The idea sounded crazy on paper – quit your teaching job to caddie for a 19-year-old golfer – but Michael Greller (MAT03) knew this was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
Greller, a 2003 graduate of George Fox University’s Master of Arts in Teaching program, was about to begin a one-year sabbatical from his sixth-grade teaching job at Narrows View Intermediate School in University Place, Wash., when he got a call from Shawn Spieth, father of promising teenage pro Jordan Spieth, in the winter of 2012.
The elder Spieth posed a question: Would Greller be willing to caddie full time for Jordan? Greller had caddied for him twice before – most recently at the U.S. Open the previous year – and the two hit it off after Spieth placed a respectable 21st and finished as the tourney’s top amateur.
But, this time, Spieth wasn’t looking for a temp to fill in for an upcoming tournament. He needed someone willing to spend 30-plus weeks a year with him on the PGA Tour.
“I had an incredible teaching job but was ready to try something different,” Greller says. “And my wife Ellie encouraged me to go for it. We were watching the Masters when she said, ‘If Jordan is winning the Masters in 10 years, are you going to be asking yourself why you didn’t pursue it?’ She’s right. I would have been kicking myself.”
Greller, 36, decided to “do the crazy thing and take a job working for a 19-year-old boss.” Only he didn’t have to wait 10 years for Spieth to make a splash at the Masters. This April as the tournament unfolded at famed Augusta National Golf Club, Spieth was in the lead midway through the fourth and final round.
“Absolutely surreal,” Greller says of the experience. “Here’s this 20-year-old kid leading the most prestigious tournament in the world, and I’m right there alongside him. The funny thing is, I felt so calm and clear. We had a game plan going into the week and were prepared. I had spoken to the caddie master and guys like Carl Jackson, caddie to Ben Crenshaw, to pick their minds.”
Spieth ended up tied for second – three shots behind winner Bubba Watson – but his performance cemented his status as one of the game’s most promising up-and-coming players. “No doubt it was a great experience, but afterwards we were a bit disappointed that we let an opportunity to win the Masters slip by,” Greller says.
Greller never intended to caddie as a career. His first foray into the profession began on a whim when, as a spectator at a tournament in 2006, he volunteered to carry a player’s bag for free. He enjoyed the experience so much he began caddying 10 to 12 times a year after his school year ended.
His big break came when he landed the job of caddying for Justin Thomas at the 2010 U.S. Amateur. The following year, he paired up with Spieth and helped him win the 2011 U.S. Junior Amateur title.
Greller says many of the lessons he learned during his 10-year teaching career apply to caddying. “You have to think on your feet, adapt to stress, have patience, be an encourager and have a servant’s heart,” he says. “In other words, teaching did a lot to prepare me.”
He also attributes his George Fox experience as key to his professional development. “My cohort leader, Donna Phillips, was critical in my development as an educator, and I grew a great deal through my director, Jeff VandenHoek, during my summer years working at Tilikum. My experience at George Fox was outstanding. The friendships I’ve made through the George Fox community have really taught me about having proper perspective – to recognize that your job isn’t the most important thing in life.”
It’s a belief Greller clings to in his new venture. “Jordan and I get along great – we’re like brothers. We rib each other about our sports teams, and he tells me I’m no smarter than a seventh-grader because I taught sixth grade for so long. But I realize there are no guarantees in my profession. And, as much as I’m enjoying the ride, caddying isn’t the No. 1 thing in my life. I’m a believer and a husband first.”