Greller's decision to caddie for Spieth pays off

By Jason SobelSeptember 30, 2013, 1:00 pm

The jokes probably came easy at first, at least for the few who knew the whole story. Michael Greller had been a sixth grade math and science teacher for a decade, helping to shape young minds and stock them with knowledge.

He was a self-described disciplinarian, but only for the first month or two of the school year. That tough exterior would eventually melt away, revealing a man who only cared fiercely for his students.

But here he was, one day before last year’s winter break, taking a one-year sabbatical from Narrows View Intermediate School in University Place, Wash. Some might view teaching as just a job. Greller saw it as a career. And now he was giving up that career for the next year ... to be a professional caddie.

For a kid who wasn’t much older than his students.

So yeah, the jokes probably came easy at first.

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And then they stopped.

Because everyone soon found out that Jordan Spieth was no ordinary 19-year-old – and leaving a burgeoning career to carry his golf clubs wasn't such a bad decision after all.

Greller had never set out to be a caddie. A scratch handicap, he attended the 2006 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship at Gold Mountain Golf Club as a spectator. He noticed a player named Matt Savage from Florida State carrying his own bag, completing his first round of medal play with 75 strokes and a heap of frustration. Looking at Savage in much the same way he cares for his students, Greller offered to help.

“I was like, ‘Hey, dude, I’ll carry your bag for free,’” he recalls. “We went to quarterfinals, and I fell in love with caddying.”

The next summer, he moved closer to Chambers Bay with an eye toward looping at the course in the 2010 U.S. Amateur. He would caddie there about 10-12 times annually after the school year ended. Eventually he latched onto a premier bag for that tournament, working for much heralded Justin Thomas before losing in the second round of match play.

One year later, Greller again became the beneficiary of another USGA event in the Pacific Northwest. With the 2011 U.S. Junior Amateur coming to Gold Mountain, and Thomas no longer eligible, his former loop passed him on to another top player, Gavin Hall. Two weeks before the tournament, though, Hall tweaked his wrist and withdrew. It left Greller without a bag – until he received a phone call from a former champion.

“I still remember it like it was yesterday,” he says. “I went out for a run. When I came back, I had a phone call from Jordan.”

You could say the rest was history, but it wasn’t. Far from it.

“The first hole I caddied for Jordan, I gave him a bad number. I was so nervous. We started on No. 10, but I gave him a yardage for No. 1,” he remembers with a laugh. “He wasn’t flying under the radar; he was expected to win. Anything less than a W, and we didn’t meet expectations.”

Long story short, they met expectations. Spieth joined Tiger Woods as the only players to claim the U.S. Junior Amateur title on multiple occasions.

He asked Greller to remain on the bag at the U.S. Amateur three weeks later, but the caddie had already committed to Thomas. They stayed in touch, though, and when Spieth earned alternate status for the 2012 U.S. Open, he brought Greller with him. They got into the field when Brandt Snedeker withdrew, then made the most of it, finishing in a share of 21st place and earning low amateur honors.

It prompted the guy who’d taken one week of unpaid leave from teaching sixth grade to rethink his career aspirations. “For me to be able to go in there and feel like I helped him, I was like, maybe I need to think about doing this full-time.”

When Spieth was in the process of making his decision to turn pro late last year, his father, Shawn, called Greller and asked if he’d be interested in caddying all year. Which is how, on the day before winter break for Narrows View Intermediate School last year, the sixth grade teacher declared his intention to go on the road carrying golf clubs for a teenage professional.

“I really wanted to find somebody who would be willing to travel with me the whole time even if I wasn’t playing well,” Spieth says. “Michael is a friend, but also has experience on the bag with me. It was an easy call.”

The near-unprecedented ascendancy of Spieth has already become the stuff of legend, the roll call of accomplishments rolling quickly off the tongue of most fans. He entered the year with no status on any major tour; he finished in the top-seven in two events; decided to honor a sponsor’s exemption into the PGA Tour’s Puerto Rico Open and finished tied for second place; earned eight more top-10s in the big leagues, including his first win at the John Deere Classic; and will compete for the United States team at the Presidents Cup.

It was after the second of those PGA Tour top-10s – a share of seventh at the Tampa Bay Championship back in March – that Greller called his old school. That one-year sabbatical? He made it permanent. He was no longer a sixth-grade teacher. He was now a full-time professional caddie.

“I loved what I did, but I was ready to try something different,” he admits. “Ellie, my wife, was watching the Masters with me in the spring. She said, ‘If Jordan is winning the Masters in 10 years, are you going to be like, why didn’t I pursue that?’ I know I’d be kicking myself.”

As steep as the learning curve has been for a rookie golfer who turned 20 in July, it’s been equally elevated for his 36-year-old looper.

For the uninitiated, caddying isn’t just about carrying clubs and reading numbers off sprinkler heads. A caddie must also serve in the roles of psychologist, agronomist, meteorologist and mathematician. In the heat of a final round on the leaderboard, these roles intensify tenfold.

Unlike for Spieth, there are no distinct numbers on which to judge Greller’s season, but the comments from his veteran peers speak volumes.

