Spieth’s circle of friends, family keeps his feet on the ground
AUGUSTA, Ga. — Last January, Eric Leyendecker was visiting at his friend Jordan Spieth’s house when a Masters promo that featured the voice of Bubba Watson aired on the TV.
"He goes, ‘That just makes me so angry,’ " Leyendecker said. "I was like, ‘Do you want me to turn it off or are we OK?’ "
Fast forward several months and there’s Leyendecker, peering through the gaps around the putting green at Augusta National Golf Club to try and see Watson slip the green jacket on Spieth, Leyendecker’s close friend since high school in Dallas.
At age 21, Spieth became the second-youngest player, behind Tiger Woods, to win the green jacket and the fifth in Masters history to lead from start to finish.
"It was a test," Spieth told the crowd gathered around the putting green. "There’s a reason I have a hairline like this right now."
Chris Spieth, Jordan’s mom, refers to Leyendecker, Hays Myers and Blaine Simmons as the "Three Musketeers." The three high school buddies were on hand for Spieth’s Masters debut in 2014, and again sacrificed a few college classes to watch him go wire-to-wire in his second attempt.
Leyendecker originally told Spieth that he couldn’t make it and to give his ticket away. But he eventually changed his mind, telling his TCU professors that his friend was playing in the Masters and he simply couldn’t miss it.
"Don’t worry, I’ll take care of you," Leyendecker told them, stocking up on Masters hats and flags.
Spieth’s inner circle played a significant role this week, distracting him in the evenings so he didn’t think too much about the task at hand. The team kept the same plan as 2014, using Spieth’s agent’s rented house for nightly dinners and games of ping-pong and pool. They didn’t talk about golf when Spieth was around. It wasn’t on the TV, either.
Leyendecker said Spieth rules at ping-pong. "He’s good with the spins," he said. "He knows how to control the ball."
When it comes to pool, they’re all fairly even.
None of the Three Musketeers plays golf seriously, which is what makes them such a perfect escape. Leyendecker played during their senior year at Jesuit College Prep because Spieth wanted someone with whom to hang out.
"They are the three Jordan took to Las Vegas for his 21st birthday," said Chris, calling them a protective bunch. Though Leyendecker says there’s really nothing juicy to tell.
"He’s just like he is on TV," Leyendecker said. "If he were to get out of hand and think he’s a big shot, we would tell him."
Spieth’s younger brother Steven, a sophomore basketball player at Brown, also was in the gallery. At 6 feet 6, Steven is known as "Periscope" because he relays what’s going on to the rest of the crew that can’t see through the crowd.
Chris’ father, Bob, cruised over Augusta’s hilly terrain on a scooter, binoculars in tow. The proud grandfather was on the 18th green to embrace Spieth along with high school sweetheart Annie Verret and Spieth’s father, Shawn.
At the jacket ceremony on the 18th green, Spieth first thanked his caddie Michael Greller, the sixth-grade math teacher who caddied for him at the U.S. Junior Amateur and ultimately switched careers.
"You kept me strong," Spieth said. "You were the reason this dream came true."
Greller and Spieth are a tight pair. Their friendship off the course helps make them such a winning team inside the ropes. Observers familiar with Spieth will tell you Greller’s calming influence goes a long way in the pressure situations. But it’s how they are similar at their core that makes this partnership so successful.
"His priorities are extremely straight, as far as what really matters in life," said Greller’s wife, Ellie, of her husband’s young boss.
"It’s a relational job," Michael Greller said of his former job in the classroom, though he easily could have been talking about his current gig.
On May 9, Leyendecker will graduate from TCU with a degree in marketing, and Simmons will wrap up his studies at Texas. Their life experiences since graduating from Jesuit College Prep couldn’t be more different from Spieth’s, but their friend’s rising fame doesn’t mean they can’t still crack jokes about his hairline.
"We make Bosley jokes all the time," said Leyendecker, noting the hair-restoration company. " ‘Hey, if you make it big, maybe Bosley will sponsor you.’ "
All jokes aside, it’s easy to see by the company Spieth keeps and the support he receives, that the heart of this champion is as grounded as it is big.
Spieth often talks about the inspiration and perspective he has received from younger sister Ellie’s special needs. Ellie was the only immediate member of the Spieth family who wasn’t on property at Augusta.
After each round in Houston last week, Ellie asked Jordan, "Did you win? Do you win?"
Not yet, he’d say, until he lost on Sunday in a playoff.
"I can tell her now that I won," Spieth said.
And, like the rest of the inner circle, she’ll love him just the same.