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Jordan Spieth wants to make U.S. Open a family affair

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Jordan Spieth is one of the best young players in golf and can be considered a favorite at the U.S. Open
Jordan Spieth draws inspiration from younger sister Ellie, who is a special needs child

The thing you immediately notice about Jordan Spieth is that you are noticing more than his golf.

Of course, he is a ball-striker supreme. You have to be to be ranked No. 10 in the world before you are old enough to legally have a beer in most states. That 21st birthday will come July 27.

He slipped onto the scene at the 2012 U.S. Open. Orange County's Beau Hossler, an amateur, was all the rave there, playing great golf at San Francisco's Olympic Club and even leading the tournament for about 15 minutes.

But when it was over, the low amateur was Spieth, a University of Texas player, who finished 21st and would turn pro that December. Interestingly, Hossler opted not to turn pro and went off to play for the Longhorns.

That U.S. Open was our first glimpse of Spieth, and few were taking long looks. He was an amateur. They often are never heard from again. That didn't make the 2012 U.S. Open any less special for Spieth.

"I was able to stand next to Webb [champion Webb Simpson] … be part of that whole ceremony and get the medal. It was a huge goal of mine," Spieth says now.

Then there was the closing round of the John Deere Classic last summer. Spieth, 13 days shy of his 20th birthday, started the final round six shots back and bogeyed the first hole. On the final hole, he was dead in the bunker, just an unheralded newbie, trying to get up and down for a nice paycheck and out of the way to make room for the upcoming playoff.

Then he chipped his bunker shot into the hole to get into the playoff and won that on the fifth extra hole. Suddenly, he was $828,000 richer and, as a tournament winner, exempt into most events.

It had been 82 years, since Ralph Guldahl won the Santa Monica Open 1931, that anybody younger had won on tour.

First up was the British Open at Muirfield. With his victory, Spieth had qualified. He barely had time to wash his underwear and pack a toothbrush, but he was off to Scotland and not only made the cut, but finished 44th.

At the Farmers Open in La Jolla earlier this year, he received his rookie-of-the-year trophy in a pre-tournament ceremony. He had to share the stage with the overall player of the year, some guy named Tiger Woods.

He was properly differential to his older peer and established superstar. But he was also quotable, engaging. He had both game and a star-quality presence.

Now, we are at Pinehurst No. 2 for this year's annual waterboarding of the tour players. It will start Thursday, on a course that has been impossible to play in its previous two hosted U.S. Opens (1999 and 2005) and allegedly has been toughened up.

Spieth is no longer an unknown, especially after leading the Masters on Sunday this year, before Bubba Watson started hitting shots around grandstands and through windmills to win.

Spieth arrives here as one of the whispered favorites. If you got him in your U.S. Open fantasy pool, you probably went into the back room and pumped your fist when the others guys left.

When he chatted with the press here Monday, it was mostly about golf, the Pinehurst No. 2 course, and his growth as a player. But then, along came one of those extra somethings.

Asked about his sister, Ellie, seven years younger and diagnosed in "the autism spectrum," according to Spieth, he lit up a little, smiled longer than usual and said, "She's the best thing that ever happened to our family. She's hilarious. She's going to be here."

It was Ellie whom Spieth has said made his John Deere victory even better because, "She's obsessed with John Deere tractors."

It was Ellie about whom Spieth's mom, Chris, was talking when she told reporter Ann Nichols of Golfweek, referring to Jordan and older brother Steven, a 6-foot-6 college basketball player at Brown, "I don't think they'd be the kind of kids they are without her."

After the press gathering, Spieth elaborated on the family affair this U.S. Open will be for him, with the entire Spieth clan on hand, and living with him and maybe even mom cooking.

"Ellie will walk along and watch," he said. "We kind of keep her back, out of the crush of things, so she is more comfortable. But she'll be there."

A U.S. golf official who said she has known Spieth since his junior golf days, when he became the only other player other than that Woods guy to win more than one U.S. Junior Amateur (2009 and '11), said that he has always been exceptionally "grounded."

Families who have special children such as Ellie understand.

If Spieth wins this U.S. Open, don't expect a flamboyant, Payne-Stewart-grabs-Phil-Mickelson's-face moment, as there was here in 1999.

Expect most of the love to be within the quiet boundaries and needs of "the best thing that ever happened" to the Spieth family.

As Chris Spieth summed up so beautifully in the Golfweek article, "There are no groupies on Team Spieth."

bill.dwyre@latimes.com

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