Life Karma

December 19, 2008

The little things you do in life can make a big difference for others.

I found this to be true one year in Chicago at the Western Open.

After several years of looping for the same player, I found I could take a few liberties with the equipment.  One of my favorite actions as a tournament caddie was getting to dispose of the golf balls my player used during the course of a round.  This was in the days of the Tour Balata, a ball that was so soft it could be nicked by your fingernail.  Try that with today’s balls!  (Don’t send me the doctor’s bill.)  Since they were so soft, a player would have to switch to a new ball fairly often between the green and next tee.  My player at the time, Chris Perry, would ask for a new one after two, maybe three holes tops.  That left me with seven to nine unwanted golf balls in the bag after each round.  At first, he would keep them for his shag bag to practice at home.  But, once he had enough and got tired of transporting all the extra weight in his luggage, he would leave it to me to find a home for the rest.

That’s when I started having some fun.

It started innocently enough.  At the end of the round, I would join Chris in the scoring tent to check his card, making sure he was signing for a correct number.  Then, I would grab the bag and start “The Walk.”

The area where the players signed their cards was always roped off from the gallery.  The marshalls would also create a “rope tunnel” to get the players and caddies back to the clubhouse.  Along those ropes would stand hundreds of fans of all ages looking for an up-close view of their favorite golfer and maybe a signature or a memento from the pros.  They would wave posters and hats, even the occasional banana peel (that’s a whole other story!).  The younger ones could really get into it.  What would start as a murmur, would quickly cascade into screams and yelling.

“Can I have your glove?!”

“Can I have your hat?!”

It never took long for kids to start asking for your towel, shoes, shirt or anything else that was visible.  But, I soon found that nothing would send them into a frenzy more than if you simply held up a golf ball.

Instant bedlam!

“CAN I HAVE IT?!”, nine kids screech.

“NOOOoooo!  I WANT IT!!”, twelve more go ballistic.

I could never just hand it to someone.  If I got that close, the throng would grab everything on the bag that wasn’t screwed down tight.  So, I would get them worked up, then toss it high and watch them scramble for it like a Barry Bonds homer to straight away center field in old Candlestick Park.  The mob never disappointed.  I did this often and thought I was making the youngsters and myself happy until my wife interjected one day, “Don’t you worry about the kids getting hurt in the pile?”

“I guess I never thought about it, honey,” I said.

“Well, they might and it would be your fault!”

Time for Plan B.

I still wanted to give the kids all the used golf balls, but needed a way to do it without all the hubbub.  The galleries tended to be a bit more orderly during the round, rather than outside the scoring tent.  So, now when a ball would be taken out of play on the walk to the next tee, I would immediately look around for a pair of eyes that that said “Me, please!”  I could always find a worthy candidate and would drop it in their lap or toss it to their parents for them.

Problem solved!

Now, I don’t usually remember who I toss the balls to in those situations, since I am concentrating on the work at hand, but there was one I couldn’t ever forget.  It happened on the third tee box of the second round of the 1997 U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, MD.  Chris had just bogied the difficult par three second hole after a long wait on the tee.  Neither of us were particularly chipper at that point. We were walking to the next tee in the “rope tunnel” strung together by the marshalls when Chris asked to switch to a new ball.  I looked around for someone to toss it to.  To my right at the edge of a group of small pine trees was a quiet, wide-eyed kid about ten years old watching us walk by.  Bingo.

“Hey kid, you want a ball?”

He kind of froze at being singled out, but then nodded slowly.  So, I tossed it to him.  I certainly didn’t expect what followed.  The kid caught the ball, looked down at it and then suddenly screamed,  “OH MY GOSH! I GOT A BALL!” and tore up the hill to find his parents, yelling at the top of his lungs the whole way.  So much for no hubbub!  It was like watching a kid get the one thing he just had to have on Christmas.  It was a priceless moment.

