Football

UNC football player goes back a long way with golf star Jordan Spieth

US golfer Jordan Spieth meets fans on the 3rd tee during a practice round on The Old Course at St Andrews in Scotland, on July 15, 2015, ahead of The 2015 Open Golf Championship which runs July 16-19. US golfer Jordan Spieth arrives at St Andrews with a shot at becoming just the second man - after Ben Hogan in 1953 - to win the first three majors of the year, setting up the mouthwatering prospect of him pulling off the Grand Slam at the PGA Championship next month.
US golfer Jordan Spieth meets fans on the 3rd tee during a practice round on The Old Course at St Andrews in Scotland, on July 15, 2015, ahead of The 2015 Open Golf Championship which runs July 16-19. US golfer Jordan Spieth arrives at St Andrews with a shot at becoming just the second man - after Ben Hogan in 1953 - to win the first three majors of the year, setting up the mouthwatering prospect of him pulling off the Grand Slam at the PGA Championship next month. AFP/Getty Images

Did you hear the one about the coach who tried to suggest that Jordan Spieth not play golf full-time? Jeff Schoettmer laughed recently when he told that one.

Schoettmer is a senior linebacker at North Carolina but he grew up in Dallas alongside Spieth. They played baseball, basketball and football together from first grade through seventh – ever since Schoettmer’s father saw Spieth and his dad playing catch one day – and the summer before eighth grade their travel baseball team was getting ready for a tournament.

That’s when Spieth’s parents arranged a meeting with Schoettmer’s father, who was the baseball team’s coach. They wanted to talk about which sport their son would be focusing on going forward.

“This is a funny story,” Schoettmer said last week sitting in the Kenan Football Center. He smiled before setting it up.

“So it’s the summer going into eighth grade,” he said. “Probably June. We’re on a good travel baseball team. My dad’s head coach. We’re about to go to Arizona for a big national tournament. And his parents come up to my dad and they’re like, ‘You know, Steve, I think we want to pull Jordan off the team. We want to have him focus on golf.’”

Schoettmer’s father said no, maybe that’s not a great idea. He reminded Spieth’s parents that perhaps their son had a future as a multi-sport athlete.

Why, he could continue playing baseball and football and basketball. Just like Schoettmer, who remembers his father telling Spieth’s parents that it’d be “a mistake” to pull their son off the baseball team.

Whoops. Schoettmer’s dad, the good sport that he is, can laugh about it now, Schoettmer said.

So my dad’s always like, I could have been the one to tell Jordan (Spieth) not to play golf.

Jeff Schoettmer

“So my dad’s always like, I could have been the one to tell Jordan not to play golf,” Schoettmer said. “He tells everybody that story – what a coach I am. Telling Jordan Spieth not to play golf.”

Same old kid

Spieth will enter the British Open this week seeking to win his third consecutive major championship. He won the U.S. Open last month and in April he won the Masters, with Schoettmer there cheering him on during the final round.

Spieth’s ascent – he’s dominating golf in a way that hasn’t been seen since Tiger Woods did the same in the early 2000s – has captivated the sporting world. He is 21, a two-time major winner and possibly the best golfer in the world.

That’s what the public sees, anyway. When Schoettmer watches Spieth – and he’ll be watching as much as he can of his old friend in the British Open – Schoettmer sees the same old kid he’s always known.

He remembers the sleepovers in grade school; the classes together at Saint Monica, where Schoettmer and Spieth went to elementary school; and later, Jesuit Prep in Dallas. Schoettmer remembers the chipping contests – Spieth made himself a green in his front yard – and short games of tackle football out on the golf course nearby.

“It’s crazy to see but it’s nothing that fazes me,” Schoettmer said of Spieth’s rise. “He was always level-headed from growing up as a kid. He was always a hard worker. He was a good athlete, but he wasn’t the best athlete – you know. … But he was always a competitor.”

And poised, too. Spieth has earned a reputation for keeping his cool amid tense moments and for not succumbing to the pressure. Schoettmer saw that early on, and saw it in particular during a basketball game in sixth grade.

Schoettmer and Spieth usually played on the same teams growing up but they found themselves competing against each other that year in basketball. Schoettmer’s team was losing in the fourth quarter, fouling and hoping that the other team would miss its free throws.

The way Schoettmer remembers it, they kept sending Spieth to the free throw line. And Spieth kept making them, one after the other.

“And I want to say he knocked down like 10 for 10 free throws in the fourth quarter,” Schoettmer said. “And I was just sitting there like, dang, this kid won’t miss. This was sixth grade. In a clutch moment, he’ll perform for you.”

Clear where he was headed

That was the first moment, Schoettmer said, when he realized Spieth had a different kind of mental focus and the ability to block out his surroundingsmoment. It’s a skill that has served him well in golf.

There were plenty of rounds, too, back when Schoettmer and Spieth were kids. They played for the first time in fourth or fifth grade, Schoettmer said, and though Spieth was clearly good there wasn’t an indication then of what was to come.

By the start of high school there was. Early on at Jesuit, the football coach there played a round with Spieth.

“He came back and told our whole class – like this kid is going to be special some day,” Schoettmer said. “The way he carries himself on the golf course. His manners. His golf etiquette. Not just the way he plays the game but all the other things that involve golf.”

Spieth won a state championship his freshman year of high school – “by a landslide,” Schoettmer said – and did it again the next year. By then it was pretty clear where he was headed.

When Spieth during his junior year of high school received a sponsor’s exemption to play in the Byron Nelson Classic in Dallas, “Our whole high school was basically out there following him around,” Schoettmer said.

It’s pretty cool to know the best golfer in the world.

Jeff Schoettmer

That was around the time Schoettmer last played a round with Spieth. They made teams and put Spieth with his girlfriend at the time, who wasn’t much of a golfer, Schoettmer said, and the players on both teams alternated shots.

“So she would hit the drive and it would go like 50 yards,” Schoettmer said. “Then he’d hit this miraculous second shot. And I want to say we beat him. I don’t quite remember, but it was really close. For him being handicapped so bad like that, it was just incredible to see.”

There have been some incredible sights lately, too. Spieth’s brother texted Schoettmer on the Saturday night of the Masters and told him that if he could get there, there would be a ticket waiting for him on Sunday. Schoettmer hit the road at about 8 a.m. and made it just in time to see Spieth tee off.

Texts after victory

What he witnessed over the next four hours or so didn’t really hit him, Schoettmer said, until he watched his longtime friend slip on the green jacket. He’d just won the Masters.

Then came the victory at the U.S. Open. And now all the talk about whether Spieth has it in him to win the British Open and then the PGA Championship to complete the Grand Slam.

Schoettmer said he doesn’t talk much with Spieth these days. A congratulatory text after a victory, an occasional message here or there is about it.

“He’s doing his thing,” Schoettmer said.

And Schoettmer is closely following along, watching a childhood friend who also happens to be, perhaps, the best golfer in the world. Back home in Dallas, among people who know him, Spieth and his meteoric rise are popular topics.

It comes up a lot around UNC, too, Schoettmer said, once people learn about the connection and his history. When Schoettmer represents UNC at the ACC’s annual football media days next week, he’s likely to be asked no shortage of questions about Spieth.

Schoettmer hasn’t tired of telling the stories and reliving the memories.

“It’s pretty cool,” he said, “to know the best golfer in the world.”

Then he smiled, as if joking a little bit, and said, “I want to say I had a part in his success.”

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