Herrmann has covered the Mets and Yankees since 1988, and has been Newsday’s national golf writer since 2002.
SHEBOYGAN, Wis. - As soon as he looked at the steep-angle bunker shot on the 18th hole, Jordan Spieth told his caddie that it was an impossible shot, which meant it was right in his wheelhouse.
"There's a little bit of hyperbole," Michael Greller, the caddie, said later. "When he says it's impossible, it usually means it's really tough. Then it feels that much better when it's a good shot."
Spieth had plenty to feel good about after sinking this one Friday, making a birdie that put a spark in his round and served as a reminder that the only thing impossible at a major championship these days is seeing Spieth knock himself out of it.
He has won two of them this year, came within a shot of a playoff in a third and got himself right into contention at the fourth. Halfway through the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, Spieth is 6 under par and right in the mix.
"He's the perfect example of someone whose game is very efficient when he gives himself chances," said Rory McIlroy (2 under), who played with Spieth. "When he got out of position, he was able to get it up and down."
The reigning Masters and U.S. Open champion followed the bunker birdie -- it was on his ninth hole of the day -- with a 3-under second nine and completely overcame a bland first round. The whole day, and maybe the week, took on a new dimension on 18 when his wedge made that unmistakable "thump" sound of a sand shot perfectly played.
"That was the best bunker shot I've ever seen him hit," Greller said.
And that is saying something, considering Greller's distaste for hyperbole. It also is a bold statement when you figure Greller was there when Spieth made a bunker shot on 18 at the 2013 John Deere Classic, which forced a playoff, led to his first victory and jump- started his career.
"That was a great shot that became greater because of what happened afterward," Greller said. "This one, on a difficulty level . . . He had to come in so steep on that shot because he virtually had nowhere to land it. It took just the perfect bounce."
A bunker shot that goes in is a momentum-changer, golf's answer to a home run or slam dunk. Spieth is no stranger to making shots from off the green, having done it 16 times this season. "Good lies, I guess," the 22-year-old said. "The pins seem to be soft when I hit chip shots sometimes. The ones that are hit a little hard seem to somehow find a way to rattle the pin and drop. The fact that they go in versus settling close to the hole is a bit of luck, and I'll take it."
On a technical level, Greller attributes the pattern to Spieth's world-class short game and his high golf IQ. But there also is a sense that the caddie's boss has immense confidence and, more important, a champion's knack for doing the impossible at the biggest moment. "He thinks every one is going in. He doesn't walk up to them thinking 'I'm trying to get up and down,' " the caddie said.
Preparation matters, too. Spieth said he spoke to local caddies about that bunker earlier in the week. Still, he added that his swing "had to be almost straight up and down. The chances of hitting that the right way are so slim, you could easily catch it thin and then you're left with a very likely double bogey."
This unquestionably was going to be a special week even if Spieth had kept shooting vanilla 71s, as he had done Thursday. It is the first time his sister Ellie has attended a major. The golfer is devoted to Ellie, 15, who was born with a neurological disorder. He visits her school and is friends with her classmates. You get the impression that he believes they do the impossible all the time.
Interestingly, Spieth never told his caddie that she is here. The latter was surprised when a reporter mentioned it Friday. But that just shows that the golfer and his family like to keep things low-key, even things that mean the world to them.
"His sister is more important than any of this," Greller said. "She has always been, I think, his inspiration."