By T.J. AUCLAIR
Director of Content, The Caddie Network
And on Tuesday evening in Dallas at the Katy Trail Ice House Pavilion, the caddies took care of one of their own.
AT&T – the sponsor of this week’s Byron Nelson at Trinity Forest – and the Association of Professional Tour Caddies (APTC) gifted a $25,000 check to the John and Jane Greller Scholarship fund, which honors the parents of Jordan Spieth’s caddie, Michael Greller.
John Greller, a two-time organ-transplant survivor, passed on February 19, 2019, after a 10-year battle with Parkinson’s disease.
To say Michael was stunned by the surprise presentation by Mike Hovey, AT&T’s Director of Corporate Sponsorships, and APTC board member, caddie Kenny Harms, would be an understatement.
“I had absolutely no idea,” said Greller, still at a loss for words by the gesture. “Mike Hovey, ‘Mr. AT&T,’ was thanking the APTC and started talking about the guy that carries Jordan Spieth’s bag. It took a second for me to realize it was me he was talking about. Then he had me come up and I kinda blacked out I think.”
Greller said once he was in front of his fellow caddies – about 60 turned out for the function – he had no idea where things were headed. That’s when he was handed over an oversized check for $25,000 that AT&T, the APTC and ITR Management had coordinated on to donate in honor of Greller’s parents.
I would put that moment tonight on the exact same level as any of Jordan’s three majors. — Michael Greller
“A whole flood of tears came out at that point,” Greller said. “My dad was the best human being I’ve ever known. My mom and him were married 50 years. It’s been hard for her and our whole family these last few months. As I was up there with my wife, Ellie, I kept thinking about my mom and just what joy it’ll bring her to know dad was honored by my fellow caddies and AT&T. AT&T has been phenomenal to myself and my wife the last seven years.”
With APTC President Scott Sajtinac unable to attend, Harms had the honor of helping Hovey present the check to Greller – something he won’t soon forget.
“Well, it probably affected me more than others in the room,” said Harms, longtime caddie for Kevin Na. “My grandfather died of Parkinson’s, too. I was 14 years old when that happened. I think that it hit more because here’s a guy – Michael – whose father died. Michael, ever since he’s been out here, he’s been one of the guys that’s kind of reached out to all caddies. He takes his job seriously and wants to be the best caddie out here, which I respect so much. He treats everybody out here as one big family. To be a part of that with Saj unable to be here was special.
“To see Mike Hovey and everything AT&T has done for us and then be able to present it to Michael and give it to a fellow brother and caddie — on behalf of the APTC — it doesn’t get any better than that,” Harms added. “That’s what life is about. That’s what the PGA Tour is about and one of the things that being part of the APTC board is about — giving back to everyone we can give back to with charity and in this case, a fellow caddie. It was so special to have this whole group together tonight.”
Hovey goes back several years with Greller. AT&T sponsors Spieth, which means Greller is always toting an AT&T logoed golf bag.
“It was very emotional,” Hovey said. “He was clearly surprised. It was what we wanted. I haven’t lost my father, so I don’t know what it’s like. When you have a relationship like he had with his dad, no matter what pain or disease he’s been suffering through, it’s never a good time to see them pass. You always want one more day. Michael had and cherished as many of those days as he possibly could. Each time you remember those good times, you miss those people more. That all kind of came out. He’s got his friends and peers here. It was genuine and heartfelt. He broke down a little.”
To understand just how much the gesture meant to Greller, consider what he compared it to.
“I would put that moment tonight on the exact same level as any of Jordan’s three majors,” he said. “It was on par with those three moments. I’m speechless. Last year, AT&T and the APTC made a donation to Greg Chalmers and his work with Autism. I remember listening to Greg and how moved he was. Moments like that one and tonight make what we do so meaningful. It’s more meaningful than the golf shots being hit.”
Greller’s comparison to three major wins didn’t surprise Harms.
“You know how family always comes first?” Harms said. “That tells you the type of human being Michael is. That’s why he’s so adored by caddies, players and fans. He’s a class act. We’ve got a whole family of them here. Not everyone knew what was going on tonight, but 60 guys showed up.”
The caddies in attendance were delighted to be on hand for Greller’s special moment.
“What a great night at Katy Ice House,” caddie Joe Etter, on the bag for Michael Kim this week, said. “It was so special to see AT&T come to the plate and donate $25,000 to our good friend Michael Greller’s scholarship fund. We all love Michael and really appreciate our friendship with him and AT&T.”
“It was an amazing night of bonding amongst the folks behind the scenes that make the AT&T Byron Nelson sweet,” said Pete “Crunchy Pete” Persolja, Keith Mitchell’s caddie.
“We had a great night at Katy Trail Ice House hosted by AT&T,” said Jose Campra, Scott Piercy’s caddie. “There were about 60 caddies, which is hard to get together. The food and the place were great and the donation to Michael Greller’s family scholarship was terrific.”
The caddies truly have a special bond, one that Greller appreciates immensely.
“The caddies, this is our brotherhood,” he said. “I feel a lot of ways more at home on the road – when my wife and son are with me – because this is our community 30 weeks per year. The guys you’re in the trenches with. Seven years ago when I started, I had zero inkling of that brotherhood. That’s part of why I’m so emotional, knowing that they would think of our family in such a difficult time… it’s really humbling. There are so many people I respect out here, people that are role models. I’ve always tried to be more of an observer of my colleagues than a talker. I think I have a lot to learn being around the greatest caddies in the world every single day. It’s such an honor. That’s how I still feel seven years in even with the success Jordan has had and what I’ve been able to experience. I have such a deep respect for these guys.”
So how does the week get better now?
“It can’t,” Greller laughed. “My wife and I are numb. We’re speechless. I’m floored.”
T.J. Auclair is the Director of Content for The Caddie Network and has covered professional golf since 1998, traveling to over 70 major championships.