PINEHURST, N.C. (AP) — Michael Greller never imagined that a simple act of kindness eight years ago could lead to a moment like this at the U.S. Open.
Greller, the caddie for Jordan Spieth, stood on the 18th tee at Pinehurst No. 2 on Tuesday and conferred with his 20-year-old boss on an important tee shot in a match they didn't want to lose against Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler.
Moments later, Greller was sharing a laugh with Spieth's partner, 21-year-old Justin Thomas, who is playing in his first U.S. Open.
It was an amazing reunion among two players and one caddie — not because they were together, but the peculiar path that brought them here.
Thomas and Spieth have known each other since 2007, when they battled all summer on the junior circuit and were selected to represent the United States in the Evian Junior Masters in France. Thomas won the 36-hole event, and his reward was to play the Evian Masters pro-am with Juli Inkster. Spieth caddied for him.
They have been close friends ever since, and the needle in their playful banter is sharp.
And it's that friendship that eventually took Greller from teaching math to sixth-graders to being the caddie for the No. 10 player in the world.
"Teaching 30 sixth-graders for 10 years prepared me for Jordan," he said.
"Nothing can prepare you for Jordan," Thomas replied.
Go back to the summer of 2006, a year before Spieth and Thomas even met.
Orchard Heights Elementary, on the west side of Puget Sound, had just let out for the summer when Greller went to Gold Mountain Golf Club to watch qualifying for the U.S. Amateur Public Links. He followed defending champion Clay Ogden, and in his group that day was Matt Savage, who was carrying his own bag.
"His buddy was supposed to caddie for him but at the last minute he couldn't catch his flight," Greller said. "That was the domino that started it all. I talked to his dad and said, 'Hey, your son needs a caddie. I'll work pro bono,' thinking it would be one round. He was in 140th place."
The next day, Savage rallied with a 69 to qualify for match play, and then he won three straight matches. The winner earned a spot in the Masters.
"I thought, 'Wow, I'm three matches from Augusta,'" Greller said.
Savage lost his next match, and that was that. A new course called Chambers Bay opened the following year, and Greller transferred to a different school in the Seattle area so he could be a caddie in the summer.
The story could have — probably should have — ended there.