Last Thursday saw JP Fitzgerald give Rory McIlroy the verbal kick up the behind required to snap the world number four out of a terrible start at Royal Birkdale that had seen the Irishman flounder at five over par after his first six holes.
“You’re Rory McIlroy, what the f... are you doing?” was the crux of JP’s rebuke and it provided his boss with precisely the jump start he needed to get his act together, transforming a player in meltdown into a man who would secure a top-four finish and a cheque for around €410,000 three days later.
Perhaps even more significant, though, were the words of Michael Greller, the man on Jordan Spieth’s bag throughout his short professional career, who offered the right words when his guy needed them most, which was quite often during the wild ride Spieth took the golfing world during his journey to the Claret Jug on Sunday afternoon.
Greller, along with instructor Cameron McCormick, are the reasons Spieth uses the pronoun “we” as opposed to “I” when talking about his achievements. It still grates for many but you can understand why the golfer does it.
With the former mathematics teacher, 16 years his senior, on the bag, Spieth 24, this Thursday, has won all three of his major titles. Greller has seen him through the good times and the more turbulent periods of his career of which none came choppier than at the 2016 Masters, when Spieth’s golfing world came tumbling down around him at Augusta National’s famous par-three 12th hole, when a quadruple bogey effectively handed the title to Danny Willett.
“Yes, he had as much influence for sure on a win as any,” Spieth said of Greller on Sunday night, having emulated the great Jack Nicklaus by completing the third leg of a career grand slam of majors before the age of 24, the Masters and the US Open having been won with Greller by his side in 2015.
“He and Cameron have been very important in the mental side of the game for me in the past, well, couple of years. Dealing with my own expectations and dealing with coming off a year like ‘15, and trying to game plan and set goals. And I owe them both a lot. Michael is obviously on course, and Cameron is off course, as far as mental coaches for me.”
The on-course role was crucial to Spieth’s victory as the Texan had got his final round off to a start every bit as miserable as McIlroy’s had been on Thursday, bogeying three of his first four holes.
Like Fitzgerald, Greller knew how to arrest the slide and get his man back on track, summoning up some positive images for Spieth to focus on, in this instance a picture of the 23-year-old on holiday last week in the Mexican resort of Cabo San Lucas. It is some gathering of sporting talent, Spieth in the company of NBA legend Michael Jordan and Olympic swimming king Michael Phelps among others including Freddie Couples and Seattle NFL quarterback Russell Wilson.
Greller played his trump card as Spieth’s three-shot overnight lead was slipping from his grasp, as Spieth recalled.
“Michael did a great thing today, he said, ‘Do you remember that group you were with in Cabo last week?’ in a picture that I posted (on Twitter). He goes, ‘You belong in that group’.
“We walked off 7 tee box, and he made me come back. He said, ‘I’ve got something to say to you’; he said ‘do you remember that group you were with? You’re that calibre of an athlete. But I need you to believe that right now because you’re in a great position in this tournament. This is a new tournament. We’re starting over here.’
“And over a couple of putts when I wanted to kind of back off, I wasn’t comfortable, I thought this is... I just thought, it just changed a bit of a mental... I definitely thought about what he was saying while I was over some of those key three to four-footers that I made.
“For the way it was looking, those weren’t easy; those three-footers were 10-footers to me. And all of a sudden the lid came off. And the 30-footers were two-footers to me. I don’t know why I can’t make it a little more boring sometimes.”
Greller wasn’t done. Spieth’s dramatic bogey at the 13th will be spoken about for years to come as he took a penalty drop between two trucks and played his next shot blind from the practice ground some 120 yards of the fairway to just short of the green.
Just one dropped shot on that par four was a near miracle and it took a nerveless putt to complete the job and limit the damage to fall just one shot behind rival Matt Kuchar. It was a crucial moment for the impetus it gave Spieth led to an immaculate closing stretch of golf as he came from behind with a five-under finish over the closing five holes to win by three shots.
“The putt on 13 was just massive,” Spieth said. “Going two down, and not even two down, but into a tie for second. And thinking, ‘man, I’m five over’. That was crossing my mind...
“When that putt went in, I was really, really obviously excited. But I was walking off the green and Michael said, ‘Hey,’ he held me up, and he said, ‘That’s a momentum shift right there.’ And he was dead on. And all I needed to do was believe that. I was starting to feel it, but when he was feeling it and he was saying, ‘That was a momentum shift, even though you lost the hole, you went one down’.
The deficit would only last a hole, Spieth roaring back into the lead and ultimately sealing the third major of his career. Next stop the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow, and a first shot at completing the career grand slam which his caddie believes will not faze him one little bit.
“There’s no pressure,” Greller said. “He’s absolutely free rolling it. He’s just won a major and there’s no pressure on him — that’s what he wanted. I’m fortunate to ride shotgun with him.”