Every day is 'a bucket list experience' for Jordan Spieth's caddie

By
Matt DeYoung
Grand Haven Tribune

Series: PGA Tour

Published: Tuesday, June 13, 2017 | 3:40 p.m.

Michael Greller won't crush a drive down the fairway at this weekend's U.S. Open golf tournament, which will be played at Erin Hills Golf Course in Wisconsin. He won't stick a wedge to within a foot, or bury a long putt for birdie.

But the Grand Haven native could play a pivotal role at Erin Hills as he caddies for Jordan Spieth, the world's No. 5-ranked golfer and one of the favorites to win the U.S. Open.

As a caddy, it's Greller's job to carry Spieth's bag, help out with yardage and wind, read greens, and the like.

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But the bond between the two young men goes well beyond deciding whether to hit a nine-iron or a wedge.

"It's a very unique relationship," said Greller, 39, who grew up in Grand Haven, Mich., before moving to Iowa during his freshman year of high school.

"I've adapted to his needs," he continued. "Jordan's very intense when he's on the golf course. It's knowing what to say at the right time, when not to talk, when he wants to be heard, being a big encourager. You're going to make bogeys, you're going to have bad breaks. I try to encourage him, pump him up, get him to believe in himself. That's one of my biggest goals out there."

Greller has already carried Spieth's bag for one U.S. Open victory -- at Chamber Bay in 2015. He was also there when Spieth won the Masters, also in 2015, tying Tiger Woods' record for the lowest score in Masters history at 18-under par.

Caddies aren't typically in the spotlight, but Greller became a media darling during that magical 2015 run. During that time, word got out that Spieth's caddy was a former sixth-grade math teacher from the Seattle area who picked up a few caddy jobs on the side before hooking up with Spieth, then a 17-year-old amateur. Greller's story was told by ESPN, USA Today, the New York Times and dozens of other national publications.

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"I'm not comfortable with it," Greller said of the attention. "At the end of the day, it's all about Jordan. As kind as he is in describing our relationship, and his use of the word 'we,' at the end of the day 99 percent of the team is Jordan. The rest of us -- his trainer, his swing coach -- we try to put him in a place where he can shine, where he can be a superstar, which he is."

Greller's path to fame

After leaving Grand Haven, Greller graduated from high school in Orange City, Iowa, then attended nearby Northwestern College, where he competed on the golf team. During the summers, he worked in the Pacific Northwest, drawn to that region because his younger sister, Katie, attended George Fox University in Oregon.

"I fell in love with the Northwest, with the water out there, which I loved here in Grand Haven, but obviously we didn't have in Iowa," he said. "I graduated from Northwestern College, moved out there, went to grad school, got my teaching degree, and taught for 10 years just south of Seattle."

During that time, Greller picked up a few caddy jobs on the side. His dream was to find a way to caddy at the U.S. Open, which he knew was coming to nearby Chambers Bay in 2015.

"That's really why I got into caddying was because of Chambers Bay," Greller said. "It opened in 2007 and it was as a mile from my school. When they announced the U.S. Open was coming there, I said I was going to find a way to caddy in the U.S. Open. I went from hoping to somehow get a bag that week to caddying for the Masters champion. There were some different expectations and pressure that I certainly didn't anticipate back in 2007. It was special to get to work for the guy who was the favorite."

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Long before he ever met Spieth, Greller was watching the 2006 U.S. Public Links tournament at Gold Mountain Golf Course, near his home in Gig Harbor, Washington, when he saw a player lugging his own bag around the course. Greller volunteered to help out, and helped that golfer, Matt Savage, advance to the quarterfinals of the tournament.

Greller then caddied for a promising young golfer named Justin Thomas in the 2010 U.S. Amateur at Chambers Bay. Thomas was friends with a young up-and-coming golfer named Jordan Spieth. Greller asked Thomas to set him up with Spieth for the 2011 U.S. Junior Amateur at Gold Mountain. The connection was made, and Greller helped guide the 17-year-old Spieth to the tournament championship.

Greller was again on the bag when Spieth finished as the lowest-scoring amateur at the 2012 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club.

After that, Spieth was ready to turn pro, and he asked Greller to make the jump with him. The problem? It was the middle of the school year, and Greller had a classroom full of students waiting for him. He agonized over the decision, but realized he needed to chase his dream.

