UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. (AP) — Michael Greller once hauled two golf bags around Chambers Bay in the mornings, then did it again with another in the afternoon, just to make a couple hundred bucks.
His payday this week will be a whole lot better.
The local boy who caddied at the course when it first opened helped guide Jordan Spieth to the U.S. Open title Sunday, calmly helping him rebound from a disastrous double-bogey at No. 17 to make birdie on the closing hole for Spieth’s second major championship.
“He was just incredibly patient this week,” Greller said, standing off to the side of the 18th green while Spieth accepted his trophy before an adoring crowd.
“Obviously the U.S. Open tests your patience more than any other tournament by a mile,” Greller said, “and being a new course nobody knows very well, it tests your patience even more.”
That was why Greller proved to be so important.
Not only does he have local knowledge, whenever the 21-year-old phenom got into trouble, it was Greller who was there to calmly help him out of it — whether it was thick, wiry fescue lining the fairways or reading the bumpy, barren greens that gave everyone fits.
“Michael is the one who shoved positive thoughts into my mind all week,” Spieth said.
For a fleeting moment, it appeared as if all their work would result in a coronation.
Spieth took a two-shot lead to the par-3 17th, but inexplicably shoved his tee shot into the deep rough near a massive waste bunker. By the time he finally tapped in for double bogey, Spieth had dropped to 4 under and into a tie with Louis Oosthuizen, who was already in the clubhouse.
“You knew,” Greller said, “he had to make birdie on 18.”
Spieth did just that. Then, Spieth and Greller watched as Dustin Johnson missed an eagle putt on the same finishing hole a moment later that would have won him the tournament, and miss a putt coming back that would have forced an 18-hole playoff on Monday.
It was the wildest of swings of emotion — almost unbelievable, considering Greller was simply trying to make ends meet when he caddied at the course after its 2007 opening.
“When it was announced in ’08 that the U.S. Open was coming here, my dream was just to caddie this week,” he said. “I certainly didn’t envision all that would happen between.”
Meeting Spieth at nearby Gold Mountain at the 2011 U.S. Junior Amateur. Becoming his full-time caddie on the PGA Tour. Helping him win the Masters earlier this year.
“We teed it up on Thursday, I was driving into work that day, and I thought, ‘Wow, this is literally a dream come true,'” Greller said. “No matter what happened this week.”
Greller is quick to deflect the attention to Spieth, the first player since Tiger Woods in 2002 to win the first two legs of the Grand Slam. But Spieth is just as quick to praise Greller, whom he’s grown so close to over the last few years that he skipped the World Golf Championship event at Firestone to attend his caddie’s wedding at — you guessed it — Chambers Bay.
“What a special place for Michael,” Spieth said. “He was married here. He shares arguably one of the best moments of his life here. I was able to add to that history he has at Chambers Bay.”
Spieth said he was striking everything perfectly when he won his green jacket at Augusta, but that was never the case at confounding Chambers Bay.
“He was the one that got me through this week,” Spieth said. “That was probably the best work Michael has ever done this week to get me through.”
Now, Greller and Spieth will head to the British Open at St. Andrews next month eyeing more history. The only player to sweep the first three legs of the modern Grand Slam is Ben Hogan, who accomplished the feat in 1953 — four decades before Spieth was even born.
As the sun set over the 18th hole Sunday, Greller mused about the improbability of it all. He thought back to toting bags around Chambers Bay in the scorching summer heat when it opened, and how much things have changed now that he’s toting the bag of a U.S. Open champion.
“You know,” he said, “that bag gets pretty light late in the afternoon of a major.”
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