Which leads me back to the Western Open and the whole point of the story.  In 2000, the week after the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, Chris competed at Cog Hill.  After a 69 in the second round to make the cut, I took the bag to the caddie area to get a quick bite before joining him for his afternoon practice session on the range.  This area was set up at the front right side of the smallish clubhouse.  It would normally be the club drop for patrons, but now was bound in on three sides by a temporary three-foot high white wooden picket fence and the building on the backside.  A white tent big enough for twenty people sat on a third of this space and housed sandwiches and cold drinks for the hot and weary loopers.  The rest of the caddie area housed outdoor tables and chairs to lounge upon.  We joked that it looked like a pen for goats at the zoo.  So, we called it the “Caddie Petting Zoo.” The only thing missing was the straw.

I got something to eat and drink, then sat down for a while at one of the tables along the fence.  I kept Chris’ bag within a few feet of me, the name facing outward.  Within a short bit, I was tapped on the shoulder by someone outside the zoo.  I turned to find a man in his mid-forties standing there, obviously with something to say.

“You’re Chris Perry’s caddie, aren’t you?”, he asked.

Uh oh.  Who’d my boss go and tick off now, I thought.

“Yes, I am.  How can I help you?”, I replied skeptically.

“I just wanted you to know that Chris Perry is my son’s favorite golfer and you gave him one of his balls three years ago on the third hole at the U.S. Open that he keeps as his most prized possession!  He’s more into golf now than ever thanks to you. Thank you!”

With that, he turned and melted back into the crowd…

Man, did that make me feel good inside.  Little actions can make a big difference.  That’s life karma.

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One of the things I get asked about is what we (the caddies) do during the week.  Everyone knows most tournaments start on Thursday and end on Sunday.  But, why do we show up to the course on Monday?

Before the actual tournament rounds, a lot of work and preparation needs to be accomplished.  You will see players on the range, in the short game areas and on the putting green, but without their caddies.  Where are we?

One of the traits that exemplifies a good professional caddie is knowing the course.  The information needed to navigate a PGA TOUR golf course is vast and precise.  So, the first thing we do when we get into town is to walk the course.  This is how we breakdown and determine the best way to attack each hole and hole location.

We are not completely in the blind, however during this process.  Many tools are available to help us do our job.  Each week, we may purchase a TOUR Yardage Book.  These books are created by caddies (former and present) and contain a wealth of information including charts of each hole, each green, yardages from sprinkler heads and landmarks to the green.  I have shoeboxes full of yardage books at home.  We also employ laser-based range finders and reflecters that not only determine the distance for one point to another, but also can find the amount uphill or downhill the shot will play.  These cannot be used during tournament play.  Some use green reading devices which when placed on the putting surface will give you a numerical reading of the direction and intensity of the slope.  This can be extremely helpful for greens at courses that are set into a hillside when the breaks can be hard to determine due to the surroundings.  But, whatever technology we use to gather information pales in importance to the actual strategy needed to successfully negotiate a course.

Here are some of the things I look for on each hole:

Best line and club for the tee ball.  Where do we have the maximum chance to place our ball in the fairway at the correct angle to the flag…  This can be determined by the fairway width, the angle from the tee to the fairway, bunker placement and places to avoid.  Driver is NOT always the best play.  I will check the rough around the landing areas to see if one side is better to miss it on than the other.  I also need yardages to the bunkers or places where the fairway “runs out” to the rough.

Greens work.  To help decide where to place the tee ball, you need to examine the green and its obstacles.  During play, there will be four distinct pin locations each day on each hole.  Knowing where the cups will be located and determining the slopes around those spots are crucial to helping your player get the most out of his practice rounds and preparing him for the tournament.  Often, you can find an official on the course scouting and setting up the pin locations.  It never hurts to ask a few questions or follow them around a little bit!

When you put it all together, it ends up looking something like this:

ydg-book-boston

Golf Stories

December 15, 2008

Click on the Golf Stories tab on the right to get them all in one place.  Golf Stories are personal recollections of my years as a professional PGA TOUR Caddie.  If you like what you read, drop us a note.

Note:  The stories are NOT in chronological order, but it might help to read them that way…

We would love to hear your stories, too!

After the Putter Cover

December 4, 2008

April 1997

After an eventful, but unproductive Thursday round, my player, Chris Perry,  stood 4 or 5 shots outside the cut number needed to qualify for weekend play, or the money rounds as we called them, at Forest Oaks CC in Greensboro, NC.  He suffered through a dismal 76 that day and managed to chew me out for pulling the putter cover off his putter before he thought I should.  It had been a weird day.

But, Friday was a new day and I longed for a little normalcy.  Fat chance.

We teed off number 10 early in the morning.  It was a little cool, almost foggy, and very still.  We knew it would take an exceptional round simply to make it to the weekend, but were thankful to have the opportunity.

The tenth hole at Forest Oaks CC is a straight, medium length par four, which plays longer than the yardage implies since it is uphill.  Out of bounds markers were in play to the right for the unfortunate swingers, but otherwise the hole was manageable.  Chris blazed a drive to the right center of the fairway leaving him with 132 yards to a front left pin tucked four steps over a deep bunker.  Only the top half of the flagstick was visible from our spot back down the fairway.

The cool air and elevation would make the shot play longer, but we agreed it still fit the profile of a good, solid nine-iron.  That was the club he chose.

Chris was a master at course management and always tried to put his golf ball into controllable situations.  I didn’t always agree with his final decisions, but I always knew why he did what he did in any circumstance.  So, this morning I expected him to favor the center, or fat side of the green, to leave a reasonable putt at our first birdie of the day.  We needed a bunch of them, but you can only make them one at a time, one shot at a time.  Mistakes could not be on the slate today.

When it became his turn to play, he stepped behind the ball on line with the pin and began his normal preshot routine.  All good players have a reliable, repeatable routine before a shot that will relax their mind and allow them to visualize the shot they want to execute.  It frees them up to be successful under pressure.  Chris’ routine was well known to me by now, so much so that I didn’t really have to watch him to know exactly what was going on at any moment.

I guess that’s what made me look up abruptly as Chris began walking into his stance at the ball.  For him,  this was always the point of no return; The ball would be in the air momentarily.  But this time, he stopped before he got to the ball.  Uh oh.  I was thinking he didn’t like the club, or he couldn’t commit to a line.  Whatever it was, it wasn’t good to see him back off.

“What’s up?”, I inquired.

Chris looked at me with a little glimmer in his eye, pulled his yardage book from his back pocket and cooed, “Hey Carly, (he said Carly, not Carl which meant everything was okay) does it say anywhere in this yardage book that you can’t hole it out from the fairway?”

Instantly, I realized he didn’t have any problems with the club or the shot at hand.  In fact, he was getting cocky.

“Nope. No it doesn’t, CP.”,  I shot back and grinned.

He slyly smiled back and said my favorite line of his when he had a good feeling.

“Watch this, Carly.”

Chris stepped back into his routine, addressed the ball and whoosh!  Off it went.

The ball started on line with the pin and stayed there.  It flew over the bunker and down the flagstick, out of our sight, since we couldn’t see the elevated green surface or the cup.

Click.

I heard that slight faint sound of a ball coming into contact with the plastic pin that marked the postion of the hole.   Then the small crowd around the green went nuts!

It had flown into the cup for an eagle 2!

Chris smirked and simply handed the nine-iron back to me.  He had called his shot and then incredibly pulled it off.  I was so amazed that I was standing there trying to hand him his putter.  He reminded me that he wouldn’t need it on this hole.

“Oh yeah,” I offered meekly.

I swear I could hear the PGA TOUR commercial tag line, “These Guys Are Good,” going round my head.

That was the first hole of the day.

It was an unlikely and encouraging start, but we knew there was more good work to be done to make this week’s cut.  Chris then birdied both par fives (#13 and #15), our fourth and sixth holes of the day and stood on the sixteenth tee four under par.