"I always knew if it didn't work out, I could go back to teaching," Greller said. "The hardest part was all the relationships I had with the students. It's a year in the trenches with 28-30 kids, and seeing them change over the course of a year, that was the part I was going to miss. It was December when Jordan asked me to join him, so I took a 1-year leave of absence."

Greller quickly realized he had a lot to learn.

"In hindsight, I was at a kindergarten level, caddy-wise, on tour," he said, adding that other tour caddies were quick to help him learn the ropes. "I knew nothing. I knew Jordan well, which is probably the most crucial part of caddying, knowing your player. The X's and O's you can learn. I certainly have done a lot of learning."

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Greller has been there to watch Spieth transform from a promising young golfer out of Texas to one of the world's top players, with nine PGA Tour victories and a pair of major championships. He's reached No. 1 in the world four times, and has spent 26 weeks as the world's top-ranked golfer, more than Fred Couples, Adam Scott, Ernie Els or Bernhard Langer.

Greller shrugs off any attention that comes his way for Spieth's success.

"My role, ideally, I'm like a referee -- you don't notice me, but I'm out there getting the job done," he said. "I never anticipated being under the microscope, but that comes with the territory of working with the best golfer in the world."

The pair certainly have fun together. They've even teamed up to film an ESPN commercial in which Greller helps Spieth decide between a fork and a spoon while eating a bowl of macaroni and cheese in the ESPN cafeteria.

Grand Haven born and raised

Greller grew up north of the Grand Haven drawbridge, attending Lake Hills Elementary School before moving on to Grand Haven Junior High School, which is now White Pines Intermediate School.

Greller's dad, Jack "Bear" Greller, a professor at Hope College, and mom, Joan, have four kids: Tom, Brian, Michael and Katie.

"My parents coached our YMCA basketball teams and we'd always do the 5K Memorial Day run," Greller said as he sat just a few hundred yards from the race's starting spot, sitting on a bench along Grand Haven's waterfront during a visit to his hometown last week.

"We came out here on our boat, 'Family Circus,' to go fishing regularly," he said, nodding toward the channel. "We'd come back, watch the Musical Fountain.

"Fruitport Golf Course is the first course I really played, then I graduated to Oakridge," he recalled. "The big boy club was always Grand Haven. I'd go there occasionally with my brother, who was on the golf team. I'd shoot in the 50s for nine holes."

Greller wasn't thrilled when his parents uprooted the family and moved to Iowa.

"It was a culture shock," he said. "I was 16 years old. I loved living in Grand Haven."

He still makes it back to town every few years. He proposed to his wife, Ellie, in Grand Haven. The couple is expecting their first child this fall.

His latest visit came on an off-week, and it helped that his hometown is fairly close to the upcoming U.S. Open.

A busy week of preparation

Greller planned to arrive at Erin Hills this past Friday, where he'd spend several days exploring every nook and cranny of the course before Spieth arrived for his first practice round on Sunday.

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"I'm going to have been out there for a few days with a couple other caddies charting the course, going through the yardage book, looking at the rough, rolling balls on the greens to get a feel for how they break, trying to figure out different lines off the tees, figuring out where he can hit it and where he can't, trying to prepare for anything that might come up," Geller said.

Spieth would then play practice rounds on Saturday and Sunday, followed by nine holes on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

"When viewers are watching, they don't see those six days of preparation," Spieth said.

Living a dream

Greller knows that his job as Spieth's caddy won't last forever, so he's taking full advantage of the opportunity.

"I've always approached caddying every week as a 'bucket list' experience," Greller said. "It can end at any time. I've been very grateful to get to ride shotgun with Jordan for almost five years on the tour. He's taken us on an unbelievable journey. It's fun every day I get to work with a top-5 player in the world. He's still very hungry and driven, and he wants to win majors."

Spieth has won two majors, and nearly claimed a third, but he squandered a 5-stroke lead at the 2016 Masters when he hit two balls in the water at No. 12, leading to a quadruple-bogey. It was one of the most historic back-nine collapses in Masters history.

"That was tough," Greller said.

But Spieth has bounced back nicely. Earlier this year, in his 100th tournament as a professional, he won the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, shooting 19-under. He placed 11th at this year's Masters.

And now he's poised for a run at a third major championship, with Greller at his side.

This article is written by Matt DeYoung from Grand Haven Tribune, Mich. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.