“You can tell he’s learned quickly,” says Paul Tesori, who caddies for Webb Simpson. “He and Jordan both seem a lot more mature than their first year on Tour. The little things that take years to learn, they already have a firm grasp on. He’s taken to the role so quickly; he seems really comfortable out there.”

Much of that comfort comes from a relationship that somehow avoids awkwardness. As Greller points out, his boss can’t legally drink or rent a car. Instead of that dividing them, though, it’s just another fact for which they give each other endless ribbing.

“Every day, someone asks if we were teammates or classmates. I always tell him it’s because of his receding hairline. I get a kick out of that,” Greller says with a chuckle. “I see it more as a brotherly relationship. We compete hard and talk a lot of trash. I was born and raised in Michigan. He picks on my teams, I rag on his Texas teams.”

Spieth concurs. “We give each other a lot of crap. It’s almost like a brother situation. We fight over the dumbest things, like sports.”

Earlier this year, they were driving from Houston to San Antonio when Greller wanted to listen to the Michigan basketball game against Florida on the radio. Spying an opportunity to get under his caddie’s skin, Spieth continually kept flipping the station to country music instead.

The competitions don’t end there, either. Whether it’s cards, pool, tennis or hoops, they’ve found plenty to keep them busy during the downtime on the road.

It’s not all fun and games, though. When Greller’s father had some health complications during the RBC Heritage, Spieth implored him to get on a plane and not worry about the tournament.

“I was really upset,” Greller says. “The words Jordan said to me just showed me how much he does care about me. He knows how important family is to me. I just saw a different side to him that I really value. That’s just how he’s been raised. He’s just very real.”

There’s more, too. By winning the John Deere Classic in July, Spieth qualified for the guaranteed-money WGC-Bridgestone Invitational a few weeks later. He was the only uninjured player to skip the event, citing fatigue as the explanation. Maybe, though, he just didn’t want to put his caddie in a bad spot. Because that weekend he actually did play golf, taking a spot in one of five foursomes of Greller’s friends and family members at Chambers Bay, then staying for his wedding ceremony and reception the next day.

Despite caddying for a player whose ascent rivals only that of Woods in the past two decades, Greller understands there’s still plenty left to learn.

One lesson came at the recent Deutsche Bank Championship. Based on a tweet from Kip Henley, who works for Brian Gay, Greller was informed that any caddie for a player in the top 10 of the FedEx Cup standings would receive a BMW courtesy car for the week. When he approached the tournament’s transportation staff about his reward, they howled with laughter in response.

It’s this naïveté from a guy just nine months removed from teaching sixth grade that leads Spieth to call Greller’s the more impressive of their two stories this year.

“I had a big change in my life this year, but his was a bigger change,” Spieth explains. “He was in such a routine, doing the same thing all the time. It’s pretty amazing. He’s learned so quickly. It’s not just learning the fundamentals or mechanics of caddying, but also the intangibles of dealing with me, too.”

As Tesori deadpans, “I don’t know what he was teaching in sixth grade. We might need to check out that class; it might be an entire class of golfers over there.”

The jokes still come easy, but they’re no longer at Greller’s expense. Giving up a burgeoning career to caddie for a pro golfer who’s not even old enough to legally drink or rent a car? Turns out it wasn’t such a bad decision after all.

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Kelly beats Monty with two-shot swing on final hole

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 3:21 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Jerry Kelly made an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole, Colin Montgomerie missed a 6-footer for par and Kelly turned a one-shot deficit into a victory Saturday in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

After Kelly drove it well right into lava rocks on the par-4 16th, leading to bogey and giving Montgomerie the lead, Montgomerie made a mistake with his tee shot on the last, finding a fairway bunker. Montgomerie's approach went over the green and after Kelly converted his birdie, the 54-year-old Scot jammed his par putt well past the hole.

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

It was the third win on the over-50 tour for the 51-year-old Kelly, who finished tied for 14th last week at the PGA Tour's Sony Open in Honolulu. That gave him confidence as he hopped over to the Big Island for his tournament debut at Hualalai. The limited-field event includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Kelly closed with a 6-under 66 for a three-day total of 18-under 198. Montgomerie shot 69. David Toms shot 67 and finished two shots back, and Miguel Angel Jimenez was another stroke behind after a 66.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, closed with a 70 to finish at 10 under.

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Rahm manages frustration, two back at CareerBuilder

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 1:21 am

Jon Rahm managed the winds and his frustrations Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge to give himself a chance to win his fourth worldwide title in the last year.

Rahm’s 2-under-par 70 on the PGA West Stadium Course left him two shots off the lead going into the final round.

“I wasn’t really dealing with the wind that much,” Rahm said of his frustrations. “I was dealing with not being as fluid as I was the last two days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

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The world’s No. 3 ranked player opened with a 62 at La Quinta Country Club on Thursday and followed it up with a 67 on Friday at PGA West. He made six birdies and four bogeys on the Stadium Course on Saturday.

