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:

pin-sheet-boston

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!

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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.

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…