Masters champion Jordan Spieth understands the rare opportunity that awaits him this week at the U.S. Open.
“I have a chance to make history in many ways,” said Spieth, 21, the only player with a chance to sweep all four of golf’s major championships during the 2015 calendar year. “You can’t win a Grand Slam unless you win the first. So I’m the only one with that opportunity this year. I think it’s cool. But I don’t think much about titles. I just try and work towards the next goal.”
For the Dallas resident, the next steps along a potential Grand Slam journey will be taken in Thursday’s opening round at Chambers Bay Golf Course in University Place, Wash. And the guy helping guide those footsteps will be caddie Michael Greller, who has more local knowledge about Chambers Bay than any individual — golfer or caddie — slated to walk between the ropes at a first-time, major-championship venue that has puzzled its share of competitors during practice rounds.
Greller, who grew up in the area, attended the first meeting for Chambers Bay caddies when the course opened in 2007. He regularly looped at the facility during the summer months when he was not teaching math and science classes at nearby Narrows View Intermediate School. Greller married his wife, Ellie, at the course in 2013 with Spieth among the invited guests.
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At a quirky course unfamiliar to most PGA Tour players and their caddies, Greller offers Spieth the type of local knowledge that USGA executive director Mike Davis envisions being essential to Sunday’s winner.
“This is going to take the players and their caddies really studying the golf course to have success,” Davis said of the 7,795-yard layout with wide sloping fairways and large undulated greens. “The idea of coming in and playing two practice rounds and having your caddie just walk it and use your yardage book, that player’s done. He will not win the U.S. Open.”
During a recent interview, Spieth shrugged at the suggestion that having Greller, 38, on his bag could be worth a few shots this week because of the course’s unique characteristics. But he hopes that will be the case.
“I think it’s going to help with driving the ball, the sight lines,” Spieth said of the Greller factor. “When things get firm, he’s going to know where it would run off [into the rough] a little better, maybe. I think off the tee it’s really going to help. Michael has seen the course a lot. If there’s any advantage given, it would be towards us with his knowledge of the place.”
Whether Greller’s local knowledge saves Spieth zero shots or a half-dozen over 72 holes, the Masters champ said he’s happy to have Greller’s input and his upbeat attitude between the ropes. He credits Greller with helping him stay focused in tense moments, particularly when he is in contention.
“I know physically that my game is good enough to get me there,” Spieth said. “The hardest part is managing the situation and managing the mental side. Michael helps with that.”
This week, he’ll be leaned upon more heavily to identify the subtle nuances of a venue that requires a steeper learning curve than most PGA Tour venues. In the estimation of Michael Putnam, an Open qualifier and PGA Tour competitor who considers Chambers Bay his home course, there is no way to overstate the value of such information when conditions are firm and fast, as USGA officials envision.
That is why Putnam’s bag will be tended this week by his older brother Joel, a regular in the Chambers Bay caddie rotation, rather than his normal tour caddie.
“Definitely knowing the bounces off the hills and on the greens is what’s going to separate the guys this week,” Putnam said. “The more of that you can have on your side, the better.”
Spieth will have more of that on his side than any major champion in the field. He also enters with a streak of 12 consecutive rounds of par or better at PGA Tour events, capped by a tie for third at the Memorial Tournament in his last outing (June 7).
Spieth, who will not turn 22 until July 27, has cracked the top-five in seven of his past 12 starts, including a Masters victory and a runner-up finish at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial. Spieth’s 17 top-five finishes in his career are the most by any player 21 or younger since 1970.
Spieth said he believes his game is on an uptick, echoing the sentiment he expressed leading into his victory at the Masters.
“Everything is kind of coming into place,” said Spieth, who has been practicing daily at Chambers Bay since Saturday. “I’m hitting the ball better and better each week. I putted well at Colonial, but didn’t strike it great. But I struck it better [at Memorial], which was nice. If I can keep that going for four rounds at Chambers Bay, I’ll be in good shape.”
If he veers off-line, Spieth will have a guy with lots of local knowledge toting his bag and helping him get his Grand Slam quest back on track.
Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760
Major challenge for Spieth
Masters champion Jordan Spieth, 21, will continue his pursuit of a 2015 Grand Slam at this week’s U.S. Open. Spieth, who has finished second or better in both of his Masters appearances, has yet to crack the top 10 in other majors. A breakdown: