Spieth caddie is carrying extra expertise
Greller enjoys a bout of celebrity around Chambers Bay, U.S. Open course with which he’s familiar.
UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. — Jordan Spieth was talking about fame, about media commitments, about getting taken down a peg or two by your buddies when they fear your head will become bigger than your hat size.
That comes with the territory when you’re the 21-year-old champion of the Masters.
Except Spieth wasn’t talking about himself. The subject was the inordinate amount of attention his caddie, Michael Greller, is getting this week before a single shot is struck in the 115th U.S. Open.
At Chambers Bay’s massive practice area on Monday, Spieth putted while it was Greller who was bathed in shout-outs. The day started with the 37-year-old former schoolteacher opening the local paper to find a large centerpiece photo and story about his caddie career, which spans all of 21⁄ full-time
2 seasons on the PGA Tour.
“Is that whole autograph line for you this week?” someone in Spieth’s entourage needled Greller.
“We’re giving him some smack for it, and he’s taking it from his caddie buddies too,” Spieth said, adding, “It’s really cool.”
It takes an extraordinary story for a caddie to overshadow the young, wildly popular golfer who captured everyone’s fancy in April with a decisive first major victory at Augusta National. Fate and circumstance have put Greller in that position.
On a Chambers Bay course unknown to most pros, for whom local knowledge would seem as precious as sunshine in the Northwest, Greller can be considered an expert. The Michigan native was a fifth-grade math teacher, living down the road from Chambers, in 2007 when he attended a meeting for potential caddies as the course prepared to open.
Serious about the craft and more earnest than the usual college kid out there, he would end up looping in the summer for the usual tourists and good local sticks, all the while pondering a bigger stake in golf. Through some connections, Greller got the bag of Justin Thomas — now on the PGA Tour — for the 2010 U.S. Amateur at Chambers, where the two reached the round of 32. Thomas then recom- mended Greller to Spieth when he needed a caddie for the 2012 U.S. Open.
Then, with Greller by his side, Spieth finished as the low amateur at the Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, and the two have been together ever since. They are close enough that Spieth skipped a World Golf Championships event in 2013 to attend Greller’s wedding at — where else? — Chambers Bay.
Approachable, with a gift for long-winded answers, Greller allowed for a number of television and print interviews through Sunday, but by Monday he was politely begging off engagements. Was there a gag order put on by his boss?
“He wants to kind of stay under the radar,” Spieth said. “I have nothing against him — I trust anything he’d say. … But I think this week he’s got so much on his plate, he’s going to throw it away and focus.”
Spieth called the linksstyle Chambers Bay “inventive,” and there are going to be numerous ways to attack each hole. You might think it would be Greller’s green reading that would be of utmost value, but Spieth said he does much of that on his own, and the fescue surfaces are so much faster than normal anyway.
The help will come from off the tee, Spieth reasoned. There are some un-Openlike, massive fairways here, but just bombing it anywhere won’t be the right strategy to set up smart approaches.
“Sight lines and understanding when things get firm,” Spieth said. “He’s going to know where it would run off to a little bit better.”
In the two months since he won the Masters, Spieth has played six times, suffering the expected letdown — he missed the cut in the Players Championship — while bouncing back to tie for second at Colonial and third at the Memorial. On each of those Sundays, he closed with a 65. He’s No. 1 in the tour’s FedEx Cup standings.
“There are certainly a lot of goals left for the year,” Spieth said. “It’s never crossed my mind to let it kind of sink in that it’s been a great year. If I didn’t do anything the rest of the year, I’d be pretty frustrated at the second half.”
Spieth readily talks of wanting to achieve the single-season Grand Slam, which still hasn’t been accomplished in the modern era.
He’s the only golfer with a chance this year, and don’t doubt that he reminds himself of that often.
Just last week, Spieth said, he casually pulled on the Masters green jacket at home.
“I think I was just kind of watching TV and wanted to slip it on,” he said with a big grin. “Just kind of felt like it. Why wouldn’t you put it on?”
A hero in his own living room.
JORDAN SPIETH, right, the lone golfer with a shot at a Grand Slam this year, with caddie Michael Greller.