The sixteenth is one of the more challenging holes on the course.  A longish par four with a little dogleg right, you had to hit your tee ball blind to the top of a hill which would leave a mid to long iron to a well bunkered and usually firm green.  If you hit it in the rough off the tee, it was very difficult to find your way to the green in regulation.

Chris did just that, missing the fairway to the right.  He had an open shot to the green, but surely could not control the spin of the ball well enough to attack the pin situated in the center back.  His best bet was to land the ball just over the front bunkers and hope it stopped somewhere on the back of the green.  The shot had been thought out, now it was time to execute.

He chose a six iron, which should be just enough to get the job done.  As he hit it, I could tell by the sound the ball hadn’t been struck as cleanly as it needed to be.

“Get up, ball.”  I murmured.

The ball floated in the air lazily, then dropped like a rock from the sky and buried itself into the lip of one of the front bunkers.

“Great.” Chris said sarcastically.

CP had an all-around gift to play the game, but mentally he struggled with the consequences of a poor bunker shot.  As positive as he could be about iron shots, he was the complete opposite in the sand.  I would watch him practice bunker shots on a daily basis and he always showed me something special.  I never saw any real reason that he should be so apprehensive about this part of his game.  Yet, the doubts remained and it showed when he would speed up his normally rock solid preshot routine.

I felt the slippery scoring slope we were on was beginning to tilt even further away from our goal to make the cut.

CP, to his credit, handled the shot better than usual and found himself with a very reasonable chance to make par when the ball nestled to within four feet of the cup.  I felt better already.  He very rarely missed a putt inside ten feet, let alone one from four.  I marked a par four on my pin sheet for the hole.

Within a few moments, however, I was checking my pockets like Columbo for an eraser.

When Chris hit the putt, the grain of the green immediately snagged the ball and veered it left of its intended target line.  The ball reached the cup, hit the left side of the hole and spun out on the right side about a foot away.

“Nuts!” and “Oh well.” were the two things I heard out of his mouth.

Being the precise and steady player he was, Chris never let anything get to him.  It appeared he had already made peace with this bit of adversity.  So when he uncharacteristically attempted to backhand the ball for his bogey, I was a little surprised.  Yet, it was only a foot away, so it would be okay.

Not.

When CP leaned in to backhand it, the ball once again came off rolling on the wrong line, caught the edge of the hole and did a 360!  It spun so far around the hole that it came back at him and grazed his golf shoe.  He then tapped it in and walked off the green.

Now, everything happened so fast, I wasn’t sure I had seen what I thought I had seen.  By my calculations, if the ball had hit his shoe, he would be assessed a two-stroke penalty in addition to his score for that hole.

So, I started to count… Tee ball, one.  Six-iron from the right rough, two.  Bunker shot, three.  First putt, four.  Backhand, five, hit shoe and add two, seven.  Tap it in for EIGHT?!  Oh no!  I can’t believe what I just saw!

Everyone else finished the hole in silence.  As I was walking up to the seventeenth tee, Chris came over and whispered, “Uh, is what happened back there what I think happened?”

“If you mean you think you hit yourself in the foot and made eight, yes, that’s what happened.”  I replied, a little stung.

He didn’t say anything else or whine or complain.  He simply went to the next tee and played golf.  I loved that about the guy.  You never knew by watching his expressions if he was up or down on the course.   The following year during the US Open at The Olympic Club in San Francisco he made the 28th hole-in-one in US Open history on the 13th hole in the second round.  I couldn’t tell by his face whether he thought he had done something cool, or he had just found a wad of gum on his shoe that needed to be removed.  That’s just how he was.

Well, we didn’t make the cut at Greensboro that week, but the things I saw and were a party to made me look back on that whole experience with a smile.  To this day I have never heard of someone having as spicy a nine holes with a called hole out from the fairway for eagle, birdieing both par fives and a self-inflicted quadruple bogey on a hit shoe lip out.  Did I mention he made a 40-footer on the eighteenth hole for birdie?!

