Lean on me: Caddie aids Spieth in second major win

By Rex HoggardJune 22, 2015, 4:52 am

UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. – Jordan Spieth is unfiltered and utterly unfamiliar with an unspoken thought, like when he let the world know his feelings regarding Chambers Bay’s 18th hole masquerading as a par 4 on Friday.

“The dumbest hole I’ve ever played,” he muttered.

Late Sunday, as a picturesque sunset slipped toward the Puget Sound, he barked at his second shot at the 18th hole, which was this time playing as a proper par 5: “Get it wind, just any kind of wind get it.”

Always there to interpret and iron over Spieth’s running dialogue is Michael Greller, the ultimate wingman.

“Get that good picture, bud,” the caddie advised his man on the 18th tee and again before Spieth sent his 3-wood second shot soaring into the evening sky to 16 feet.

Two putts and 12 tense and turbulent minutes later, it was still Greller who was there for Spieth, the 21-year-old U.S. Open champion.

As the duo made their way back to the 18th green for the award presentation it was Greller, not Spieth, who was cheered by the crowd.

One of their own, one of Chambers Bay’s own had won their Open.

“To come here and win this one for him, it’s really special,” Spieth acknowledged following a closing 69 that was good enough for a one-stroke victory over Louis Oosthuizen and Dustin Johnson, who three-putted the last hole from 13 feet. “To hear the support for Michael made it feel like we were the crowd favorite.”

Greller will dismiss his part in Sunday’s proceedings and a historic victory that now sets the stage for a run at the single-season Grand Slam, and adhered to the strict caddie code of show up, keep up and ... well, when you’re with Spieth silence really isn’t an option.

“If anything, I felt more pressure because people think I know [Chambers Bay] so well,” said Greller, who began his looping career at Chambers Bay eight years ago when the course first opened.

“I really don’t and Jordan knew that. What I did bring is just really good vibes. In the end it comes down to Jordan being just an unbelievable player and I just try to stay out of his way.”

Caddies don’t stripe 3-woods to eagle range on the 72nd hole, they don’t recover from sloppy starts like the one Spieth endured on Sunday when he three-putted the first hole and, at least the good ones, never consider themselves to be anything more than an outdoor butler.

But Spieth, who became just the sixth player to ever win the first two legs of the single-season Grand Slam, will be the first to acknowledge that Greller is more than the sum of his parts.

“Michael is the one who just shoved positive thoughts into my head the whole week,” said Spieth, who forged a three-stroke lead with a birdie on the 16th hole but made his second double bogey of the week at No. 17 to drop into a tie with Oosthuizen and Johnson. “He deserves a lot of credit this week. That was the best week he ever caddied.”

In this case, as it does with all great player-caddie combinations, the relationship goes much deeper than simply pulling clubs and reading putts.

Spieth skipped last year’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational to rest after a long season. At least that was the line at the time. In fact, he skipped the free-money, no-cut event to attend Greller’s wedding at Chambers Bay.

The two first met in the Pacific Northwest when Greller caddied for a then-17-year-old Spieth at the 2011 U.S. Junior Amateur at nearby Gold Mountain Golf Club, an event Spieth won.

And it was at Chambers Bay where Greller perfected his trade. The former sixth-grade math teacher would sneak out after summer school and “experience something different.”

During those moonlighting days Greller would take a “double-bag” loop in the morning and “single-bag” the same afternoon. Those endurance tests made Sunday’s 18 seem like a stroll.

“That bag gets pretty light late in the afternoon at a major,” he smiled.

As the week unfolded at a brown and bouncy Chambers Bay the good karma continued to build.

On Monday, a former member of the girls’ golf team that Greller used to coach was his standard-bearer, on Thursday it was a former student carrying Spieth’s score and on Sunday his former principal at Narrows View Intermediate School was the hole captain at No. 10.

“There were just so many fun interactions like that throughout the week and that made it so much more special,” Greller said.

But it was his interaction with Spieth that makes Greller such a key part of Team Jordan. The outspoken two-time major champion can appear rattled, even fidgety, at times on the golf course, like he did on Sunday when his tee shot on No. 17 sailed right.

Both player and caddie had been here before, like at the 2014 Masters when he went bogey-bogey just before the turn to lose his advantage and again this year at Augusta National when he answered a similar late miscue with birdies at Nos. 13 and 15.

It’s become a familiar formula, Spieth yaps at his golf ball and Greller gives Spieth something positive to focus on.

“Jordan is going to get fired up and I love that about him,” Greller said. “When something doesn’t go right he’s not going to stuff it in there and not say anything. He’s going to express himself.”

It was rare then that as the duo watched Johnson pull his birdie attempt at the last that both player and caddie were left speechless.

“There was really nothing said for about 10 seconds. After a long pause he finally said, ‘This one is for you, Michael.” And he gave me the ball from [No.] 18,” Greller said.

Caddies don’t win major championships, but this victory was a team effort by any definition.

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.

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Ortiz leads LAAC through 54; Niemann, Gana one back

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 8:15 pm

Mexico's Alvaro Ortiz shot a 1-under 70 Monday to take the 54-hole lead at the Latin America Amateur Championship in Chile.

At 4 under for the week, he leads by one over over Argentina's Jaime Lopez Rivarola, Chile's Toto Gana and Joaquin Niemann, and Guatemala's Dnaiel Gurtner.

Ortiz is the younger brother of three-time Web.com winner Carlos. Alvaro, a senior at Arkansas, finished tied for third at the LAAC in 2016 and lost in a three-way playoff last year that included Niemann and Gana, the champion.

Ortiz shared the 54-hole lead with Gana last year and they will once again play in the final group on Tuesday, along with Gurtner, a redshirt junior at TCU.

“Literally, I've been thinking about [winning] all year long," Ortiz said Monday. "Yes, I am a very emotional player, but tomorrow I want to go out calm and with a lot of patience. I don't want the emotions to get the better of me. What I've learned this past year, especially in the tournaments I’ve played for my university, is that I have become more mature and that I have learned how to control myself on the inside on the golf course.”

In the group behind, Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who is poised to turn professional, unless of course he walks away with the title.

“I feel a lot of motivation at the moment, especially because I am the only player in the field that shot seven under (during the second round), and I am actually just one shot off the lead," he said. "So I believe that tomorrow I can shoot another very low round."

Tuesday's winner will earn an invitation to this year's Masters and exemptions into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, sectional qualifying for the U.S. Open, and final qualifying for The Open.