The Open Championship?

January 30, 2009

July 1997

Growing up in the suburbs of Columbus, I was fortunate enough to have access to some of the best golf courses in the country to play and practice on.  Any kid who has played golf invariably has stood on a putting green lining up 10-footers “To win the US Open.”  I did it all the time, and still do.

But, the major championship that always piqued my curiosity was the The Open Championship, the only one played outside the United States.  Most of the courses used for this tournament are located in Scotland, the birthplace of golf.  I was always excited to turn on the TV early in the morning to see what kind of conditions the professionals would have to endure that day, or that hour, since it seemed to change so often.  Even in the middle of the summer, you would see players, caddies and the crowds bundled up in sweaters, caps, gloves, blankets and a copious amount of plaid.  It would rain sideways for 20 minutes, then miraculously, become sunny and benign.  Then it would rain again and blow 40 off the ocean.  I was always glad to be curled up in a comfy chair with my coffee, chuckling at how cold they must feel, but secretly wanting to experience it for myself.

I was in the middle of my fourth year as a professional caddie for Chris Perry.  The 1997 season had been up and down, with a couple of decent finishes in March at Doral in Miami (T-13) and Bay Hill in Orlando (T-14), but many missed cuts, too.  I wanted Chris to send in his application for Open Championship qualifying, which would involve us flying across the pond to play 36 holes at a course we had never seen with no guarantees other than spending the money to be there.  He was dismissive at the idea and felt he needed to be playing much better to even think about such a trip.

The deadline for the application was following the Byron Nelson Classic in Dallas in May.

Chris missed the cut at the two events (Greensboro and Atlanta) he competed in leading up to Dallas.  Things weren’t falling into place the way I thought they needed to for him to agree to go to Scotland.  I was beginning to resign myself to the fact that it wasn’t going to happen.

Then, he shot 65 at Cottonwood Valley in the opening round to be among the leaders.

Second round – 67 at TPC at Las Colinas.

Third round – 66 at TPC.

On Sunday, we played in the second to last group behind the final pairing of Lee Rinker and Tiger Woods.  A 70 on a windy and raw day rewarded CP with a tie for 5th and a good deal of confidence in his game (Tiger won in a thriller over Lee).  I remember being especially proud of the Columbus caddies finishing 1, 2 and 5 that week.  Mike Cowan (Fluff) won with Tiger and at the time lived on the north side of Columbus.  Dennis O’Brien, still haunting the OSU golf courses,  finished second with Lee Rinker.

Word came down from the boss. We were going across the pond!


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.


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.


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.