Lessons from a Winning Masters Caddie

I think our couch is older than Jordan Spieth. But what a thrill to see this poised and talented 21-year-old win The Masters Sunday. Then I liked him even more when I read a Wall Street Journal article about his caddie, “Why Masters Champion Jordan Spieth Hired a Former Schoolteacher as His Caddie.”

Not long ago his caddy, Michael Greller, was teaching square roots to pre-teens as a 6th-grade math teacher. He had done a little caddying on the side and liked being able to use real-world examples of math for his students. He and Jordan met when Jordan needed a caddie for the 2011 U.S. Junior Amateur. Michael knew the course and was recommended to Jordan by a friend.

When Jordan turned pro in late 2012, there was no shortage of more experience caddies who wanted to work with him. But he wanted a caddie who could travel with him all year, no matter how well he was doing. So Michael left the classroom for good and became Jordan’s caddie. Just a little over two years later, Jordan put on the famous green jacket as the winner of the 2015 Masters.

What struck me about the article was this observation from the author, Brian Costa. “When Spieth double-bogeyed the 17th hole Saturday, Greller didn’t say much as they walked to the 18th tee box. He mostly just listened.”

As Michael said, “You don’t want to overanalyze or make it harder than it is. I just try to be a calming influence on him.”

I thought about that in the context of my work as the Turnaround Authority. I deal with a lot of people who are under a great deal of stress. When a financial institution or a company hires me, the situation is a dire one. People may be on the verge of losing large sums of money, defaulting on their loans or ever losing their entire business.

A lot of what I do in the beginning is listen. And listen some more. I need to gain a clear understanding of what is really happening in the company and how it got to where it is.

And I definitely don’t want to make it harder than it is, as Michael said. A large part of my job is to break down extremely complicated situations so they are manageable and can be dealt with in an efficient and productive way.

Michael understands that part of his function is to be a calming influence. That’s one of the things my clients have often said about me, and actually, I believe to be a crucial part of my job. I need to calm people down because nothing is going to be accomplished when people are in a highly emotional state.

With his quote, he cited two of the most critical skills involved in being a successful turnaround guy. To paraphrase the famous phrase with variations being found everywhere, “Keep Calm and Listen.”

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