During the trophy ceremony Sunday evening on the 18th green at Chambers Bay, 2015 U.S. Open winner Jordan Spieth constantly made references to “we” or “the team.”
The golfer-caddie relationship in professional golf is often fluid and unpredictable. Some golfers go through caddies like sleeves of golf balls. Others find one and maintain a long-term relationship.
That is what Spieth has with Michael Greller, a former University Place schoolteacher who lives in Gig Harbor.
They have a special bond: Spieth’s fiery spirit balances well with Greller’s calm demeanor. They work well together.
The support group also extends to families.
And given that Sunday was Father’s Day, the scene around the finishing hole was special. As Spieth and Greller made their way up the fairway, off to the side sat Greller’s parents, John and Janeo, who flew into town Saturday from the Midwest as surprise visitors for the final round.
And they happened to meet Spieth’s parents, Shawn and Chris, who were standing nearby.
Suddenly, they were all together — in it together, running the gamut of emotions that go along with seeing a loved one try to win the most important championship in golf.
JOHNSON: SOME BAD,
Most will remember Dustin Johnson for the two agonizing putts at No. 18 he didn’t make at Chambers Bay.
But the one I’ll remember was the 11th hole in the second round. I was standing next to his brother and caddie, Austin Johnson, when DJ sunk his longest birdie putt of the tournament from 33 feet away.
So many putts before — and after — rested just short of the hole. But that one he barely tapped, and it just kept rolling.
Cheers roared from the crowd as I watched Johnson — who was at 7 under par for the tournament with the birdie — walk back toward his brother, then look at Sergio Garcia standing nearby.
“I’m glad that got to the hole,” Johnson said with a smirk to Garcia before getting a congratulatory handshake. “Nowhere else for it to go, right?”
Sobering how such excitement at one hole can turn to such anguish at another.
FOCUS ON FANS
Billy Horschel wasn’t the only golfer who complained about the greens, just the whiniest.
After shooting an impressive 3-under par 67 on Sunday to finish the tournament at 4-over, Horschel stepped into the flash interview area with a clear agenda and unleashed a 13-minute tirade directed at the USGA.
The greens, Horschel said, were unfair. They didn’t roll true enough, and too many good putters were missing too many good putts. He felt the conditions were unbecoming of a U.S. Open championship, and said he lost respect for the USGA because of it.
Which all rings a little hollow coming from a guy who finished nine shots back of the winner — who, by the way, shot a perfectly reasonable score of 5-under par through 72 holes.
Horschel did make a good point about the fan experience, though, lamenting that spectators at Chambers last week were “robbed” of feasible viewpoints and the chance to watch the golfers up close throughout the entire course. That was a common refrain from other players and many fans — the ropes were too restrictive, and there simply wasn’t enough room on the golf course for everyone to be able to follow their favorite players.
If Chambers hosts another major championship, the USGA would do well to heed Horschel’s gripe about the fan experience — and ignore all that nonsense about the greens.
DAY’S SPINNING WORLD
I could tell Jason Day’s third round was going to be unlike anybody’s in recent U.S. Open history from watching Day squat over his bag with his caddie standing over him on the practice range for nearly three minutes.
My neon-yellow lanyard offered a perspective few got of the 27-year-old from Australia on Saturday. Day had collapsed the day before from vertigo at the final hole of his second round. He was still dizzy and unsure for the third. I wondered before its start not only if he would finish, but also how?
As Day and his accompanying cadre made the long walk up the green steps and bridge connecting holes one and two, he clutched the handrail. He looked drugged and delicate, hardly the condition to compete in one of golf’s majors.
Atop the long climb to the seventh green I saw Day approach his caddie to tell him he was exhausted. Colin Swatton put his hand on Day and asked him to take each hole, each shot, one at a time. Before he teed off at No. 8 Day took a long drink of pink liquid Swatton had handed him inside a water bottle.
He visibly revived over the next few holes, and he got two birdies. By 15 he had birdied again, and suddenly he was vying for the lead. But his dizziness had returned. He bent at the waist and almost fell down on the 16th tee — and still hit his drive almost 320 yards. Dizzy and defying, he somehow birdied five of the final nine holes. I knew by the roar of the grandstand on 17 our U.S. Open had found its man.
And when the People’s Choice banged his tee shot on 18 way right off a hospitality tent’s deck, a sliding-glass door and back to the edge of the fairway on his way to tying for the lead entering Sunday, I knew this was indeed Jason’s day.
For many who will remember what I watched up close, this became Day’s U.S. Open. At least until that stupefying finish.
He’s still Tiger Woods.
He’s going through a difficult stretch. A long and difficult stretch. Perhaps a decline from which he will never emerge. But he’s still Tiger Woods, and legendary athletes do legendary things. Sometimes they resurrect old glories that others believed were gone for good.
That didn’t happen at Chambers Bay. And I saw it not happen, walking all 18 holes and watching all 80 strokes of Wood’s first round of the U.S. Open Championship. He couldn’t conjure his old self on the first hole, which he bogeyed; and he couldn’t conjure it on the 18th, where he sent his second shot into the Chambers Basement fairway bunker.
The name comes from the depth of the crater. Nine steps lead to the bottom. And literal as Woods’ descent was, there was no missing its symbolic element.
My main memory is how quickly he was in and out. Nine steps down — disappearing from my line of view — then a club head arching up, then down. The ball flying out. Woods ascending again.
It was no place for a legend.