Having watched from close quarters as Jordan Spieth conjured up the greatest finish in Open Championship history to get his hands on the Claret Jug at Royal Birkdale, his caddie Mike Greller is expecting history to repeat itself next month, with the young American tipped to win back-to-back majors for the second time in his career.
Spieth achieved that notable feat in 2015, following up his breakthrough win in the Masters at Augusta National by also triumphing in the US Open at Chambers Bay, before missing out on a play-off by just a shot in the Open Championship at St Andrews in his bid to become the first player to pull off a calendar Grand Slam.
Now, having become just the second player to win three different major titles before the age of 24 – he turns that on Thursday – the Texan heads into the USPGA Championship at Quail Hollow in a fortnight’s time with an opportunity to become just the sixth player to complete a career Grand Slam after Ben Hogan, Gene Sarazen, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tiger Woods.
“I think there’s no pressure,” insisted Greller, who quit a teaching job to become Spieth’s caddie when he turned professional in 2012 and has played a big part in the phenomenal success the Texan has enjoyed in such a short spell. “He’s absolutely free-rolling it. He’s going to play in 30 more PGAs the rest of his life. He’s just won a major. He’s played it [Quail Hollow] before, in 2013. I think it’s a great course for him.”
Greller, who has a relationship with Speith that mirrors that of Phil Mickelson and Jim “Bones” MacKay before their split this year, certainly earned his money on Sunday. With Spieth, after starting the day with a three-shot lead, in the middle of a major meltdown similar to when he blew a five-shot lead with nine holes to play in the 2016 Masters, Greller said all the rights to help turn things around as he won by three shots from playing partner Matt Kuchar.
“I just told him to go back to the tempo of the Travelers because it was really similar,” said Greller of the PGA Tour win recorded by Spieth in his previous outing before the season’s third major. “He was leading wire-to-wire and was having some tough things happening. It just so happens this was a major. He knows what to do. This was the 13th time he’s had the lead in a major, so it’s not like this was his first time in this situation. He was easy to work with. He’s matured a lot in the last six years since I met him. It wasn’t that difficult.
“He’s hurt a lot since that 2016 Masters, and I’m sure somewhere in there some doubts had crept in. He just said, ‘You know what, I know how to do this’. He’s done it twice before and now three times. It was just cool to see him with his back against the wall, more than at Augusta in 2016. To do what he did just shows his character and his grit.”
It could have been catastrophic for his career if this one had also got away from Spieth, but, just as Nicklaus and Woods did so often, he pulled through thanks to incredible mental toughness, coupled, of course, with some sheer brilliance as he followed a great bogey at the 13th by covering the last five holes in five-under.
“Once he made that putt on 13, there was just a different energy in him those last five holes,” noted Greller of Spieth eclipsing Henrik Stenson’s four-under finish over the same stretch at Troon 12 months earlier. “But the turning point was 13 [where Spieth limited the damage to just one shot after being forced to take a penalty drop following a drive that was 100 yards off line and then played his third from the practice range]. I think 21 minutes they told me that took.
“We’ve been in situations enough where I know, and he knew, that we just had to slow it down, find a way to get this back in play and find a way to grind out a bogey. We took our time getting the line, getting the number. He hit a really good shot. The up and down was just ridiculous. That’s what Jordan has always done.”
Admittedly helped by favourable weather on three of the four days, Spieth’s 12-under-par 268 total was 15 shots better than Padraig Harrington’s winning total at the same venue in 2008 and 12 fewer than Mark O’Meara when he claimed the Claret Jug in the Open before that at Birkdale, in 1998. A stuttering 12 holes aside in the final round, it was a majestic performance from Spieth, who is now up to world No 2 behind Dustin Johnson on the back of his 11th victory in just over four years.
“Growing up playing golf, I just wanted to be able to play in major championships and compete with the best in the world, and things have happened very quickly,” Spieth said. “And it’s good and bad, because a lot comes with it. A lot more attention, for instance, versus just being able to kind of go about your own thing. And I never realised how underrated that was. I wanted to be in this position but, when you are, it becomes harder when it doesn’t go your way. And you’re harder on yourself because you expect so much.
“Therefore, I’m going to thoroughly enjoy this. I look back on 2015 and thought, yeah, I enjoyed it, but I never realised the significance until you kind of hit a low, hit a pitfall, to appreciate the high so much. And this is as much of a high as I’ve ever experienced in my golfing life. And I’m going to enjoy it more than I’ve enjoyed anything that I’ve accomplished in the past.”
Spieth’s latest accomplishment earned praise from Nicklaus, the only other player to win three different major titles before the age of 24. “It was a great display of guts, determination and skill,” said the 18-time major winner on a post on Twitter. “I think you have to learn to play links golf. Not only is it fun, but it’s also an acquired skill. You have to spend time learning how to do it and what to do in certain situations. It is a huge exercise in discipline.
“Much was said about the fact Jordan and I were able to win three legs of the Grand Slam before the age of 24. But, if you look, he’s won 11 tournaments and I had won eight before 24. If you look at his victory total, his win today and the way he won today, Jordan has shown an amazing display of maturity for someone so young, and he has been doing that for a quite a while.”