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.

Spieth wins 2013 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year award

Presidents Cup capsules: United States | Internationals

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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CIMB purse payout: Leishman earns $1.26 million

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 15, 2018, 1:34 pm

Marc Leishman never let off the gas pedal and cruised to a five-stroke victory at the CIMB Classic. Here's how the purse was paid out at TPC Kuala Lumpur.

1 Marc Leishman -26 $1,260,000
T2 Emiliano Grillo -21 $522,667
T2 Chesson Hadley -21 $522,667
T2 Bronson Burgoon -21 $522,667
T5 Justin Thomas -20 $237,300
T5 Abraham Ancer -20 $237,300
T5 Charles Howell III -20 $237,300
T5 Louis Oosthuizen -20 $237,300
T5 Gary Woodland -20 $237,300
T10 Kevin Chappell -19 $175,000
T10 Si Woo Kim -19 $175,000
T10 Shubhankar Sharma -19 $175,000
T13 Kyle Stanley -18 $122,640
T13 Byeong Hun An -18 $122,640
T13 Paul Casey -18 $122,640
T13 J.B. Holmes -18 $122,640
T13 Stewart Cink -18 $122,640
T13 Austin Cook -18 $122,640
T19 Keegan Bradley -17 $89,320
T19 Kevin Na -17 $89,320
T19 Nick Watney -17 $89,320
T22 Keith Mitchell -16 $71,120
T22 John Catlin -16 $71,120
T22 Cameron Smith -16 $71,120
25 Xander Schauffele -15 $59,920
26 Joel Dahmen -14 $54,320
T27 Kevin Tway -13 $50,120
T27 Gaganjeet Bhullar -13 $50,120
T27 Scott Piercy -13 $50,120
T30 C.T. Pan -12 $43,820
T30 Thomas Pieters -12 $43,820
T30 Beau Hossler -12 $43,820
T33 Billy Horschel -11 $35,303
T33 Ryan Palmer -11 $35,303
T33 Ryan Armour -11 $35,303
T33 Kiradech Aphibarnrat -11 $35,303
T33 Danny Lee -11 $35,303
T33 Kelly Kraft -11 $35,303
T39 Brice Garnett -10 $27,720
T39 Jamie Lovemark -10 $27,720
T39 Brian Stuard -10 $27,720
T39 Jimmy Walker -10 $27,720
T43 Jason Dufner -9 $20,160
T43 Satoshi Kodaira -9 $20,160
T43 Chez Reavie -9 $20,160
T43 Justin Harding -9 $20,160
T43 Ernie Els -9 $20,160
T43 Jason Kokrak -9 $20,160
T43 Sam Ryder -9 $20,160
T50 Branden Grace -8 $15,365
T50 Sanghyun Park -8 $15,365
T50 Andrew Putnam -8 $15,365
T50 Rafael Cabrera Bello -8 $15,365
T54 Ted Potter Jr. -7 $14,280
T54 Ben Leong -7 $14,280
T54 Brendan Steele -7 $14,280
T54 Sihwan Kim -7 $14,280
T54 Troy Merritt -7 $14,280
T59 Whee Kim -6 $13,720
T59 Davis Love III -6 $13,720
T59 James Hahn -6 $13,720
62 Michael Kim -5 $13,440
T63 Pat Perez -4 $13,160
T63 Tom Hoge -4 $13,160
T63 Anirban Lahiri -4 $13,160
T66 Scott Vincent -3 $12,740
T66 Brandt Snedeker -3 $12,740
T66 Ryan Moore -3 $12,740
T69 Peter Uihlein -2 $12,390
T69 Brian Gay -2 $12,390
71 Minchel Choi -1 $12,180
T72 J.J. Spaun E $11,970
T72 Berry Henson E $11,970
74 Ollie Schniederjans 3 $11,760
T75 Scott Stallings 5 $11,480
T75 Jon Curran 5 $11,480
T75 Rahil Gangjee 5 $11,480
78 Leun-Kwang Kim 13 $11,200
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Monday Scramble: Hall pass, and a hard pass

By Ryan LavnerOctober 15, 2018, 1:00 pm

The Hall calls, Marc Leishman and Eddie Pepperell flip a switch, the 2020 Ryder Cup leaders come into focus, Brooks Koepka defuses the drama and more in this week's edition of the Monday Scramble:

Struggling to remain relevant, the World Golf Hall of Fame didn’t do itself any favors with its latest inductees.

It’s not that the Class of 2019 isn’t deserving – quite the opposite, in fact.

It’s the timing that is most curious.

