In September 2013, Jordan Spieth was powering towards one of the greatest rookie seasons golf has ever seen.
Having become the first teenager to win on the PGA Tour in 82 years, the Dallas-born youngster was picked for the Presidents Cup team. By the end of the season, the newly crowned PGA Tour Rookie of the Year was already ranked 22nd in the world.
For most, managing the mayhem of such a breakneck rise would be enough to deal with. But at just 19 years old, Spieth was putting the wheels in motion for a long-term charitable endeavor.
Within a year, the Jordan Spieth Family Foundation was born, built to raise awareness and funds for four key “pillars”: junior golf, military veterans, pediatric cancer, and children with special needs.
“Once I had a platform that I knew could not only help raise funds but also awareness, it made sense,” Spieth recalled.
“What I’m most proud of, it’s not really necessarily the dollars, it’s more the amount of different programs we’ve been able to impact.”
All four branches held a personal connection for Spieth. As a prodigious talent nurtured in the competitive but fun-first atmosphere of Brookhaven Country Club, in Texas, he wanted to ensure other youngsters could have similar opportunities. Spieth had been moved by the Tour’s support for military veterans, and after seeing childhood friends battle cancer, the disease had hit close to home.
But no pillar lay closer to home than kids with special needs. It was ultimately because of his younger sister Ellie, who has autism, that Spieth launched his charitable mission, supporting programs and initiatives for children with special needs.
Volunteering at her classroom while in high school, Spieth witnessed first-hand the lengths staff went to aid pupils.
“The real heroes are the special needs teachers,” he told CNN.
“I think about that constantly, the vocation to go and do that and want to see kids with intellectual disabilities try to improve and to be the person to help them do that.
“Those teachers are just incredible, so (we’re) helping them in any way we can.”
When Spieth clinched his first major, the Masters, in 2015, becoming the second-youngest winner at Augusta after Tiger Woods, he was quick to heap praise on his “biggest supporter” – his sister.
“She is somebody who you can watch and then reflect on the big picture of life and understand that all these frustrations in a day, or in a round of golf, are really secondary,” Spieth told CNN at the time.
Ellie wasn’t able to attend Augusta that day, but her brother has given her ample opportunity to share in the celebrations in the time since. With three majors and 13 Tour titles under his belt, the 29-year-old has already enjoyed a career most golfers could only dream of.
His foundation has grown in tandem. Boosted in part by almost $53 million prize winnings Spieth has accumulated throughout his time on Tour, the foundation has supported an array of causes and given almost $7 million in grants, according to its website.
The next step in the foundation’s growth is a partnership with Invited, announced this week, in a move that will also see Spieth become a strategic advisor and brand ambassador for the Dallas-based hospitality brand.
The partnership offers the potential for fundraising initiatives at many of the 161 golf clubs owned and operated by Invited across the US, including Spieth’s childhood club Brookhaven – coincidentally, also the company’s first club in 1957.
While the club was a frequent visit for Spieth during the pandemic, the jet-setting nature of Tour life has limited the golfer’s return to his roots. But regular rounds by Ellie and father Shawn have ensured a Spieth is never far from Brookhaven.
“She loves going with my dad … being outside and banging golf balls around, it’s cool to see,” Spieth said.
“It’s where I played my first round with my dad, it’s where I first beat my dad, it’s full circle for me.
“A couple of my friends, they have little kids, and they’re looking to join and that’s kind of cool because I’ll start to be able to watch … my friends’ kids growing up in the environment that I did.”
“Let kids be kids”
Advising Invited’s junior golf program organizers on how best to replicate that environment will be one of the former World No.1’s chief responsibilities.
For Spieth, the recipe is simple: just let them play. Growing up before the era of iPhones and extensive – often tedious – video work on swing technique, a young Spieth’s typical summer Saturdays at Brookhaven began with golf, then basketball and touch football, before circling back to another nine holes.
“Those opportunities to just be a kid and run around and feel safe but at the same time, I loved the competition, regardless of what it was,” Spieth said.
“A lot of juniors that I grew up with were top players in the country but then ended up just not loving it or got burned out, and that’s common in a lot of sports. But there are specific reasons why I continued to stay in love with it.
“Letting kids be kids, creating a safe environment that also has everything that a kid wants to do – that’s what we had there.”