Jordan Spieth isn’t afraid to step out of his comfort zone, as seen in frequently colorful exchanges with caddie Michael Greller when assessing a high-risk golf shot. The more variables, the better, it often seems.
Last week, Spieth applied these principles to a new sport, participating in the Professional Pickleball Association Celebrity Pro-Am in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. Spieth teamed with Scottie Scheffler for a pair of matches against Dallas Mavericks great Dirk Nowitzki and tennis pro John Isner; mixed teams with pickleball pros were included throughout.
Talking to the ball while playing pickleball ...
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) October 14, 2022
Spieth estimated he had stepped on a pickleball court “less than 10 times” prior to Thursday night’s event, in contrast to Scheffler, a pickleball enthusiast.
The athletic instincts kicked in – pickleball mixes elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong in a high-paced format – and Spieth’s rhythm developed as the evening progressed, maintaining a straightforward approach in keeping points alive while also integrating his trademark creativity with spinny drop shots at times.
Amidst a learning curve, Spieth was at home in the sporting arena.
“I asked Michael, ‘Is that what it’s like when you’re hitting shots at 17 at Sawgrass or 16 at Phoenix?’” Spieth said, referring to caddie challenges on signature holes at THE PLAYERS Championship and WM Phoenix Open.
“He’s like, ‘Yeah. That’s why I’ll either hit it really close or I’ll miss the green.’ It was a lot of fun, though. It just seems like it’s a sport everybody can play, and I was happy to join in.”
Spieth and Scheffler return from the pickleball court to their traditional sporting setup at this week’s THE CJ CUP in South Carolina, contested at Congaree Golf Club, which also hosted last year’s Palmetto Championship at Congaree.
Each is set for his TOUR season debut and first appearance since the Presidents Cup in North Carolina, won by the U.S. Team at Quail Hollow Club.
In the signature pickleball matchup of Scheffler/Spieth vs. Nowitzki/Isner, the TOUR team lost its first match, 11-6, before responding with an 11-6 win.
Spieth demonstrated his trademark energy, talking to the ball and analyzing the wind with fervor. His lack of polish shone through at times, but his compete level was never in question, pairing well with Scheffler’s timing and educated positioning – broadcaster Dave Flemming described Scheffler’s form as “terrific.”
Pickleball originated as a niche sport in the late 20th century, mostly in the Pacific Northwest, and has steadily gained interest across regions. Tom Brady and LeBron James have invested in pickleball franchises of late, and Forbes named it last month as America’s fastest growing sport.
The golf crossover may have just begun.
“It was a really weird feeling going in front of a big crowd, knowing you were the worst on the court, and I didn’t like that at all,” Spieth said. “I’m fine in front of a crowd if I know that I’ve practiced and I’m good at what I’m going to do. I wouldn’t say, like, I’m bad, but when you’re the worst of the ones that are going to be on there, and there are like 500 people there, you’re like, ‘This kind of stinks. I don’t really enjoy this’ … It was a lot of fun, though.”
He relished the challenge, as he does in his day job.