It turns out the American’s shoot-the-lights-out finish to win the British Open, the one that clinched a first Claret Jug, had much to do with the man on his bag
Partners: Jordan Spieth hits the shots, but caddie Michael Greller picks the spots
Sometimes derided, often underappreciated, to the wider world the role of a caddie seems a pretty straightforward one.
Carry this, calculate that.
Obviously, it is much more complex - crucial even - as the British Open served to highlight this past week.
Take Rory McIlroy. Five-over par for the first six holes at Royal Birkdale on Thursday, the Northern Irishman was spiralling out of control, his tournament already on the brink and another missed cut looming. Then caddie JP Fitzgerald stepped in.
“You’re Rory McIlroy, what are you doing?” Fitzgerald said, albeit a little more colourfully.
Shaken from his funk, Rory McIlroy played the next 12 holes like Rory McIlroy. The one with four majors at 28. His tournament back on track, fittingly the world No 4 paid tribute to Fitzgerald following the round.
“He reminded me who I was, what I was capable of,” McIlroy said.
Ditto Michael Greller and Jordan Spieth. Widely respected as one of the best player-caddie partnerships, it turns out the American’s shoot-the-lights-out finish on Sunday, the one that clinched a first Claret Jug, had much to do with the man on his bag. Yes, Spieth hit the shots, but Greller constantly hit the spots.
When Spieth’s lead was gone, not to mention his head, Greller interjected to inject some belief back into the young Texan. On the 13th hole, as Spieth stood on the practice range facing 270 yards to the green and a potential three-shot swing, his tournament fraying quickly at the seams, Greller talked him out of his 3-wood.
Apparently, the former sixth-grade teacher still has a knack for numbers.
“On that one, he seemed very confident,” Spieth said. “He was very adamant about what club to hit, and it gave me the confidence to hit it, because sometimes when that happens I’ll still go with what I think. But he was right on.”
Clearly reeling, Greller had reeled Spieth back in.
“He said, ‘that’s a momentum shift right there'.” Spieth said, describing the moment after his bogey putt found the cup. “And he was dead on. And all I needed to do was believe that.”
Greller was the calm among the storm. An expert caddie doing what an expert caddie should. Not only a caddie, but a “mental coach” too, as Spieth calls him.
Listen to Spieth dissect a round, or preview a tournament, or talk about his game in general, and he repeatedly uses “we”. It is very much team effort, with the caddie an as important a cog as any other. At 23, Spieth has 11 PGA Tour victories, including three majors – the youngest to reach that mark combined. Greller has been there for them all.
Jim “Bones” Mackay, regarded as one of the best in the business, was integral to Phil Mickelson’s Hall-of-Fame career before the two split, apparently amicably, last month. They spent 25 years and five major wins together.
New Zealander Steve Williams was at Tiger Woods’ side for 13 of his 14 majors. Then, showcasing that he was not simply fortunate to carry the bag of genuine great, Williams helped haul Adam Scott over the line, finally, at the 2013 Masters.
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At Royal Birkdale, as the demons from Spieth’s 2016 Augusta collapse began to creep in, Greller found the right words. Referencing a recent photo taken on holiday in Mexico, where Spieth posed with a series of world-class athletes including Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan, Greller came up with a slam dunk.
“We walked off the seventh tee and he made me come back,” Spieth said. “He goes, ‘I’ve got something to say to you. Do you remember that group you were with? You’re that calibre of an athlete. But I need you to believe that right now because you’re in a great position in this tournament.’
"I’ll never forget that. It was just the right time. Just his belief, when I know him so well, fed over a bit. And all I needed was just a little bit of self-belief to be able to produce what I had there.”
Spieth produced all right, but Greller propelled him to that. To a first Claret Jug.
“This is as much mine as it is his,” Spieth said at the prize-giving ceremony, looking over to Greller. “You deserve all the credit in the world for this major championship.”