SOUTHPORT, England – If not for caddie Michael Greller, Jordan Spieth might not have left Royal Birkdale late Sunday as “champion golfer of the year.”
Since Spieth turned professional in 2013, Greller has been a constant presence on the bag, smoothing out what Spieth calls the ups and downs of the team. During the British Open, Greller may have executed his best performance.
Greller performed like a virtuoso over the 18 holes of Sunday’s final round, and Spieth was quick to applaud.
Who is out of place in this photo of sports stars? Nobody, according to caddie Michael Greller, who insists that Jordan Spieth (second from left) belongs with (from left) Michael Phelps, Russell Wilson, Dwight Freeney, Michael Jordan and Fred Couples.
“I showed some resiliency,” said Spieth, who blew a three-stroke lead before rallying to win his third major championship, “and give a lot of credit to my guy on the bag for that.
“As you can imagine, thoughts come in from my last scenario when I was leading a major on Sunday,” he said, referring to a blown five-shot lead on the back nine of the 2016 Masters. “And never mentioned it, but all of a sudden it creeps into your head. I was so confident and all of a sudden, the wheels have kind of come off everything. And how do we get back on track to salvage this round and just give yourself a chance at the end. It took a bogey to do so.”
Greller came to the rescue multiple times, starting on the seventh hole. After Spieth made three bogeys over the first four holes and with his game in disarray, Greller knew that he needed to intervene.
“ ‘Do you remember that group you were with in Cabo last week, in a picture that I posted?’ ” Spieth said of the conversation with Greller, who recalled a shot of Spieth with five other sports superstars: swimming’s Michael Phelps, football’s Russell Wilson and Dwight Freeney, basketball’s Michael Jordan and golf’s Fred Couples. “He said, ‘You belong in that group. You're that caliber of an athlete. But I need you to believe that right now because you're in a great position in this tournament. This is a new tournament. We're starting over here.’ "
Greller second intervention came when Spieth hit a wayward drive at the par-4 13th hole. After a penalty drop into uncharted territory on the practice range left the pair trying to determine yardages, Spieth’s numbers didn’t jive with Greller’s by 40 yards, according to Spieth.
It’s not the first time that they have had a yardage discrepancy, but Spieth usually would rely on his own calculation.
“If you asked me who has the better yardage, myself or Michael in a lot of situations, when we're on a crazy angle, I'd pick myself,” Spieth said. “And on that one, he seems very confident. He was very adamant about what club to hit, and it gave me the confidence to hit it, because sometimes when that happens I'll still go with what I think.”
Spieth hit a 3-iron short of the green, requiring a pitch and a putt for his fifth bogey of the day, but it proved to be the turning point.
Greller recognized it immediately.
" ‘Hey, that's a momentum shift right there,’ " Spieth said Greller told him. “And he was dead on. And all I needed to do was believe that. I was starting to feel it, but when he was feeling it and he was saying, ‘That was a momentum shift. Even though you lost the hole, you went one down.’ "
Spieth would finish birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie and pull away from runner-up Matt Kuchar by three strokes, proving Greller to be correct.
How much is that worth? Spieth had the Claret Jug practically in his grasp at St. Andrews during a magical 2015 season in which he won the Masters and U.S. Open. Now, he knows what it takes to win golf’s oldest tournament and with it, the certainty of Michael Greller’s importance to Team Spieth.
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli