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.


Pin Sheets

December 19, 2008

PGA TOUR Players are very gifted athletes.  But, the secret to their game is ball control.  Every player I have worked for could hit just about any club in the bag to within a few feet of their intended target when they swung the way they wanted to. That could mean a three-quarter five iron that goes 183 or a full out one to land at 202 or any number in between.

So, giving the player the most precise yardage on any given shot is extremely important.  This is why we have pin sheets.  When used in conjunction with a yardage book, a caddie can give his player the detailed kind of information he needs to execute a successful shot.

A pin sheet has four important components:  Hole number, green depth, pin depth from the front of the green and pin relation to the closest side of the green.  After the round, the used sheet looks like this:


When put all together, you can retrieve numbers to the pin, carry over bunkers or humps, room (number of yards) behind the pin, where to place the shot for the best putt, etc.  I just wish I had these when I play!

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:


Nike Tour – Just Do It

December 2, 2008

March 1994

I loaded up my 1988 1/2 (the 1/2 makes all the difference for this beauty!) Ford Escort early Monday morning in preparation for my drive to Lafayette, Louisiana for the Nike Tour golf tourney.  This was to be my first taste as an actual caddie, since all my time growing up was spent playing the game.  The only other time I had carried a bag for someone else was a few years before when my father played with Tom Watson in the Wednesday Pro-Am at the Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio.   Even then, the weather shortened the event to nine holes and my sister was supplying me with copious cups of mildly cold draft beer.  That experience, while fun, could hardly be considered a true caddie event.

The two most important items I felt necessary for the trip were my Rand McNally Atlas and my almost-to-the-limit credit card.  With these in hand, I maneuvered my four-speed stick, 70 horsepower, no cruise control, bright red Escort to the freeway, headed south.

16 hours and 8 cups of coffee later I arrived at the hotel in Lafayette.  Chris put me up for the week in his room, before he knew I could snore up a storm.  I think I actually slept in the bathtub one night after getting hit by a shoe in the middle of the night.  I vowed to have my own hotel room the next week.

On Tuesday morning, I met Lee Rinker, a good buddy of Chris’ and Assistant Pro at Muirfield Village GC in Dublin, OH.  Chris and Lee would stay together often to save on expenses.  I had heard stories about how Chris wasn’t very talkative to other players and appeared to come off a little cold in the charisma department.  It is true he wouldn’t say much to anyone on tournament days, but I would learn that was borne from his intense focus of the job at hand.  “I’m not here to make friends, Carl,” he would say.  If fact, if we drove to the course together, he might not say “Good morning.”  I quickly realized he was already going over his mental game plan; His nose wouldn’t come out of the yardage book until the day was done.

But, today was Tuesday, a day for practice rounds and range rats.  Chris was relaxed and happy to be at Le Triomphe Country Club and was yucking it up with his pal, Lee.  What happened next changed any preconceived notions I had about his personality, or lack of…

The tee area for the practice range was long, wide and straight.  Almost half the field could hit balls at the same time, if need be.  Behind the tee, many yards away, stood a row of blue plastic port-a-potties, fifteen strong.  I would come to learn how good a set up it was to have a nearby place to to take care of business as caddies were never allowed in the clubhouses on Tour.

In fact, the stalls were so prominent, it reminded Lee of a story.

Apparently, a few years before (already starting to sound like an urban legend-type story), early in the morning at the US Open, the volunteer marshals were arriving to the course to take their positions for the days’ event.  Since it was so early, the marshals and the grounds crew were the only people milling about, otherwise the course was empty.  One of the marshals happened to be a little larger than most and after his morning coffee he needed a quiet place to relieve himself.  He was ecstatic to find a port-a-potty on his station hole behind the tee.  What he failed to notice is what made the story.

The john had been placed on a slight incline, with the front door higher then the back side.  For most people, this would not have made a bit of difference, but like I said, he was a big guy.  So, when he stepped in, turned and sat down, the whole unit tipped over backwards sending its contents of blue liquid and waste swimming over and around the gentleman and his previously clean white shirt!

Now, if that wasn’t bad enough, add this log to the fire.  He couldn’t get out.

When the potty tipped backwards, the marshal became wedged in the enclosure and could not pull himself up.  So, he meekly called for help, but since it was so early, no one was around.  That poor man laid in a pool of blue liquid and foulness for at least an hour before he was found.

Six men tried to pull him loose… To no avail.  They finally had to call someone from the TV broadcast company to see if they could reposition one of the camera cranes to help lift the potty upright and release him.  Now that’s what I call a bad start to a day!

We all laughed so hard during the story, we thought we would wet our pants.  This caused Lee to have to use one of the fifteen potties behind the range.

“Be careful in there!”, I called after him.

“I’ll never have a problem in a port-a-potty!”, he cooed back and trotted the 60 or so yards to his objective.

Chris’ ears perked up when he heard what Lee had said and turned to me and smiled.

“Let’s see if that’s true.”

With that, Chris pulled his two-iron from the bag, dropped a practice ball and turned 180 degrees around to take dead aim at the door of Lee’s stall.  I laughed, “Yeah, right.  You can’t hit it from here!”

“Watch this. One ball.”  Chris swung and blazed a waist-high punch shot that connected squarely in the center of Lee’s door with a resounding Thwap! that brought the entire range to a halt.  As everyone looked on, Lee staggered from the unit with his shirt partially untucked and a bit of dribble on his pants.  The look on his face was priceless as Chris prodded, “No problems in a port-a-potty, huh?”

That was my first hour on my new job.

The Beginning

December 2, 2008

If you are a client of Southwest Greens of Ohio, we have most likely met.  For those who are just looking for a good golf story, read on…

Before I was hired by Southwest Greens of Ohio as the Lead Design Consultant, I spent 15 years plying my trade as a professional caddie on the PGA TOUR.  The first ten years, I worked for a player named Chris Perry.  He excelled at Ohio State University, winning 14 collegiate tournaments (tying Nicklaus’ all time record) and was named a 3-time All-American.  His success initially on the PGA TOUR was lukewarm and eventually he lost his exempt status which sent him to the Nike Tour in 1993.

I met Chris in late 1993.  At the time, I had qualified for and competed in the 1992 US Amateur at Muirfield Village GC in Dublin, OH and was looking to turn pro myself.  I was selling high end Japanese cars at a dealership in Dublin when he walked in looking for a car for his wife.  I knew instantly who he was having grown up in the suburbs of Columbus and having followed the careers of former Buckeye players.

“Hey Chris Perry!  How are you?!”  I bellowed.

I extended my hand to a somewhat surprised fellow at being recognized so easily.  We chatted about cars and golf and eventually I let him take one home for his wife to drive overnight.

I didn’t get the sale.  He ended up buying her a Chysler, but I felt I had made a friend in the process.  So, the following spring, at the urging of my father, I called him up on a Saturday night.  My intent was to caddy for him for three or four weeks so I could see the level of play and practice habits of some of the best professionals and whether or not I felt my game could stack up to them.  The conversation lasted about a half an hour and ended like this…

CP: “You have a car?”

Me: “Yep.”

CP: “Can you be in Layfayette, Louisiana by Monday night?”

Me: “Yep.”  (I have a real gift for the gab…)

CP: “Okay.  See you then.”

Thus began a career path that would take me across the country and eventually the world simply to carry a golf bag…