Here is the next installment of my series on the experience caddying for Kevin Johnson on the Web.com Tour. Today’s entry looks back at my second day of the caddying adventure, in a Tuesday practice round at last August’s Price Cutter Charity Championship in Springfield, Missouri.
Caddying in Triple-A Golf: Day 2
August 7, 2012
Wow. So many cool experiences, so many potential stories to right about. It’s hard to keep everything in my mind, as I don’t want to keep a notepad or recorder out when I’m caddying. After all, caddying is work, and I need to do the best job I can. When I’m on the course, caddying takes precedence over reporting.
With that in mind, a recollection of today’s experience as a caddy in a Tuesday practice round on the Web.com Tour…
Waking up at 5:30 a.m., I snoozed my alarm for a good half hour. I was to meet KJ at the range at 6:45 a.m., and I wanted to sleep as late as I could while making sure I was still on time. I got out of bed around 6, showered, and headed for the course.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous. Despite my 9-hole welcoming round to the caddying gig on Monday, this was to be the first time I would caddy with other players besides KJ in the group. If I mess up, others suffer the consequences – guys who didn’t volunteer to have a college journalist take the bag for a week.
Another source of concern? Whether or not I would be physically ready to carry the bag for the round. On one hand, I have played plenty of rounds at full courses where I carried my bag just fine for 18 holes. Then again, I had never walked 18 in Missouri in August.
But when I got out of my car and made the trek toward the range, I was happy to notice that I didn’t feel uncomfortable at all. The legendary humidity was nowhere to be found, and a slight breeze was encouraging. If I could make it through at least a few holes in this weather, I would probably be good to go for the rest of the day. And I was sure to have adrenaline kicking in while on the course, as well.
So, nerves about my impending performance as a caddy, and nerves about my physical capability. With that in mind, off to the range.
From Rick Reilly’s book, I knew that some players are known for not showing up on time. Which is fine. After all, the player was the boss. I knew my job: not to be late. I could find something to do on the range if my guy wasn’t there yet.
I arrived at the range at about 6:40, and KJ arrived a few minutes later. Essentially, right on time. So much for Rick Reilly’s insight (kidding, I’m sure some players are late on occasion – it’s human nature). I had spent the meantime talking with a very kind tournament representative in the caddy area, who gave me recommendations on places to eat in Springfield.
From there, KJ warmed up for a bit, and introduced me to Derek Fathauer – one of his playing partners for the practice round. Unlike tournament rounds where players are assigned, pros form their own groups for the practice rounds. Today, it was to be KJ, Derek, Ryan Armour, and Brian Anderson.
I knew of Derek a little bit, particularly when I heard in Wichita that he went on a date with a girl who occasionally worked for the Tour. KJ explained my role on the bag, and Derek welcomed me right away.
I knew of Ryan from his two seasons on the PGA Tour, and from watching him in Wichita when he was paired with Jeff Gove (when I talked to a lady who hosted him in Wichita for a few years). I hadn’t heard of Brian, but later research showed that he has made exactly one cut this year – a tie for 9th in Utah. Curious results pattern, many weeks of frustration with one solid week out of the blue.
KJ’s first remark about Brian was in regard to his driving distance. He told me to prepare for how far Brian could hit the ball – right up there with the longest in the game, including Tiger, he said.
While KJ was finishing his warmup, he got out his driver – looking to me expecting a ball toss, in accordance with yesterday’s instruction. Oops. A few minutes earlier, KJ and Derek were talking about how Derek’s caddy would be showing up late for the round, and how this would be a strike for the caddy.
“Speaking of striking out,” KJ said, looking at me.
And we weren’t even on the first tee yet.
On the tee, things weren’t so quick to improve. I was standing in a spot that cast a shadow over the tee box, which I didn’t realize in time. My shadow was in the way while a player in the group ahead teed off.
“Tell your caddy to watch his shadow,” the caddy told KJ as he left the tee box.
Things improved when Armour’s caddy, Jimmy Jones, introduced himself to me. I explained my project, and Jimmy seemed enthusiastic, asking a few questions about it.
When I told him I went to Syracuse, he was ecstatic, telling me he loved the place. Jimmy played lacrosse in college for Ohio State, and said he made a couple of trips to upstate New York to face Syracuse, where “our asses got handed to us.”
