Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas renew college rivalry at Riviera
By Mark Whicker
LOS ANGELES – Monday was a day to walk with Jordan Spieth at Riviera, to see the world's best golfer at closer proximity than you're ever likely to see the world's best anything do anything.
The reigning Masters, U.S. Open and Tour Championship winner was in the Collegiate Challenge, which links a tour player with a player currently at his alma mater, with two amateurs thrown in.
Spieth's Texas partner was Beau Hossler, who led the 2012 U.S. Open briefly as a junior at Santa Margarita High. Before he finished second low amateur to ... Spieth.
Hossler kept guiding mammoth draws into faraway places; Spieth kept making putts from remote locations as the caddies smiled and shook their heads. And the Longhorns won the team competition, as minority Dodgers owner and Bel Air Country Club member Bobby Patton kept in step.
Texas Coach John Fields carried Hossler's bag. Michael Greller, the former schoolteacher who became Spieth's caddie and could have made enough money for his tour card on those earnings alone, was here, too.
Not many global heads of sport spend their Mondays like this, but Spieth remains true to both school and Old School.
The group got to the 10th hole, with perhaps 125 people following. No. 10 has furrowed the brows of the best golfers for generations now. It's the short par 4 with the traps that clamp down on the toes of anybody brazen enough to dream of driving the green. It's the place to go this weekend at the Northern Trust Open to find complexity and bafflement, not shock and awe.
Spieth knows this hole too well. In 2012, Texas won the NCAA Championship at Riviera, and Spieth triple-bogeyed No. 10 on the next-to-last round of preliminary competition. Then he double-bogeyed the par-5 11th and shot 79. That was a problem because another Longhorn also shot 79, and Texas thus couldn't throw out both scores.
Here, Spieth and Greller marveled at the velvet menace of the 10th. In the past two tournaments here, Spieth has two bogeys on 10 and six pars.
John Wood, caddie for Matt Kuchar, stopped by the tee.
"Tell me how you guys play this," Spieth asked him. Wood gave his theories, and Spieth shook his head.
"Three fifteen (yards) and yet...." he said.
"It's a par hole," Greller said, smiling.
Spieth went with driver and bounced his drive off the green and into the back rough, then got up and down. Riviera suits his game, which means Riviera is tied with every other course on earth, but this place forces heavy thought, accuracy and patient putting.
Anybody can win with any style. Mike Weir won twice here. Bubba Watson won, too. Last year James Hahn outlasted Dustin Johnson, in the chilly dampness of Sunday afternoon. And Tiger Woods, turned off by the bumpy surfaces, never won here. Spieth was fourth last year, 12th in 2014.
But then Spieth has 2012. He grew up with team sports and is still a rabid fan, and occasional caustic Tweeter, of Longhorn sports.
The college Player of the Year was Justin Thomas of Alabama, a freshman like Spieth but four months older.
The coaches can arrange the matchups in the match-play portion of the NCAAs. After Texas beat Washington and Oregon to reach the final, Spieth approached Fields.
"Can you match me up with Justin?" Spieth asked. "I know he's a great player, but I think I can get inside his head."
Spieth then took a 2-up lead and effectively ended the match by holing a 4-iron shot on the endless 15th hole.
That didn't wrap up the title, though. Fields was on the 17th hole watching Cody Gribble make birdie and win a point.
"Without that, we don't win," Fields said. Then the coach scrambled up the unforgiving hill at 18 and heard a loud roar before he got there. What he missed was a 20-foot birdie by Dylan Frittelli that beat Cory Whitsitt and wrapped up the third NCAA championship for Texas.
"I had felt pretty good all week because Ben Crenshaw came out and talked to us about Riviera before we came out there," Fields said. "He said he felt like something was good was going to happen. I've learned to listen to him when he says that."
Meanwhile, Thomas won in Malaysia this year and will be a major championship threat throughout 2016. He and Spieth are trash-talking buddies, with Thomas parking a courtesy car in Spieth's spot in Phoenix, and Spieth then getting it towed away.
Spieth, Thomas and Rory McIlroy will be here this week, under near-unanimous sunshine, with no need to keep one's distance.
This article was written by Mark Whicker from Los Angeles Daily News and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.