Michael Greller, who left his job as a maths teacher to caddie for Jordan Spieth, has often said that dealing with 30 sixth-graders for 10 years helped prepare him to work for a 21-year-old golfer who ended the year at No. 9 in the world.
Not to be overlooked in his training was an adventure to Australia more than a decade ago.
Greller was reminded of that last month when Spieth essentially ordered him to take a week off during the Dunlop Phoenix in Japan (his agent caddied for him) so Greller and his wife could take a second honeymoon Down Under ahead of the Australian Open.
Greller had another name for the trip.
"The redemption tour," he said.
In 2002, Greller already had been accepted to graduate school and had a six-month window before the start of classes. He had never been outside the United States, so he saved money and decided to go to Australia for six months, staying in hostels and carrying nothing more than a back pack.
"My only goal was to meet people from other cultures," he said.
He never met the 10 people with whom he shared a room in Bondi Beach, a road house so seedy with so much "extracurricular activity" that Greller covered his head with a pillow. He woke up the next morning and realized his wallet (and about $200) had been stolen.
The scariest moment was when he got sick with what later was diagnosed as ulcerous colitis.
"I'm with this Aborigine guide in the middle of the desert, fighting this disease, no clue what's going on," he said. "My parents were very worried. I traveled for about four months until I ran broke in Perth."
Greller already had booked a flight from Darwin to Perth, and he already had his train ticket from Perth to Sydney, a journey of some 80 hours. And then the train broke down halfway there. But the goal was to meet people from different cultures, and he found plenty to like about Australia.
"I was on the train with $50 and a credit card, nothing in my savings," he said. "I was sitting by two 80-year-old women who fed me meat pies the whole way across Australia. We played cards. I played gin with them. And they had homemade meat pies, which I had never had. They got me to the finish line."
Greller had one more day in Sydney before flying home to Seattle, and he had planned on a nice meal on his last day to celebrate.
"I had $20 left," he said. "I went to McDonald's. And then I got on the plane."
The most recent trip was different. Greller got his "redemption," along with some reflections.
"In a lot of ways, it prepared me for caddying," Greller said about his first trip Down Under. "I carried a back pack for four months. I was living as cheap as I could. I had no expectations. I didn't know where I would be sleeping. And I operated on the fly, which I did all of last year."
Greller and his wife, Ellie, were married a year ago and spent their original honeymoon at Kapalua, Hawaii, a week before the 2014 season. In two years, the former school teacher has been on the bag for a kid who already has over $8.5 million in earnings and three wins worldwide.
So the accommodations were better for this trip. And he didn't run out of money.
McCORMACK AWARD: Add one more trophy to Rory McIlroy's collection this year.
McIlroy won the Mark H. McCormack Award for being No. 1 the most weeks during the year in the closest race since the award began in 1998. McIlroy returned to No. 1 with his victory at Firestone and stayed there the final 22 weeks of 2014. He won over Tiger Woods, who was at No. 1 for 19 weeks at the start of the year. Adam Scott was atop the ranking for the 11 weeks in between.
The award doesn't get the attention it once did, perhaps because Woods won the award 13 straight times from its inception. It's not even listed in the "Awards" section of the PGA Tour media guide.
But it was the second closest race in the last three years.
McIlroy and Luke Donald took turns at the top in 2012, and McIlroy wound up being No. 1 for 28 weeks compared with 24 weeks for Donald.
FOWLER'S MULLIGAN: Rickie Fowler ticked off every goal this year except winning, which is not to say he didn't have his chances. It was another reminder that winning isn't easy. Players like Tiger Woods only made it look that way.
Give him one mulligan for the year, and it would be in the final round of the PGA Championship, his one good shot at winning a major.
"The 5-iron on the 14th," he said.
Fowler was tied for the lead on the back nine at Valhalla. He made a pure swing on the 12th that he thought would be tight, only it came up a yard short of the green. No matter. It was a swing that told him, "I was ready to step on the gas."
But he hung out his 5-iron well to the right of the par-3 14th and failed to get up-and-down. Fowler closed with pars the rest of the way, including a nifty save on the 16th with a tee shot that went into the 15th fairway. That bogey on the 14th -- and Rory McIlroy's birdie on the 17th -- cost him.
PEE-WEE GOLF SWING: Jack Nicklaus and Keegan Bradley are among seven judges for the fifth annual "Best Pee-Wee Golf Swing in the World" contest, in which parents can post to YouTube the swing of children 8 or under.
The deadline for submitting videos is Jan. 9.
Brendon Elliott, a PGA professional and founder of Little Linkster's, LLC and Little Linksters Association for Junior Golf Development, is leading the panel of judges that also includes Frank Nobilo, former PGA of America president Allen Wronowski and swing instructor Chuck Evans.
"In our first two years, we were very excited to have such a successful launch of what we wanted to continue to grow into an annual showcase of what very young golfers are capable of doing," Elliott said. "After last year, we knew we had something special, as almost 200 entries poured in from over 14 countries from around the world."
Parents can upload a video not longer than 60 seconds to You Tube, and then share the link to the contest entry form on www.LittleLinksters.com. Prizes are awarded for kids under 3, and age groups 3-4, 5-6 and 7-8.
DIVOTS: The U.S. Women's Amateur will be played at Portland Golf Club the same week as the Portland Classic on the LPGA Tour. ... Baby developments involving PGA Tour players were posted to Twitter in the last week. Masters champion Bubba Watson announced he is in the final stages of adopting a girl (Dakota), while the wife of Dustin Johnson said they are expecting a boy. ... There are 24 Americans among the top 50 in the world at the end of the year, compared with 21 last year. ... Jim Furyk went over the $60 million mark in career earnings this year. In other career money milestones, David Toms went past $40 million and K.J. Choi went past $30 million.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Adam Scott is the only player to finish in the top 5 in the world ranking in each of the last four years.
FINAL WORD: "This is the best year I've had in my life so far. A little girl, two wins, skyrocketed in the world ranking, played in four majors, the Ryder Cup. Everything has fallen into place." -- Patrick Reed.