by Blaine Newnham
While it is evident golf fans in the Northwest will enthusiastically embrace their very first U.S. Open Championship as witnessed by ticket sales, might there emerge a local – if adopted – favorite of the tumbling crowds that will flow over the dunes at Chambers Bay?
Michael Greller, on the bag for Masters champion Jordan Spieth, thinks so.
“I honestly believe he’ll be a crowd favorite, almost like a local,” said Greller, “and Jordan thrives on boisterous, loud crowds. He feels their energy.”
There are so many reasons to take Speith on as one of their own, especially after his gracious and glorious dismantling of the field at Augusta National.
Like the Northwest, he’s young and bold, but also tempered. And, obviously, conscientious. In 2013, following his first PGA Tour win, he withdrew from the guaranteed-money WGC-Bridgestone Invitational so he could be at his caddie’s wedding.
They gathered the day before the wedding to play Chambers Bay, five foursomes of relatives and friends, Spieth in the first group with Greller, his brother and best man, Tom, and his uncle Jake.
Not only did Spieth forgo the WGC event, but he had to return to Chambers Bay where in the qualifying for the 2010 U.S. Amateur he shot 83 and didn’t make it into the match-play portion of that championship.
“That course on that day,” said Greller, “was borderline unfair. I think everyone realized that.”
Spieth caught the course at the worst time, late in the afternoon when USGA officials admitted that in turning off the water two weeks earlier they had made it too firm and fast.
But that was August. And Spieth was 17 years old, and yet to have Greller, who had been a grade-school math teacher in Gig Harbor, on the bag.
Greller’s story is a good one. Sixth-grade math teacher who grew up in the Midwest but settled on the Kitsap Peninsula, just across the Narrows Bridge from Chambers Bay, where he began caddying in the summer to make extra money; a scratch player who volunteered to caddie for free at the 2006 U.S. Amateur Public Links at Bremerton’s Gold Mountain Golf Club and then hooked up with Spieth at the 2011 U.S. Junior at Gold Mountain.
And what was whimsical and part-time has carried him to monetary and professional riches unfathomed.
The third appearance at Chambers Bay may indeed be a charm for Spieth, ranked the No. 2 player in the world.
“I know he will embrace Chambers Bay,” said Greller, “if only because he knows how much it has meant to me.”
But beyond that, Greller said Spieth loves the challenges of links golf and, as a native of Texas, has played his whole life in the wind.
In 2011, Spieth and Greller won the first time they were paired, as Spieth became only the second multiple winner of the U.S. Junior, joining Tiger Woods. Since then they have become almost brothers in the progress of Spieth from teenager to major champion.
In fact, the first person Spieth thanked following the win at Augusta was Greller. “You kept me strong,” he said in front of a national audience. “You were the reason this dream came true.”
Does Greller, who’s played 50 rounds at Chambers Bay and caddied countless more, give Spieth a home-field advantage?
Mike Davis, the executive director of the USGA and the man most responsible for the course set-up at the U.S. Open, noted that because of the amount of vagaries at Chambers Bay “there is no way, no way, a player would have success here at Chambers Bay unless he really studies the golf course and learns it. The idea of coming in and playing two practice rounds and having your caddie just walk it and using your yardage book, that player is done. Will not win the U.S. Open.”
Greller doesn’t doubt there will be many experienced caddies with well-developed game plans for Chambers.
But none more familiar with or dedicated to the course than Greller, who will spend two weeks before the Open playing and studying the complexity that is Chambers Bay.
“Jordan loves the ground game, has great imagination and golf IQ,” said Greller of his man’s chances at Chambers Bay.
Not to mention a whole lot of local support. If nothing else, he is an American, and Europeans have won four of the past five Opens.
But, then again, he might be a lot more than that.
For 23 years Blaine Newnham was an associate editor and sports columnist for The Seattle Times, and for 11 years at the Eugene Register-Guard.