Peggy Kirk Bell, for example, was honored through the lifetime achievement category. She died in 2016, at the age of 95, so what’s changed in the past two years that she suddenly is worthy of inclusion? What a thrill it would have been for her and her family to receive that recognition in her final years. Instead, she'll be honored posthumously, in what seems like a decision that was made a decade too late. 

So what does this mean for others in that category moving forward?

Will Tom Weiskopf have to wait until he passes? Butch Harmon, too?

What was the rush to induct Retief Goosen, who turns 50 in February? Surely his seven PGA Tour titles and two major titles could have waited a few more classes, if they warranted serious consideration at all.

The selection process underwent a facelift a few years ago, to put the decision-making into the “right hands,” but it's clear that this new system isn’t much better.

1. Marc Leishman was hitting it so sideways last week that he thought he’d have to call Callaway and request more golf balls be put in his locker.

He ended up shooting 25 under to equal the tournament record at the CIMB Classic. In a three-way tie for the lead after 54 holes, he broke away from the pack with four birdies in his first five holes and a 7-under 65 to cruise to a five-shot victory.

"Sorted that out and this is the result," he said. 

2. After the first multi-win season of his career in 2016-17, Leishman barely advanced to the Tour Championship in the recently completed 2017-18 season, sweating it out as the No. 29 seed. Barring a midseason swoon in ’19, however, he should be in a much better position to advance to East Lake after picking up an early-season victory.

“Once you’ve got a good early start, you can really just think about winning and that’s exciting for next week and the rest of the year,” he said.

Next week, of course, is the CJ Cup in Korea, where last year Leishman lost in a playoff to Justin Thomas. The good vibes should continue.

3. And look who’s gearing up for his title defense.

After falling off the pace midway through the CIMB, Thomas rallied with a best-of-the-day-tying 64 in the final round to jump all the way into a tie for fifth.

4. Leishman wasn’t the only player who was down on his game before his big week.

Eddie Pepperell’s form leading up to the British Masters was, he said, “the worst I’ve played for ages.” He then went wire to wire in miserable conditions at Walton Heath, securing his second European Tour title of the season.

The victory moved Pepperell to No. 33 in the world rankings, all but assuring that he will earn an invitation to the Masters next April via the top-50 exemption rule.

“It’s always been a dream to play in the Masters,” he said. “It also shows I’m not a one-hit wonder.”

5. Everything needs to come together to get a W.

After a nervy three-putt on No. 9 Sunday to drop only one shot clear, Pepperell holed his 122-yard approach on the 10th to regain his advantage.

It was his second hole-out of the week, after this spectacular (and strange) ace on Thursday:

6. The 2020 Ryder Cup picture is getting clearer.

It’s pretty obvious that Steve Stricker – in the captaincy pipeline, beloved in his home state of Wisconsin – will get the nod for the U.S. at Whistling Straits. There’s little debate on the other side, either, since Padraig Harrington has virtually no competition for the captaincy.

7. Lee Westwood said last week that he’s stepping aside for 2020 and focusing on the '22 matches at Rome. It was viewed as a selfless decision, but it’s also a smart one for his legacy: No European captain has lost at home since 1993, and the Europeans will once again be the favorites in Italy.    

8. It was bad enough that the Americans got smoked at the Ryder Cup. Turns out, a few weeks later, that two of Europe’s leaders were also playing hurt.

First it was Francesco Molinari who revealed that he was dealing with a sore back for the final two days at Le Golf National. He joined Larry Nelson as the only players to go 5-0, but he said that the day after the Ryder Cup he was so sore that he couldn’t bend over to tie his shoelaces.

Then it was Henrik Stenson who said that his bum elbow was worse than he initially led on. His elbow has plagued him for months, ever since the U.S. Open, but last week he underwent a “minor” procedure to alleviate some of the discomfort. He, of course, won both of his team matches with Justin Rose and then won his singles match, too.

9. The Tiger-Phil match is starting to look like an outright disaster.

Reports surfaced last week that, to the surprise of no one, fans won’t be allowed on-site at ultra-private Shadow Creek. Logistics were always going to be an issue there, and now the showdown will be limited to a few VIPs and sponsors.

So, to recap, this duel that is probably a decade too late won't have many people around the tees and greens ... won't have two mega-millionaires putting up their own cash ... won't be played under the lights in Vegas ... and won't have as many viewers, since it'll be on pay-per-view. 

Hey, we could be wrong, but here’s thinking the organizers will be disappointed by just how few people tune in for this.

My word, this was horrible, which was probably the point.

But putting the Bash Bros together in a cheesy video isn’t going to convince anyone that there wasn’t a dust-up at the Ryder Cup in Paris. Jim Furyk already confirmed The Telegraph's reporting that there was some kind of incident, even if by now it's been entirely overblown.

This week's award winners ... 