Jimmy raved about the campus and town, saying it was a great place to visit and hang out. With so many students down on the city, it was refreshing to see a guy speak so positively about the place where I have lived for three years. The conversation reminded me of one I had with Steve Allan’s caddy in Greenville, when the caddy spoke fondly of nightlife in downtown Syracuse – particularly Kitty Hoynes Irish Pub.
Who would’ve thought caddies have such an affinity for Syracuse? Hmm…
Jimmy continued to converse with me throughout the day, as I asked about his experiences as a caddy on the pro tours. He has been between the Tours for about 13 years – caddying for big names such as David Duval along the way. Jimmy caddied for Jimmy Walker when he won the then-Nationwide money title in 2004, and caddied for Robert Garrigus for a dozen or so events in 2005.
I asked Jimmy about Garrigus’ reputation for thanking volunteers, wondering if the pattern was maybe blown out of proportion by the media.
“All true,” Jimmy said. “He makes it his goal to thank as many volunteers as he can. And you know what, that’s where I get it from (thanking volunteers).”
Crowd interaction, starting with players and spreading to their caddies. In some ways, I always thought it was probably the other way around. Cool stuff.
Jimmy also caddied for Casey Martin, the disabled golfer who made headlines suing the PGA Tour for the right to use a cart in competition (he ultimately won). Martin retired from competitive golf years ago to take a full-time job coaching the Oregon golf team, but grabbed media attention again this summer when he qualified for the U.S. Open at Olympic, missing the cut by one shot with a bogey on his final hole.
Jimmy spoke great of Casey, saying he was an incredibly nice guy from an incredibly nice, religious family. He told me he still kept in contact with Casey, texting him during the Open this year.
Jimmy also said Q-School with Casey in 2000 was one of the most significant times in his life as a caddy. In his words, his best chance to be a part of something ‘really big, in all of sports.’
It was the final stage of Q-School, the final round, and Casey had a real shot at earning his PGA Tour card for 2001. With a few holes to play, Casey was inside the number. But he faltered down the stretch to miss earning his card by a shot.
If he made it, Jimmy would likely be on the bag for at least the beginning of 2001, dealing with the media craze surrounding the disabled golfer’s fight back onto the big stage. Casey would be in demand every week, and would be a constant source of discussion across the country – and not just in regard to sports.
But Casey – and Jimmy – came up a bit short. Casey fell back to the Triple-A circuit, into the Wichitas and Springfields of the world rather than the New Yorks and Los Angeleses.
Casey fell back to the minors – out of sight, out of mind. Casey never regained full PGA Tour status again.
I rebounded from the first-tee mishap to caddy a strong first few holes. KJ said the most important thing for me was not to bother anyone, and I succeeded in the quest as the front nine progressed. KJ constantly thanked me for my help, and rarely had to correct me on anything. I got into an instinctual rhythm – taking my place to the right of the tee, taking his driver after he made the shot, proceeding down the fairway. After he hit an iron, clean the club, put it back in the bag, hand him his putter if he was clearly on the green (if the ball’s status was in doubt, don’t hand him the putter).
Approach the green with towel in hand, ready to clean his ball after he marks it. Make sure I’m in proper position, so he doesn’t have to make a full throw across the green – which I would likely drop.
Make sure I don’t step in anyone’s through line, and don’t rattle the clubs when anyone’s hitting or preparing to hit. Keep wedge in hand in case he wants to hit a few practice chip shots. After he’s finished putting, immediately put the putter cover back on, to prevent dangerous contact with other clubs. Proceed to the next hole, and keep up.
What could even possibly go wrong?
On the first tee, KJ had led in the creation of a friendly gambling game. He told me they liked to play for money on Tuesdays, and he wasn’t lying. So, then, a match was created – KJ and Armour, versus Derek and Brian, in a 2 v. 2 best-ball Nassau (bets for the front nine, back nine, and full 18). The snake game would be played as well, where a player took the ‘snake’ when he three-putted, and the pro to have the snake at the end would pay the rest. They also decided to play the bogey game, where a player to go bogey-free for the whole round would receive money from the rest.
So with bets in place, they made their way along the course. Derek seemed a bit confused by the specifics at first, and asked a few questions along the way. KJ decided to have some fun with it, and jokingly made up certain rules that would suit him – such as a bonus to the player with the shortest drive. Derek went along with it and suggested points for anyone over the age of 31 (seemingly random, as Derek is 26, and KJ is 45).
