Whether he wants to be or not, Michael Greller has become a bit of a celebrity at the 119th U.S. Open. It’s a safe bet that Greller would prefer no one know his name, what he looks like, and who he is, but that anonymity is rarely afforded the looper for one of the most famous golfers on earth.
The anonymity is further diminished when that uber-famous golfer also spends most of his rounds chatting you up, especially at a major championship with increased ears and eyes on the golf and an enhanced cache of FOX microphones there to catch it all. Greller became a part of the story of this U.S. Open on Thursday when his boss, the garrulous Jordan Spieth, let him have it walking along the cliffs of the 8th hole.
It was there that the microphones caught Spieth bristling after hitting his ball in the ocean and then over the green. “Two perfect shots, Michael,” he said. “You got me in the water on one and over the green on the other.”
Even to the hardcore golf fan accustomed to Spieth’s quips and challenges to his caddie, this felt a bit outside the boundary. Spieth hits the shots. The caddie can give the player advice, yardages, the clubs, and any other bit of mental encouragement, but the player always hits the shots. There’s a been a proliferation of the word “we” as a catch-all for pros to describe and give credit to the “teams” around them, which often include caddies, swing coaches, managers, mental gurus, and others. But golf distinguishes itself from most sports by being a solitary game. There are no team wins or Kobe-Shaq power struggles or locker room infighting. The caddie is there to carry the clubs and fade into the background.
Greller is in the foreground this week, however, especially at the midpoint of a four-day championship that’s still feeling itself out and doesn’t have a superstar leader at Pebble Beach. Spieth’s remarks did feel like the sign of some infighting, or at least unrest. Neither will admit it and Greller will never say a negative word it in public. Spieth did not exactly exculpate Greller or sound like he regretted what he said or would have, in hindsight, re-worded anything.
“When you hit a couple of shots exactly where you want to, and one’s in the water and the other’s dead over the green, I’m gonna be frustrated that, as a team, we didn’t figure out how to make sure that didn’t happen,” he told Karen Crouse of The New York Times. “I may have looked like the bad guy there, but my intentions there were that we should have been in play if the ball is hit solidly, and I was out of play on both shots.”
The moment became viral, as much as a player-caddie conversation in golf can go viral.
No one can win the U.S. Open on a Thursday first round, so this became the highlight of the early action at Pebble and the fans that came back on Friday acted like it.
“You’re a good caddie, Michael!” one fan shouted as Greller descended off the 6th tee for his walk up that coastal par-5.
The pair’s second loop through the 8th hole this week went slightly better than the miscommunications and misplays of the first round. Spieth hit it deep again, missing the minuscule green, but was able to get up-and-down to save a par. After he poured in the 11-foot putt for the save, someone screamed “That a way, Michael!” as if the caddie had rolled the putt himself.
These shouts and calls for “Michael” cascaded throughout the day, which is exactly what both Spieth and Greller probably do not want. At the 15th hole, Spieth’s 6th of the day after going off the back nine, he asked Greller, “This won’t go over no matter what, right?”
Greller promptly responded, “No.”
Then Spieth struck the ball and blurted out a line at Greller we’ve heard before while the ball is in the air. “Hope you’re right.” Hearing that from your boss at a moment of truth would creates some real tension and would stress the hell out of anyone in any field.
The ball bounced once and did, in fact, go over the green.
Spieth attacked on social media yesterday but same thing today already!! I can see Spieth with a new caddie shortly. Club selection such an important role and looks like the trust is gone with Greller unfortunately who is top class.Time for a change. pic.twitter.com/SbOWwPx1zC— ian lawlor (@ianolawlor) June 14, 2019
These exchanges are, more or less, standard operating procedure in this relationship and how it’s been when Spieth was winning majors and also over the past year when the golf hasn’t been as successful. But after the Thursday dressing down, the exchange coming the very following day came with heightened scrutiny.
“I think our communication has been very successful over the last six, seven years,” Spieth said after his second round and the full day of discussion of the viral moment. “It’s kind of all the stuff I used to hold in my head before, I’m able to kind of just let out now. It’s very important, especially when you’re trying to hit small greens here at Pebble Beach, it’s nice to have somebody looking out for you.”
Spieth does know and believe that Greller is “looking out for him,” even if it doesn’t always sound like it as he articulates, questions, and critiques his way through a round. Spieth is a brilliant player and Greller is a great caddie. The partnership does not seem in peril, but Spieth has not played well over the past year and that moment of frustration on No. 8 felt more pointed than anything we’d heard before out of the relationship.
You could feel the glares and examinations raining down on the partnership from the large crowds following Spieth’s group, which included Tiger Woods and all the attention and circus he brings both inside and outside the ropes. The relationship may be fine and they may never split, but it certainly felt elephant-in-the-roomy on Friday. The golf world had reacted to, digested, and discussed what the FOX mics had picked up on Thursday.
As the two finished up the round, Spieth marched ahead to scoring while a worn-down and dour Greller lumbered behind with the bag alongside Spieth’s family and friends, one of whom wrapped his arms around the looper as they made the ascent. Then one of Greller’s colleagues strolled past to begin his day on the 10th tee. The caddie threw him a quick line of encouragement and a gentle “Love ya, buddy.” Again, there was an elephant-in-the-room tension at a major that’s not bubbling over with other high-profile stories yet to distract from the dressing down on Thursday. The subjects would rather this all go away and Greller ignored the colleague’s affection as he kept his head down and walked to catch up with the boss.