“The first day, everything was outstanding,” Rahm said. “Yesterday, my driver was a little shaky but my irons shots were perfect. Today, my driver was shaky and my irons shots were shaky. On a course like this, it’s punishing, but luckily on the holes where I found the fairway I was able to make birdies.”

Rahm is projected to move to No. 2 in the world rankings with a finish of sixth or better on Sunday.

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Cook leads by one entering final round at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:51 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Austin Cook hit a hybrid into the fairway bunker on the par-4 18th on a breezy Saturday afternoon at La Quinta Country Club, then chunked a wedge and raced a chip 20 feet past the hole.

Kip Henley, the longtime PGA Tour caddie who guided Cook to a breakthrough victory at Sea Island in November, stepped in to give the 26-year-old former Arkansas star a quick pep talk.

''Kip said, 'Let's finish this like we did on the first day at the Nicklaus Course.' We made a big par putt on 18 there and he said, 'Let's just do the same thing. Let's get this line right and if you get the line right it's going in.'''

It did, giving Cook an 8-under 64 and a one-stroke lead in the CareerBuilder Challenge going into the final round on the Stadium Course at PGA West. Fellow former Razorback Andrew Landry and Martin Piller were tied for second, and Jon Rahm and Scott Piercy were a another stroke back after a tricky day in wind that didn't get close to the predicted gusts of 40 mph.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

''I know that I wouldn't have wanted to play the Stadium today,'' Cook said. ''I think we got a great draw with the courses that we got to play on the days that we got to play them.''

Cook played the final six holes on the front nine in 6 under with an eagle and four birdies.

''Starting on my fourth hole, I was able to make a birdie and kind of get the ball rolling and it never really stopped rolling,'' Cook said. ''Kip and I were doing really good at seeing the line on the greens.''

After a bogey on 10, he birdied 11, 12 and 15 and parred the final three to get to 19-under 197.

''I think that tonight the nerves, the butterflies, all that will kind of be a little less,'' Cook said. ''I've been in the situation before and I was able to finish the job on Sunday. I think it would be a little different if I didn't play like I did on Sunday at Sea Island.''

He's making his first start in the event.

''I came in from Hawaii on Monday, so I only had two days to prepare for three courses,'' Cook said.

Landry, the second-round leader, had a 70 at the Stadium. Piller, the husband of LPGA tour player Gerina Piller, shot a 67 at La Quinta. Winless on the PGA Tour, they will join Cook in the final threesome.

''Piller's a good guy and we have played a lot together and same with Cookie,'' said Landry, the only player without a bogey after 54 holes. ''Hope the Hogs are going to come out on top.''

Rahm had a 70 at the Stadium to reach 17 under. The third-ranked Rahm beat up the par 5s again, but had four bogeys – three on par 3s. He has played the 12 par 5s in 13 under with an eagle and 11 birdies.

''A little bit of a survival day,'' Rahm said.

The wind was more of a factor on the more exposed and tighter Stadium Course.

''The course is firming up,'' Rahm said. ''I know if we have similar wind to today, if we shoot something under par, you'll be way up there contesting it over the last few holes.''

Piercy had a 66 at the Stadium.

''I controlled my ball really well today,'' he said.

Adam Hadwin had a 67 at La Quinta a year after shooting a third-round 59 on the course. The Canadian was 16 under along with Grayson Murray and Brandon Harkins. Murray had a 67 on the Nicklaus Course, and Harkins shot 68 at the Stadium.

Phil Mickelson missed the cut in his first tournament of the year for the second time in his career, shooting a 74 on the Stadium to finish at 4 under – four strokes from a Sunday tee time. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer was playing for the first time since late October. He also missed the cut in the Phoenix Open in his 2009 opener.

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on the first sponsor exemption the event has given to an amateur, also missed the cut. He had three early straight double bogeys in a 77 on the Stadium that left him 1 over.

John Daly had an 80 at La Quinta. He opened with a triple bogey and had six bogeys – four in a row to start his second nine - and only one birdie. The 51-year-old Daly opened with a 69 on the Nicklaus layout and had a 71 on Friday at the Stadium.

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Phil misses CareerBuilder cut for first time in 24 years

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 am

Phil Mickelson missed the cut Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge. It’s a rare occurrence in his Hall of Fame career.

He has played the event 15 times, going back to when it was known as the Bob Hope Classic. He has won it twice.

How rare is his missing the cut there?

The last time he did so, there was no such thing as a DVD, Wi-Fi, iPods, Xbox, DVR capability or YouTube.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The PGA Tour’s Jon Rahm didn’t exist, either.

The last time Mickelson missed a cut in this event was 1994, nine months before Rahm was born.

Mickelson struggled to a 2-over-par 74 in the heavy winds Saturday on the PGA West Stadium Course, missing the 54-hole cut by four shots. He hit just four of 14 fairways, just nine of 18 greens. He took a double bogey at the 15th after requiring two shots to escape the steep-walled bunker on the left side of the green.

Mickelson won’t have to wait long to try to get back in the hunt. He’s scheduled to play the Farmers Insurance Open next week at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif.