PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — “Jordan!” shouted the fan near the ravine at Pebble Beach’s eighth hole. “Your aunt was my math teacher!”
This fact may or may not be true; Jordan Spieth was, at the time, engaged in wrestling an unruly round to the ground, and didn’t seem much interested in discussing his aunt’s old job. He didn’t even acknowledge the former student; when you’re hearing your own name shouted at you by, conservative estimate, a thousand times a round, you start to tune out the noise.
But the noise — mostly “Jordan!” with a smattering of “Hook ‘em Horns” — remained a constant presence throughout the morning at the U.S. Open, a hell of an achievement given that Spieth’s playing partner was Tiger Woods.
Spieth hasn’t won in nearly two years, not since the 2017 British Open. The onetime Golden Child of Golf has seen Brooks Koepka not just eclipse his star, but damn near snuff it out entirely. Spieth doesn’t have wins … but he’s still got fans. Lots and lots and lots of fans.
That’s good news for golf. Here’s better: Spieth is playing well now, too. After a long stretch on the deep reaches of the leaderboard — so long that the former world No. 1 is now No. 28 — Spieth is finally starting to put four decent rounds together in a weekend. His three best finishes of the season have come in his last three events, headlined by a T-3 in the PGA Championship.
Friday’s 2-under 69 has him within shouting distance of the leader (Gary Woodland at 9-under) heading into the weekend.
It’s pretty simple: even with his struggles, Spieth resonates with the golfing public in a way nobody else this side of Tiger and Phil does. Spieth’s got a relatability — golf bros wish he was their boy, golf elders wish he was their son, the littlest golf fans wish he was their big brother — that nobody else in his generation can touch.
Spieth’s always been a talker — on almost every shot, dude gives his ball a full Ted Talk. Sometimes, that veers from endearing into cringeworthy, like on Thursday when he went after caddie Michael Greller following two bad shots.
“Two perfect shots, Michael,” Spieth snarled on Thursday, criticizing Greller’s club choice. “You got me in the water on one and over the green on the other.”
You could view the incident a couple of ways. You could consider Spieth in the right because, after all, he’s the boss, and this is no different than a coach calling out a player. You could also think that it wasn’t a great look to air out your caddie on national TV. (Greller claimed to ESPN not to even recall the exchange: “What exchange? What did he say? I don't remember.”)
Friday didn’t feature any obvious replays of that incident, though there was an ugly moment when Spieth hit a hidden rake coming out of the fairway bunker on the second hole:
Spieth had every opportunity to get mad at Greller for that one — locating rakes is on the caddie’s to-do list every hole — but declined to do so.
“That's on me,” he said after the round. “I’ve just got to look at all options ahead of me. And if there's rakes in front of the bunker, typically we pull them out. But when I was in it, I couldn't see it. So it was kind of a weird set of events.”
Over the course of the day, a knowledgeable audience did give Greller credit for some of Spieth’s long birdies. And Spieth did birdie plenty of holes — seven in all — giving him a little more hope for the second half of the tournament.
“If I were 1-under with two birdies and one bogey, I wouldn't be as optimistic about the weekend,” he said. “Making that many birdies is really nice. It's easier for me to limit the mistakes than it is to try and force birdies.”
Spieth talked about Greller on Friday after his round, but only in the most generic and glowing of terms: “I think our communication has been very successful over the last six, seven years. All the stuff I used to hold in my head before, I'm able to kind of just [let] fall out now. … Here at Pebble Beach, it's nice to have somebody looking out for you.”
Regardless of whether there’s any simmering resentment between Spieth and Greller, the duo enters this weekend with Spieth back in the conversation at a major. That’s something we haven’t had in anything other than a remember-this or what-ever-happened-to sense in a long time.
There’s going to be some yelling for Jordan in the gallery on a major weekend. And for the game of golf, that’s a welcome sound.
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