Jordan Spieth followed the flight of his tee shot on the par-3 sixth hole at Sheshan International, and his amateur partners took great interest just watching his body language. Finally, he offered the slightest slump of his shoulders when he saw the outcome.
"Over the green?" one of the amateurs asked him.
"I thought it was in," Spieth replied. The ball turned just below the cup and settled about 4 feet away.
It's been that kind of year for the 20-year-old Texan.
A year ago, he was in his sophomore year at the University of Texas. A few weeks ago, he was a guest on the sidelines of the OU-Texas game. In one amazing year, he went from failing the second stage of Q-school on the PGA Tour to playing a World Golf Championship in Shanghai. He went from not having a tour card to playing in the Presidents Cup. He showed up for the HSBC Champions at No. 20 in the world.
And even though the calendar still shows 2013, this week marks the start of his encore.
Spieth just last month wrapped up a rookie season that featured $4.5 million, including his FedEx Cup bonus for finishing at No. 7. He starts at zero on Thursday.
"I think there's a lot to prove this year to follow it up," Spieth said. "Obviously, last season was more than I could have dreamt. But I met with my coach and we've set new goals. I'm changing my schedule, and most of the events I'll play will be against a lot harder fields for most of the year. I'm just looking ahead. I never really did look back."
That would be a lot to digest.
Spieth had no status on any tour when he took a right turn in March by skipping a chance to get a Web.com Tour card in South America so he could honor a commitment to play in the Puerto Rico Open. He tied for second and was on his way. Spieth had temporary PGA Tour membership locked up by May, he contended on the weekend at Colonial and Congressional, broke through with a win at the John Deere Classic, and the hits kept coming.
A playoff loss in the Wyndham Championship. Playing with Phil Mickelson for the first time and closing with a 62 at the TPC Boston. The phone call — it still gives him chills thinking about that — from Fred Couples making him a captain's pick for the Presidents Cup. Nearly winning the FedEx Cup with a 64 in the final round of the Tour Championship. And then going 2-2 in his Presidents Cup debut. He had to reset his goals about five times during the course of nine months.
There are times when he remembers his youth. As he finished up his pro-am Wednesday, the conversation turned to the Asia-Pacific Amateur, which was won last week by 19-year-old Lee Chang-woo of South Korea.
"He's about the same age I am," Spieth said.
But when he sets up on the practice range next to Mickelson, Rory McIlroy, U.S. Open champion Justin Rose and PGA champion Jason Dufner, he realizes he's in another league. And he knows the only way to stay there is to keep moving forward.
"The Presidents Cup was real exciting to reflect on," he said. "As far as the year goes, the only thing I looked back on was gaining confidence in pressure situations, and being able to make some putts. I had goals and I had to set new goals. I never had to do that before. It was cool to see each goal get surpassed so quickly. We were riding a lot of confidence."
There was something different about this kid last year. He had a confidence about him that only increased with every opportunity and every big moment. To see Spieth reminded Phil Blackmar of his early days on the PGA Tour, especially his first major at Cherry Hills for the PGA Championship.
"I'm playing with Hale Irwin," Blackmar said in a recent interview. "I had never played with him. The eighth hole is a par 3, and we had to wait on the group ahead of us. I was minding my business, and he comes over, looks up at me and turns to the crowd and says, 'He doesn't have it. You can tell by the look in his eyes.'
"So I said, 'How in the hell can he tell? He can't see this high.' And Hale turned bright red," Blackmar said. "But what he said was true. You can tell something about guys that are on the right side of the edge. There's something about their body language, their facial expression. Jordan has that. He would have had a similar response. To me, he has that same sort of makeup."
Spieth didn't do anything after the Presidents Cup when he returned home to Dallas. He is moving into a new house he bought, which took up his time. He is starting a workout program to get stronger as he prepares for the big events. And even though he couldn't stop talking about meeting with Texas coach Mack Brown the night before a 36-20 win over the Sooners, perhaps the most important day of his break was with coach Cameron McCormick.
They looked over his statistics and tried to identify strengths and weakness. They set new goals — again.
"Overall short game, wedge work, long irons," Spieth said. "What we said is if I take the same routine and spent a little extra time — maybe an hour a day, 30 minutes, whatever it is — and work around the greens, it will be a better year."