PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – The caddie-player relationship is one of the most tenuous in human dynamics. A seemingly professional bliss can be shattered in one round or even one shot.
Jordan Spieth, 25, a three-time major champion, has had the same caddie, Michael Greller, on the bag for all of his 6½ years on the PGA Tour. Many observers rate Greller as one of the best caddies on the PGA Tour. He has been a steady jockey on the back of one of golf’s thoroughbreds.
Like all golfers, Spieth has struggled at times, but he appears to be in the midst of ending a poor spell. He finally started to display the sort of game that he used in winning the 2015 Masters, 2015 U.S. Open and 2017 British Open.
In Thursday’s first round of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, Spieth blew up on the par-4 eighth hole, forgetting that he, not Greller, was the one who hit the errant shots: a tee ball onto the beach, followed by a penalty drop and then an approach over the green and into deep rough. Spieth shot 1-over 72, seven shots behind leader Justin Rose (scores).
“Two perfect shots, Michael. You got me in the water on one and over the green on the other,” a steaming Spieth said after salvaging a difficult bogey.
© USGA/J.D. CUBAN
Jordan Spieth, with caddie Michael Greller at his side, plays a shot to the 4th hole. Later in the round, Spieth barked at his bagman after a couple of poor shots.
Bubba Watson has been overheard attacking caddie Ted Scott many times during their years of a profitable relationship. No matter how many times Watson and Scott might say that it’s much ado about nothing, it really is not.
Civility should not go by the wayside during a golf round, but it seems that golfers have been taking shots at their caddies for a long time.
American Nick DePaul, who died earlier this year, was the late Seve Ballesteros’ bagman at the 1985 Ryder Cup. In the Sunday singles, Tom Kite and Ballesteros halved their match. DePaul would recall the experience years later to Tim Glover of London’s The Independent newspaper.
“It was so intense,” DePaul said. “If I was half-club out, I’d get it in the neck. Afterwards, I went straight to the bar, asked for aspirin and laid on a bench for an hour. I was ready to keel over. He’s a great player, one of the greatest, but he gives you a headache.”
For many years, England’s Neil Coles had Arthur Maidment on the bag. At Sunningdale one year, Coles wanted to use a 4-wood to get out of the heather and onto the green, but Maidment disagreed and refused to give Coles the club.
So, Coles took it from the bag, but Maidment took exception and grabbed it back. Coles was left holding the clubhead, and Maidment the grip end. A tug of war ensued over possession of the club. Coles won the standoff and the argument when he hit the 4-wood shot to within 4 feet of the hole.
Spieth was one of the first players to constantly use the word “team” when discussing his relationship with Greller. Any concept of a team seemed remote when Spieth blurted out his comments about Greller’s club selection here.
What Spieth and so many other similarly frustrated players seem to forget is that they don’t have to take the advice and always can pull out a yardage book and do the figures themselves.
Ultimately, the player hits and shot and is responsible for the outcome.
In taking on Greller, Spieth merely was letting off steam. To the millions of viewers on live TV, he must have seemed more like a petulant child blaming someone else for his mistakes.
It wasn’t a good look.
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @AlexMiceli