He shot one under.

The Putter Cover

December 4, 2008

April 1997

One of the things that always amazed me about professional golfers is how precise their feel and vision is when executing a shot.  A lot of that ability comes from the tremendous amount of practice they dedicate themselves to, but clearly an “it” factor exists in the special ones.  I always felt my boss, Chris Perry, had a special gift.

This feeling was once again proven correct in my mind during the PGA TOUR event in late April 1997 at Forest Oaks CC in Greensboro, NC.  You might think this is going to be a story about a successful week of work, or a thrilling finish late on Sunday, but Chris didn’t even make the cut.

So why was this week such a telling testament to my player’s abilities?  Let me tell you…

We started Thursday’s opening round in the afternoon wave.  If you are not familiar with tournament golf, the field of 144 players are separated into two groups of 72 and sent off the first and tenth tees in threesomes, each group having a morning time one day and an afternoon time on the other.  This is done as a way of making sure every player receives the same opportunity to succeed under similar conditions.  After the second round, the field is reduced to the top 70 scores and ties.  This is called the cut.  These players earn the right to play for two more days and earn a check, while the others earn nothing, pack up and move on to the next stop.

So, we teed off the first hole that Thursday afternoon in windy and difficult conditions (it had been relatively calm in the morning leading to some low scores), started with a bogey and eventually posted a disappointing 4-over 76.  Not the way to start a tournament or gain confidence.

Chris was pretty fiesty most of the day and it showed on the seventh hole.

Lucky number seven at Forest Oaks is a short dogleg left par four that requires a precise, but not long tee ball, fit between a small lake running up the left side and a shallow bunker and trees guarding wayward shots to the right.  Some players would try to overpower the hole by hitting a driver, but the smart play was an iron or fairway wood to the fattest part of the fairway underneath the right bunker.  You would be left with no more than an eight or nine-iron shot to the small sloped green.

That is just what Chris did that day.  He smoothed a beautiful three-iron to the middle of the fairway and was left with 142 to the hole, a perfect nine-iron number.

One of our playing partners didn’t fare as well.  He blocked his tee ball into the right bunker and faced a difficult shot to the green.  On the PGA TOUR, when a player gets into trouble in a bunker, a caddie from another player will rake the sand for them if his player is in good shape.  This helps speed up play.

I was preparing to do just that by removing the cover from CP’s putter, so I could hand it to him quickly and attend to the bunker raking.  Chris heard me peel the velcro fastener apart and I saw his ears perk up.

“What are you doing?”  He asked.

“I’m pulling your putter cover off so I can help them with the bunker after you hit.”  I replied.

He paused for a few seconds, and I thought my explanation was satisfactory.  He wasn’t done though.

“How do you know I’m going to need my putter?  I’ve got a perfect number to the hole.  I’m not going to need it.”  He appeared to be getting a little edgy at this point.  Uh oh.  Say something soothing, I thought.

“Sounds good to me.” was all I could muster.

“No really. Put the cover back on my putter right now.  I thought you believed in my game.”

Great.  Now I was really scrambling to understand why he was geting so worked up about the stupid putter cover.  I’ve done this a hundred times before and he never said a thing.  I wasn’t sure what in the world to say to head off this train.  So, believing less is sometimes more, I simply said, “Okay.” and resheathed the putter and put it back in the bag.

After an indignant glare or two at me just to make sure I really knew how he felt, he seemed satisfied and returned to the shot at hand.

“142 yards, right?”  He asked.

“Yup.”

“Watch this.”  Chris put his sweet swing on display and sent the ball on its way.

It never left the flag.

The ball landed a foot from the hole, popped in the air and stopped dead one inch from the cup for a tap-in.

He shot me a look and said,

“Don’t ever take the putter cover off my putter again until you are sure I’ll need it.”

And with that, he strolled to the green with his nine-iron in hand to make his birdie.

Never again did I early-pull the putter cover.