The Spieth Whisperer: Michael Greller Opens Up About Jordan

December 17, 2015

“Get that good picture, bud.” Caddie Michael Greller said it countless times last season. But beyond what he said, the looper in Jordan Spieth’s ear is more impressed with what he saw in 2015.

The low-key Greller had the most up-close and thrilling look at Spieth’s remarkable year. The Washington State resident taught sixth-grade math before landing one of the best bags in golf, first looping for Spieth in 2011. He concedes that he’s one of the greener caddies on Tour (and one of the richest, taking home about $2 million in 2015, according to estimates). A month after Spieth won the FedEx Cup, Greller was still making sense of the whirlwind year — and counting himself among the luckiest guys in the game.

It takes something special to reach a sixth-grader in the throes of a math meltdown. Did that job prepare you for caddying on Tour?

No matter how frustrated Jordan’s gotten in my three years with him, it’ll never compare to working with 12-year-olds and their frustration levels. As a teacher, my biggest priority was getting the kids to believe in themselves, and you can apply that skill directly to Jordan. My biggest role has been encouragement and getting him to believe in himself.

Self-belief goes both ways with you two guys, right?

It’s not just between us, it’s with his whole inner circle — his friends and family and agent. It’s how they treat me and [my wife] Ellie. It’s authentic. Jordan’s incredible in how he treats people. My parents came to Pebble Beach this year, and Jordan had dinner with us. He doesn’t have to do that. My brother happened to be in Dallas, and Jordan played golf with him. He’s very giving of his time. If he sees Ellie out there walking, he’ll ask about her. He cares. He’s a very inclusive person. People ask me, “Is that really Jordan?” I tell them, “He’s even nicer than he appears through your television.”

Nicer and funnier — or at least that’s how it appears. How does Jordan make you laugh?

He frequently talks about my bald spot, or “the Greller belly.” He likes to pick on me because I’m getting old, and I’m a step slower than him. We’ll do little competitions. We did a 100-yard dash at the British. It was right after we landed. We got off the charter and were waiting for our rental car. I thought I could beat him. I couldn’t. It’s a brotherly relationship. We played basketball. I had him down 8-4 and lost 11-8. He thinks it’s funny. There’s a lot of chirping, and I can’t back it up like I used to. I’ve never beaten him in Ping-Pong, and I consider myself a good player. At the Presidents Cup, in the team room, I had him down 20-18 but completely folded under the pressure. He gets in my head.

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You credit Jordan for your success. You also give a nod to veteran caddies like Ben Crenshaw’s guy, Carl Jackson, who tutored you on the nuances of Augusta National. Jordan’s first career major came at the 2015 Masters. Did anyone print up those “Carl says” T-shirts that Jordan said would be fitting?

I just talked to Carl yesterday. And yes, I have two shirts that say, “Carl says.” I don’t know where they came from. Both years [that Jordan has competed in the Masters], I spent a significant amount of time with Carl. The first year we sat at a picnic table and went over the entire yardage book. Here I am, a total nobody getting to go play-by-play through the book with the man whom I consider the greatest caddie ever at Augusta. That’s powerful stuff. So throughout the tournament I’d say, “Carl says…” and fill in the blank. Even if he didn’t say it, but I firmly believed what I was telling Jordan, I’d say, “Carl says.” It’s harder to argue with Carl Jackson than Michael Greller. The biggest thing Carl told me was, “Trust your instincts.” I tried a “Carl says” at Hilton Head the week after the Masters, but Jordan called me on it. [Laughs]

Which other caddies have helped you out?

John Wood, Bones Mackay — I count them among my four or five mentors, guys who have given me tons of encouragement and advice over the years. Ted Scott and Colin Swatton are two of the others. All four of those guys just embraced me and my wife and made us feel like family. I’m only three years in here, and coming in as a total outsider can be overwhelming. But they’ve been incredible about mentoring both of us.

Major number two came at Chambers Bay, where there was a lot of negativity about the course. Was that hard to take as someone who once caddied regularly at Chambers and taught school around the corner in Gig Harbor?

What I’ve learned about U.S. Opens is that every year there’s going to be controversy. For me it was pretty easy to block all that out because there were so many positives. I have great caddie memories there, going back to 2007. On every hole I saw faces I knew. And I got married there in 2013, up top by the clubhouse.

What were the keys to Jordan’s win at Chambers?

On Friday, the 18th hole was set up as a par 4, and we made double bogey — probably didn’t make the best decisions. That was our front nine. We made the turn, got to No. 1, and there was a sucker pin where if you missed left you went like 50 yards down the hill. And Jordan hit a lob wedge that just hung on the left fringe. It was inches from going all the way down the hill and probably being a bogey, but he made the putt for birdie. And then, of course, after he double-bogeyed the 17th hole on the last day, he birdied 18. That captures his stubbornness and ability to come back. It shows how mentally tough he is. He did that all year.

What were some of his other great bounce-back moments?

Go back to Augusta, Saturday: He hasn’t missed a shot, and he makes double bogey on 17 and misses right on 18. It feels like all the momentum is shifting to Justin Rose. And Jordan hits that flop shot from above the hole and makes the putt for par. St. Andrews: He four-putts No. 8 for double bogey and bounces back and birdies nine and 10. He just doesn’t go away. [Laughs] That’s what I love about him. He’s got so much fight. He scratches and claws.

At the Valspar, he made some epic saves that led to his first win of the season.

We’ve got a one-shot lead, and Ryan Moore, on No. 6, holes out from the fairway for eagle. We’re in the middle of the woods to the right of the fairway, and Jordan pitches out, then flies a wedge over the green. He hits a pretty good chip from an against-the-grain lie to eight to 10 feet away. He says, “Mike, I need your best read ever.” [Laughs] He says that to me about once a week. And he makes the putt to save bogey, otherwise it would have been a four-shot swing. Then he makes up-and-downs on 16, 17 and 18. That win at the Valspar triggered everything that followed. You can see what it meant to his confidence.

Looking forward to 2016, can Jordan get even better?

Last year [2015] was probably one of the three greatest seasons in the history of golf. I don’t think any of us have had a chance to think about what next year looks like. A couple of days ago I was telling my wife that my one caddie dream was to carry a bag at the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay.

Now I have to reassess my goals, and I’m sure Jordan will do the same. One thing I know about him is that he’s very rarely content. He’s always going to challenge himself. He’s going to challenge me. He wants to raise the bar, and I love that about him. He’s a perfectionist. He’s gonna push for more.