Oldie But Goodie: Bernhard Langer. He may not have been as dominating as we’re used to, but Langer’s runaway victory at the SAS Championship gave him the points lead heading into the Champions Tour’s three-tournament playoff series.   

All Works Out: Marc Leishman. Before he won in Malaysia, Leishman booked plane tickets to Maui for the first week of 2019 – assuming that he’ll either be there playing in the Tournament of Champions (for which he had not yet qualified) or enjoying a family vacation. Turns out it’s the former now.  

Who Wants to Ball?: Steph Curry event. The Warriors star is reportedly on the verge of finalizing a Bay Area event that would appear in the early part of the 2019-20 Tour schedule. That should attract more stars to show up than the season opener at Greenbrier. 

Twice As Nice: In Gee Chun. A week after helping lead the Korean team to the International Crown title at home, Chun closed with a final-round 66 to win the Hana Bank for her first non-major LPGA title (and third overall).

Thanks, Mom!: Eddie Pepperell. As he walked to the 10th tee in the final round, his mom gave him a pair of mittens to deal with the cool temperatures. Pepperell proceed to hole his second shot.

Will This Suffice, Commish?: Jordan Spieth. The Golden Child ran afoul of Tour rules when he failed to play either 25 events or commit to a new tournament last season, so he’s getting out ahead of the game this season by committing to the Shriners event in Vegas in early November. It's the first domestic fall event that he's ever played. Smart. 

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Ryan Moore. A runner-up a week earlier in Napa, he usually tears up the limited-field, guaranteed-cash event in Malaysia. Instead, he appeared out of gas, finishing 66th out of 78 players. Sigh.

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Davies headlines field at Senior LPGA at French Lick

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 14, 2018, 10:40 pm

Laura Davies will be looking to win her second senior major championship this year when she tees it up in Monday’s start of the Senior LPGA Championship at French Lick Resort in Indiana.

Davies, who won the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open in July, will join a field that includes fellow World Golf Hall of Famer Jan Stephenson, who was announced last week with Peggy Kirk Bell as the Hall’s newest members. Hall of Famers Juli Inkster and Hollis Stacy are also in the 54-hole event.

Trish Johnson is back to defend her title after winning the inaugural Senior LPGA Championship a year ago. Brandi Burton, Jane Geddes, Helen Alfredsson and Liselotte Neumann are also in the field of 81 players who will compete for a $600,000 purse, with $90,000 going to the winner.

Golf Channel will televise all three rounds live from 4-6 p.m. ET on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

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Langer (65) wins regular-season finale by six

By Associated PressOctober 14, 2018, 10:07 pm

CARY, N.C. – Bernhard Langer ran away with the SAS Championship on Sunday to take the points lead into the PGA Tour Champions' Charles Schwab Cup playoffs

Langer shot a bogey-free 7-under 65 for a six-stroke victory in the regular-season finale.

''I just played very solid all day long,'' Langer said. ''Putted well, hit the ball where I was looking and did everything exceptionally well.''

The 61-year-old German star has 38 victories on the 50-and-over tour, also winning this year near Houston. He has a record four victories after turning 60.

''I don't have anything to prove, but I still have golf,'' Langer said. ''I still want to improve my own game. I still want to play to the best Bernhard Langer can play. I don't think I need to prove anything, but I love competing, I love winning or being in the hunt. As long as I can do that, I think you're going to see me out here.''

Langer finished with a tournament-record 22-under 194 total at Prestonwood Country Club, the tree-lined layout softened by heavy rain Thursday from Hurricane Michael. He opened with a 62 on Friday to match Gene Sauers and Tom Lehman for the lead, and had a 67 on Saturday to remain atop the leaderboard with Sauers.

Full-field scores from the SAS Championship

''The 10 under was amazing,'' Langer said. ''I couldn't believe there were two other guys who shot 10 under.''

The four-time Charles Schwab Cup winner also won at Prestonwood in 2012.

''It's always fun to go back to where you've won before because you feel like you know how to play the course and you're somewhat comfortable and that's certainly the case here,'' Langer said. ''I've been probably 50, 70 times now around this golf course and I know how to play every hole.''

Scott Parel was second, closing with a double bogey for a 65.

''Bernhard is just in his own world this week,'' Parel said.

Jerry Kelly had a 68 to finish third at 15 under, and Lehman followed at 13 under after a 71.

Sauers shot a 75 to tie for fifth with Miguel Angel Jimenez (68) at 12 under.

The top 72 players in the Schwab Cup standings qualified for the playoffs, the three-event series that begins next week with the Dominion Energy Charity Classic in Richmond, Va. Dan Forsman tied for 56th to jump from 74th to 72nd, edging John Huston for the final spot by $932. Huston tied for 46th.