There was a time when Gig Harbor resident Michael Greller could walk the entire Chambers Bay golf loop, and never be bothered.
Back then, he was a teacher from University Place just trying to make a few extra bucks in the summer as a caddie — usually for out-of-town businessmen, retired doctors or construction-company managers.
That won’t be the case this week: Now a PGA Tour caddie, Greller is coming home with Masters champion Jordan Spieth in tow for the 115th U.S. Open championship.
These days, it is rare for Greller to go anywhere and not be recognized. Because of Spieth’s rapidly growing success, the two of them seem to be on weekly television golf coverage almost on cue.
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In fact, Greller has been getting so much air time flanking Spieth that CBS Sports golf analyst Nick Faldo recently made remarks about the caddie’s rugged good looks.
“He’s got a big head,” Spieth joked. “We’re trying to dial it down.”
To know Greller, you’d discover one thing quickly — he isn’t cavalier about anything.
He is a good Midwestern boy — the son of two teachers. With three other siblings, Greller grew up in Michigan for much of his childhood before his father, John, took a vice presidency at Northwestern College in Iowa.
Michael Greller is good-natured and attentive to details shared by other people.
“That comes from a combination of our parents because they are very social people,” said Tom Greller, the oldest of three brothers. “He is very good at reading people at a gut level. He is also very good at thinking on his feet.
“Those skills served him well in teaching, and continue to do so in caddying.”
When his sister, Katie, became a star basketball player at George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon, Tom and Michael decided to eventually settle in the Pacific Northwest.
Michael Greller was teaching at Narrows View Intermediate School when he attended a meeting for potential caddies in 2007. By the third week of the course, he was a regular caddie at Chambers Bay.
“He carried himself more maturely than a lot of guys,” said Jeff Marsh, the assistant caddie master at the time at Chambers Bay. “He did not know much about … (caddie) etiquette, but I knew he would learn quickly because he was friendly, smart and grown up.”
Greller showed no fear in asking about caddying for anybody.
In the 2006 U.S. Amateur Public Links at Gold Mountain Golf Complex in Bremerton, Greller was in the gallery, and noticed one of the participants — Matt Savage — carrying his own bag.
After an opening 75, Savage was well on his way to missing the cut. That is when Greller intervened to offer his services.
“The first hole together, we made birdie,” Greller said. “After that, I could never have caddied again.”
Savage rallied to make match play with a 70, won three matches and made it all the way to the quarterfinals before losing.
It just so happened that Savage’s swing instructor was Mike Thomas, whose son is rising PGA Tour player Justin Thomas.
Greller caddied for Justin Thomas in the 2010 U.S. Amateur at Chambers Bay. Thomas was the reigning U.S. Junior Amateur runner-up from Kentucky. The two advanced to the round of 32.
A year later, Greller planned on caddying for Thomas at the 2011 Junior Amateur at Gold Mountain, but the teenager was too old.
Greller asked Thomas for help getting on another golfer’s bag. Initially, he was supposed to help Gavin Hall, who pulled out with an injury.
That is when the biggest life-changing phone call hit Greller.
While on a run across the Narrows Bridge, Greller saw he had gotten a voicemail on his cellphone. It was from Spieth, asking if Greller would caddie for him at the U.S. Junior Amateur.
Spieth won the tournament, starting a chain reaction of good fortune for Greller.
In 2012, Spieth needed a caddie for the U.S. Open at Olympic Club in San Francisco, and asked Greller to join him.
To this day, Tom Greller considered what happened on the finishing hole on a Friday as the biggest moment in his brother’s standing with Spieth.
Fighting to make the cut, Spieth was in a greenside bunker — and hit a shot that stayed on the sandy surface.
“Jordan was upset,” Michael Greller said. “He was ready to hit again, and I got the club from him and cleaned it up. We regrouped, got back into a routine and Jordan then hit his shot to within one foot of the hole.”
Spieth made bogey to make the cut on the number, rallied over the weekend and ended up as the low amateur — tied for 21st.
By then, the whole golf world knew of Spieth’s vast potential. And he was turning professional after one season at Texas.
Greller was given the first crack at becoming Spieth’s full-time caddie — if he wanted to leave teaching.
“Initially the reason I did caddying, it was a hobby — it was something I loved to do,” Greller said. “It was never about meeting people, or never about making money, or never about the lifestyle.
“So (then-fiancée and now wife) Ellie and I thought through it very carefully. Our motives were right. Once I got a one-year absence approved (from the University Place School District) … it freed me up to do it.”
Once Spieth reached the PGA Tour, Greller discovered caddying at that level was a whole new world.
“Those first six months were tough for me — a little overwhelming and intimidating,” Greller said. “But it is a lot closer brotherhood than people imagine.”
Greller sought weekly counsel from Ted Scott (Bubba Watson’s caddie), Jim “Bones” Mackay (Phil Mickelson) and Colin Swatton (Jason Day), studying their every move.
“I tend to be a pretty perceptive person,” Greller said. “Watching them, especially in those premier groups, you can’t help but get better paying attention to the best.”
So it was no wonder that after Spieth tapped in the final putt to win the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club in April, there were not only a ton of golfers waiting to hug the golfer — there were plenty of caddies, including Scott, Mackay and John Wood (caddie for Hunter Mahan), there to high-five Greller.
“To see their genuine joy for our success meant everything,” Greller said.
Ellie, a kindergarten teacher, now travels with her husband on tour, at least for the short term. And during off weeks, the couple tend to lay low, finding a few different parks to hike in, or take in a quiet lunch at Susanne’s Bakery & Deli in Gig Harbor.
Michael Greller also has been known to find his way back into the classroom as a substitute teacher.
“This is home — and nothing beats home. This will always be my favorite place,” Greller said. “And when I come home, I get to put my caddie cap away and live normally.
“Ellie is the most important thing in my life and easily my biggest blessing. We have to be intentional about focusing on our marriage when we get away from golf.”
This week is different — Greller is home, and the 37-year-old has to worry about golf.
But it is the U.S. Open. And it will be played at familiar Chambers Bay.
“There will be a comfort level here,” Greller said. “The flip side, there will be expectations of me — and us.”