“You’re an American hero, Mr. Phelps!” yelled one fan. Another cried, “There goes the G.O.A.T.,” referring to the greatest of all time. Several others referred to Phelps’s recent “race” against a computer-generated image of a great white shark.
“I’m glad you didn’t get eaten by the shark,” yelled one man, leading Phelps’s wife to pipe up with, “Me, too!”
Phelps slowed to sign autographs and pose for photos, but his focus was firmly on Spieth, who missed a few of his signature long putts in his round of one-over-par 72. He was five strokes off the pace set by Thorbjorn Olesen and Kevin Kisner. Koepka was in the group of five golfers one shot off the pace.
“Given it’s the first round, I know I’m still in it,” Spieth said, “but I know that tomorrow’s round becomes that much more important.”
For Phelps, Thursday at Quail Hollow reminded him of the first 50 meters of his signature swim race, the 200-meter butterfly. One lap around the course did not a winner make, but start too slow, and the prize could be lost.
Phelps saw much that he liked when Spieth, who started on the course’s more difficult back nine, completed his first nine at par despite fighting his putter. After Spieth missed his third birdie putt in the 12- to 16-foot range, Phelps muttered, “Where were those misses when we played?”
He explained that during Spieth’s trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, before the British Open, where the photograph that Greller referred to was taken, Phelps and a few of his friends played a round at El Dorado Golf Club against Spieth and a few of his friends.
“He made every putt around 20 feet, and was seven under after…