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Michael Phelps follows protege Jordan Spieth at PGA Championship

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — If Jordan Spieth needs some help with the mental aspect of his game during this pressure-packed week of golf, he knows exactly where to turn.

Michael Phelps is right there for him.

Phelps, a 23-time Olympic gold medalist who knows a thing or two about performing at his best under crushing pressure, spent Thursday following Spieth around Quail Hollow during the first round of the PGA Championship. The 24-year-old Spieth is looking to become the youngest player to win golf’s career Grand Slam.

Spieth was thrilled to have Phelps inside the ropes with him.

“He’s become a good friend and even a mentor,” Spieth said. “That’s pretty awesome to have a mentor like that.”

Phelps and his wife Nicole Johnson followed Spieth, U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka and Masters champion Sergio Garcia for most of the round, mostly staying out of the way but always visible.

It’s not the first time Phelps has shadowed Spieth around the course.

Phelps, an avid golfer, struck up a friendship with Spieth last year in Phoenix through their mutual sponsor, Under Armour. They’ve hung out together in Cabo San Lucas, where they had a photo taken with former NBA great Michael Jordan, golfer Fred Couples and NFL players Russell Wilson and Dwight Freeney.

Phelps has also tweeted well wishes to Spieth after his victories.

“We have had dinner and talked through a lot of things,” Spieth said.

Spieth said the specifics of those conversations are private, but said the conversations focused around “a lot of mental approach and preparation and stuff.”

Phelps did not speak to reporters on Thursday.

Spieth said at a post-round press conference at the British Open that he felt like he could call Phelps any time for advice — and that he’d be doing himself a disservice if he didn’t, given Phelps’ past success in swimming.

He might need some of Phelps’ advice on the mental part of the game if his putting doesn’t improve on Friday.

Normally one of the game’s best on the greens, Spieth said he “can’t putt any worse” than he did on Thursday. Still, he avoided big mistakes and rallied with birdies on two of the final three holes to shoot a 1-over 72, leaving him five shots behind early leader Thorbjorn Olesen.

Phelps, who was recently seen racing simulated sharks on the Discovery Channel, joked around with Spieth’s caddie Michael Greller on the first hole. Spieth said it helped ease the tension.

“He kept it light,” Spieth said.

Spieth said he was delighted when Phelps texted and told him he would be in Charlotte for the PGA Championship because of a sponsorship commitment.

Phelps isn’t the only celebrity who has been in town for the city’s first major championship.

Singer Justin Bieber attended the practice rounds earlier in the week, while Darius Rucker performed in the area on Wednesday night and was joined on stage by 1991 PGA champion John Daly. Roy Williams, the coach of the defending national champion North Carolina men’s basketball team, was also seen at the first round on Thursday.

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After stars’ worry, Olympic golf to stay

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Golf was recommended by the IOC executive board to remain on the Olympic program through 2024, along with all sports from the Rio Games.

Golf’s place at the 2024 Olympics — either in Los Angeles or Paris — is set to be ratified by an IOC membership vote later this summer.

Golf was re-added to the Olympics in 2009, but only for 2016 and 2020. When golfers played in Rio, it marked the first Olympic tournaments in 112 years.

Olympic golf had its skeptics leading up to the Games as many men’s stars decided not to play for various reasons, including Jordan SpiethRory McIlroy and Jason Day.

“Because of how [Olympic golf is] being approached in golf circles … I’m not sure if we’re going to have another opportunity to win a gold medal after [Tokyo 2020],” McIlroy said in May 2016.

Both Adam Scott and Gary Player said before Rio they believed Olympic golf should be for amateurs only.

“We’ve got to remember that a lot of people in golf across the world worked extremely hard to get golf back into the Olympics, and if the top players don’t play, we could get kicked out of the Olympics,” Player said in April 2016.

Then-PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said after the Rio Games that golf’s return to the Olympics was “a game-changer.” He was at the men’s final round with IOC president Thomas Bach in August and said Bach “was blown away.”

“Without me having to explain the situation to him, [Bach] explained to me why at the outset of our entry to the Olympics, we had some hesitation,” Finchem said. “He said, ‘We’ve seen it in a few other sports, but now they understand the power of being an Olympian, of being able to compete on this stage, of being able to interface with these wonderful athletes from all over the globe.’”

Bach said to “expect mammoth galleries” at Tokyo 2020.

Paris is favored to be awarded the 2024 Olympics. Its venue plan has golf at Le Golf National, which will host the 2018 Ryder Cup.

The Los Angeles 2024 Olympic bid plan has golf at Riviera Country Club, which has hosted the PGA Tour stop in Los Angeles for more than 50 years. Riviera also held equestrian events at the 1932 Los Angeles Games, as noted by Olympic historian Bill Mallon.

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Where does Sergio Garcia rank among Spain’s best Olympians?

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Miguel IndurainRafael Nadal. Soccer star after soccer star after soccer star.

Sergio Garcia added to Spain’s rich (recent) sporting history with his long-awaited first major title at the Masters on Sunday.

Spain sports daily Marca ranked Garcia’s Masters win the No. 92 moment in Spanish sports history.

Nos. 1-3 were Spain winning the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the Spanish men’s basketball team winning the 2006 FIBA World Championship and Nadal’s epic 2008 Wimbledon win over Roger Federer.

Garcia certainly makes the list of Spain’s greatest Olympians, too. He tied for eighth in Rio at the first Olympic golf tournament since 1904. (Golf’s longtime absence from the Olympics meant Garcia’s Spanish idol, five-time major winner Seve Ballesteros, never got a chance to play at the Games)

Garcia would likely have to return for Tokyo 2020 — and at the very least earn a medal — to challenge the accomplishments of those in other sports named above.

The cyclist Indurain won seven Grand Tour titles, including five Tours de France, and a 1996 Olympic time trial gold medal. Alberto Contador also owns seven Grand Tour titles, with at least two titles from all three Grand Tours, but has only finished one Olympic race — fourth in the 2008 time trial.

Nadal is at 14 Grand Slam singles titles, plus that 2008 Olympic singles gold medal.

Like Garcia, some of Spain’s soccer legends never won Olympic gold — 2010 World Cup winners Iker Casillas and Andres Iniesta among them (Casillas and Iniesta never played in the Olympics, as soccer is largely an under-23 affair at the Games). Xavi and Carles Puyol were on the 2000 Olympic silver-medal-winning team.

Pau Gasol led that 2006 World Cup-winning team revered on Marca‘s list. That roster received the good fortune of the U.S. being upset by Greece in the opposite semifinal. Still, Gasol is a three-time Olympic medalist who has been among the most loyal NBA stars to his national team.

Not to be forgotten is sprint canoeist David Cal, who owns a Spanish record five Olympic medals combined from 2004, 2008 and 2012.

One more athlete that deserves mention is a Winter Olympian. Figure skater Javier Fernandez won the 2015 and 2016 World titles and next year could win Spain’s first Winter Olympic medal since 1992.

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