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Caddies’ competition on 17 elicits nerves, laughs

4 Min Read


High-pressure shot at THE PLAYERS Championship can bring bragging rights for a year

    Written by Cameron Morfitt @CMorfitPGATOUR

    PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Jordan Spieth wasn’t going to play the back nine at TPC Sawgrass on Wednesday, but Michael Greller, his caddie, wouldn’t be deterred.

    The caddies’ annual closest-to-the-pin competition at the 17th hole is one of the highlights of THE PLAYERS Championship week, so Greller grabbed Spieth’s 9-iron and trekked out to the tee to try his luck, joining a group that also included Cam Davis and Seamus Power.

    Best moments from 17th hole Caddie Competition at TPC Sawgrass

    “It just takes one great shot,” Greller said. “Why wouldn’t you try?”

    Playing into a whipping wind that was in and off the right, Greller swung and hit a low bullet under the wind to 19 feet, 10 inches from the pin. The crowd whooped and hollered.

    “I’ll take it,” Greller said. “It was a good number.”

    Spoken like a true caddie, but on this day, on this hole, that was the point.

    Even better: Using Davis’ putter, Greller drained the birdie putt.

    “He probably beat the scoring average by one and a half shots today,” Spieth said later as he prepared to work at the TPC Sawgrass short game area. “He’s hit that green quite a few times. He’s missed it a few times as well. But he clutches up. He’s hit good shots on 16 at Phoenix, seven at Pebble. He’ll ask me sometimes (for help picking a club). It’s kind of funny. He finds that he’s got to communicate the same way I do with him.

    “It’s hard to club him, though,” Spieth continued. “He has such a strong grip and delofts everything. It’s a different style of game. He’s scrappy. He’s like a 5 or 6 handicap and it’ll travel. He texted me and Justin (Thomas) video of the shot and then the putt. He said, ‘Fifth place!’ And he showed the (score) board. He’s been talking non-stop today about it.”

    Some caddies hit a few on the range to prepare for their big moment. Others hit a shot or two on an earlier hole or two to warm up for the iconic 17th. Lefty Simon Keelan, who works for Seamus Power, brought his own club but missed the green. Last year he used Tyrrell Hatton’s right-handed 8-iron, flipped it over with the toe down, swung left-handed, and hit the green.

    Matt Wallace, like many players, held up his phone to capture video.

    “Good for Sunday!” Wallace said after his caddie, Samuel Bernard, had hit the right edge of the green, the ball coming to rest near the traditional final-round pin placement. “Good shot!”

    Luke Hopkins, who played for Clemson alongside teammate (and now boss) Ben Martin, hit his tee shot to 4 feet, 7 inches from the pin, bettering even most of the pros on this day.

    Lance Bennett, Sungjae Im’s caddie, knocked his tee shot to just inside 9 feet.

    Others found the water, an easy mistake to make given that the tees were back, and the 143-yard shot was playing more like 150 into the wind. Even caddies with pedigree who might have been considered the pre-competition favorites had a hard time in the challenging conditions.

    Chris Kirk mic'd up at Island Green Caddie Competition

    “I’ve never won, but I’ve hit some good shots,” said J.J. Jakovac, caddie for Collin Morikawa, who played the mini-tours after winning two NCAA Division II individual titles while playing for Cal State Chico. “I think my closest was like 6 feet, and I’ve never hit it in the water.”

    He then hit it in the water, missing short and right, his first swim in a dozen-plus attempts.

    Morikawa shook his head. “I was hoping for the green, at least,” he said.

    John Limanti, another former professional who now carries the bag for Keith Mitchell, and who was coming off serious neck surgery, also hit his tee shot in the water.

    “I had him as one of our betting favorites,” Mitchell said. “Former pro, great swing. First ball was a little flutter up into the wind, came up short and went into the water.

    “I made him hit one more shot,” he continued. “And it’s the … it’s the forbidden word.”

    (Limanti hit a shank, his ball rocketing toward the wrong island.)

    “I haven’t played golf at all,” said Limanti, who played for the University of North Florida and once mowed the 17th green as part of the maintenance staff here. “I was just trying to hit an 8-iron. It was a tough right-to-left wind and I’m a fader of the ball, at least from what I can remember. I just didn’t hit it hard enough.

    “The second one I tried to hit a little harder, and that didn’t work.”

    Paul Tesori, who caddies for Webb Simpson and used to play on the PGA TOUR, said he’s had little success in his 20-plus attempts to win the closest-to-the-hole competition on 17.

    “I’ve never been able to feel my hands,” Tesori said.

    Ben An advised his caddie, Justin York, to hit 7-iron. “There’s no way I’m hitting 7,” York said as he stepped up to the shot. His 8-iron was one of the prettiest shots of the day, covering the flag, but went over the green and in the water. “I knew I should’ve hit 9-iron,” he said.

    It’s still just Wednesday of PLAYERS week, and not a shot has been struck that counts.

    Just don’t try telling the caddies that.