Local knowledge? Only so much for Spieth, Greller


UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. – Jordan Spieth’s only competitive round at Chambers Bay was a forgettable one. He shot 83 in the second round of stroke-play qualifying at the 2010 U.S. Amateur, on a day when the USGA admittedly lost control of the baked-out course.

“It was a short-lived trip for me,” Spieth said Monday. “I tried to throw out the round that I shot on this course from my memories. I’m kind of going in with a blank slate.”

The more he’s played Chambers, though, the more his opinions of the links-style course have evolved.

That shift began in summer 2013, when Spieth skipped the no-cut, big-money World Golf Championships event at Firestone to attend his caddie Michael Greller's wedding.

It just so happened that Greller was tying the knot at Chambers Bay, where he used to loop in the summer, so Spieth and a few of Greller’s buddies played the day before the nuptials. Spieth shot 72 from the back tees and won a few bucks off the groom.

Many have suggested that Spieth is the favorite this week on the 8-year-old course, not only because he’s the second-ranked player in the world but also because of his caddie’s local knowledge.

The latter part might be deceiving. Yes, Greller estimated that he has done about 40 loops here, but none since 2011. The course has undergone several alterations since the U.S. Amateur, and the course will play differently this week under the USGA’s watch. Greller’s experience, in other words, extends only so far.

Spieth generally goes solo when reading greens anyway, so Greller will be called on only for a second look or for reassurance. Instead, Spieth says that his caddie can be most helpful off the tee, with picking sight lines. Because this already has the makings of a dusty Open, with firm and fast fescue turf, being able to judge how a ball will react once it hits the ground will be important.

Spieth logged a pair of 18-hole practice rounds over the weekend and will play nine holes a day leading up to his Thursday afternoon tee time. He says that he “really enjoys the layout” and thinks it’s going to be a “fun challenge.”

And that's not just lip service. 

It’s instructive to go back to that U.S. Am in 2010, when Spieth blew up and only a 78 was needed to make match play. Even then, even after that round, Spieth said that he “absolutely loves the golf course” and simply felt as though the greens were too difficult. (Many of the most treacherous putting surfaces have since been recontoured.)

Spieth is a more complete player now than when he was a rising high school senior, of course, and he enters this Open trying to sustain his major momentum. He reminded himself of his major chops last week while watching TV in the privacy of his home in Dallas. One night he slipped on the green jacket ... you know, just because.

“Why wouldn’t I put it on?” he asked with a smile.

This week he could become the first player since Tiger Woods in 2002 to win the first two majors of the year.

“I have a chance to make history in many ways,” Spieth said. “There are certainly a lot of goals left for the year. It’s never even 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.”

After a surprising missed cut at The Players, Spieth has recorded a pair of top-3 finishes in his last three starts. In fact, his ball-striking has been so sharp in practice so far, “I wish the tournament started two days ago,” he said.

After a disastrous early exit here five years ago, it seems Spieth can’t wait for Thursday’s opening bell.