championship under par – at a U.S. Open under par – I think is when I sat back said, `You know, maybe I'm ready to go,'" he said.
Spieth went back to Texas for the fall semester, turned pro and was on his way.
"I actually announced pretty much to my family and coach that I was turning pro that summer," Spieth said. "Then I just turned after the fall season."
Neither of them had PGA Tour status when they turned pro.
Spieth started on the Web.com Tour, got his break when he tied for second in the Puerto Rico Open, and had enough money to secure his card five months into the season. Then he won the John Deere Classic to earn instant membership.
Woods needed only five starts to get his first win, in a playoff over Davis Love III, and then won again at Disney to qualify for the Tour Championship.
Woods didn't play in the Presidents Cup. The matches were held in 1996 the same week as the Quad City Open (now the John Deere Classic). Woods had the 54-hole lead, and the national golf writers left the Presidents Cup to cover his final round. Ed Fiori wound up winning.
For Woods, it was one of the few times he thought about money.
"After having the lead there and playing that poorly, I could have (had) my card right there," he said. "If I won the final round, I would have had a two-year exemption. I didn't have to worry about it luckily because I won the Masters, and the Masters is a 10-year exemption."