Jordan Spieth (right) with fill-in caddie and good friend Eric Leyendecker.
ALBANY, Bahamas — Checking in from the Hero World Challenge, dear readers, and with good news: I’ve got a terrific Jordan Spieth story to share with you.
Really, the story begins back in November 2017. That’s when Spieth’s caddie, Michael Greller, took off the week of the Hero to be at home with his newborn baby, Ellie, forcing Spieth to find a fill-in. His selection? Eric Leyendecker, his close friend and high school golf teammate.
Leyendecker may not fancy himself a pro caddie, but whatever mojo Spieth and Leyendecker conjured that week proved pretty special, as they wound up T3. That result looked even better in the years that followed; Spieth’s best result in three starts since — each time with Greller — was 15th in the 20-player field.
So this spring, unbeknownst to Spieth, Greller and Leyendecker cut a deal that he’d return for this week’s Hero, giving Greller the week off again. Eventually they filled the boss in on their plan.
“It was actually Michael that brought him back,” Spieth explained after Thursday’s first round. “They struck a deal back in May and alerted me about a month and a half ago. He has the highest finish that I’ve ever had here at Albany, so we’ll try and improve on that.”
I met Leyendecker earlier this week; he’s a self-described 15-handicap lugging around an AT&T-branded stand bag and a cheery attitude. He said he was entering the event determined to build on his sparkling caddie resume.
How to best pump up his player? On the first hole, Leyendecker tested his motivational tactic. For every birdie Spieth made, Leyendecker would drink one (1) beer that night while he and Spieth, both massive Dallas Cowboys fans, watched Thursday night’s game against the Seahawks. That was a dangerous proposition; betting on Spieth’s golf is like using a stick of dynamite as a candle. But maybe it’s a caddie’s job to light a fire under his player.
Shortly after the proposition, Spieth found the fairway at the par-5 3rd. Then he hit what he described as his best shot of the day: a hybrid from 260 yards to “about a foot.” Uh oh. Now Leyendecker had a question:
What’s an eagle worth?
Spieth grinned as he recalled his answer.
“I told him that in our games, eagles are usually triple,” he said.
Thus began a four-hour journey of chaos. Spieth hit his tee shot to 14 feet at the par-3 5th and made the birdie putt. He hit his approach out of play at the par-5 6th and made double bogey. He actually made par at No. 7, getting up and down from a greenside bunker — but he wouldn’t make another par for another 10 holes.
Things started to get weird at No. 8, when Spieth hit his approach inside 15 feet but three-putted for bogey. But then he really sent the Leyendecker Beer Counter into overdrive. Birdie at 9. Bogey at 10. Birdie at 11. Birdie at 12. After canning a clutch bogey putt at No. 13 Spieth got back on the birdie train with a neat up and down at No. 14. Then, on the par-5 15th, he smoked driver 342 yards down the center, hit a mid-iron to 60 feet and poured in the eagle putt.
After a bogey at No. 16 — life is all about balance — Spieth added a final birdie at the par-3 17th, lipping in a 15-footer and offering a subtle smile in his caddie’s direction. A par at No. 18 was just his fifth of the day to go with one double bogey, four bogeys, six birdies and two eagles. That added up to a round of four-under 68. By Spieth Math it also added up to a round dozen beers for his caddie over the course of Thursday Night Football.
Post-round, Spieth added that he’d even picked out the brand — Kalik, a local lager known as “the Beer of the Bahamas” — but admitted that he didn’t think Leyendecker would — nor should — pay his debt in full. After all, the duo are just one shot off the lead after Round 1. He’ll need his caddie vertical come Friday afternoon.
Still, not a bad bit of inspiration.
“It worked,” Spieth concluded.