Derek made bogey on the par-5 1st, losing the bogey game right away. KJ proceeded to keep himself alive – not with birdies, but with a string of 9 pars on the front nine. Armour didn’t do much more, and the front 9 Nassau went to Derek and Brian.
Along the way, I got the chance to chat with Brian’s caddy, John – who just started caddying for Brian last week in Omaha. John got the job with Brian through a former boss, perennial minor-leaguer Camilo Benedetti. Brian missed the cut in Omaha, but hit enough quality shots that John was encouraged to stick with him.
“He did some amazing stuff,” John said.
John caddied in yesterday’s Monday qualifier, which took the format of 14 spots spread among two sites (7 spots available at two sites). John caddied for a young player who has been trying to occasionally play his way into big-time events. Although the player fell short of making the field, John was encouraged.
“May be some future work,” John said.
John took the role of gabber, telling various stories throughout the round that ranged from hilarious to downright ridiculous. As KJ was preparing to hit an approach on the front nine, John was telling me about KJ’s supposed affinity for nude beaches (completely made-up, obviously).
KJ hit a quality approach to about 10 feet. “Right, KJ,” John said afterwards.
“I don’t even know what he said,” KJ told me on the walk up to the green.
If John served as outlandish storyteller, Jimmy took the role as comedian, telling various jokes along the way using a wide range of set-ups and topics. I feel like Jimmy could go into stand-up if he wanted to, but just enjoys his current gig too much to make a change. Jimmy also possesses an unique and noticeable laugh, along with a likeable accent that radiates excitement. What a character, and this is just my first full day on the bag.
By the middle portion of the round, John was talking to me so much that I got chided by KJ for it. To John’s credit, KJ commended him for the job he did raking a greenside bunker in the middle portion of the round.
KJ liked it, and told him so. John appreciated the compliment, and took it in stride.
“It’s like the Mona Lisa,” John said.
John told me has has caddied for 20 years, but that this was nothing compared to Brian’s caddy – who had supposedly been looping for about 30. John told me some tales about players he has caddied for, such as a guy who tried to make it through the first stage of Champions Tour Q-School.
John said the Champions Tour will allow anyone to attempt to qualify, as long as they have the money to pay the entrance fee (which was $3,500 at the time, according to John). So, then, John found himself on the bag for a wishful qualifier – a retired American Airlines pilot who made his own clubs. In practice, the man played reasonably well, shooting a 74 that suggested no trouble.
But in competition, the man’s game fell to pieces, and he failed to break 90 in either of the first two rounds. At that point, a fellow competitor said something to a rules official, and the retired pilot was asked to leave the event.
John saw all this going down, but acted for a while like he was oblivious. He had plans to take the man out to dinner at a local establishment, and didn’t want to ruin the meal.
So John and the pilot had the meal, and John picked up the tab. Afterwards, the pilot told John he had been kicked out of the tournament.
The pilot had a question for John: does being kicked out of the event give him a break on paying the caddy?
John had a question for the pilot in response.
“Well, it wasn’t the caddy’s fault, was it?”
Johnson continued to play well throughout the day, making a few birdies on the back nine to push his score under par. He was still in contention to win the bogey game, and his caddy hadn’t made any major blunders.
With that, I had a chance to ask him a little bit about his life at home. We talked about his family – he has a wife and two daughters, ages 12 and 9. I asked him if they play golf, and he said they like to play a little, but that he doesn’t push it on them. Their main passion is horseback riding, which is certainly an expensive endeavor in itself.
I asked him how often his family travels with him, and he said it wasn’t too often. He made a good point: what can he expect them to do in a town like Springfield, especially since he’ll be working on the course all day. He obviously doesn’t want his daughters missing school, and he doesn’t want to force them into a dry trip to the Midwest in the middle of their summer vacation.
He said that the PGA Tour, with its big cities that provide opportunity for sightseeing, is much more conducive to family travel. He notes that the Tour even has event planners that coordinate activities for families (no such program out in the minors).
And don’t forget, the PGA Tour makes a stop in Disney World, where players and families are provided with park passes and even behind-the-scenes tours. How does a family not go?
Maybe the Web.com Tour can negotiate with Silver Dollar City, a theme park near Springfield, to provide passes for players and their families. Hey, that would be something.
Knowing that KJ lives in the Palm Beach area (he belongs to the same club as Lonnie Nielsen, former Crag Burn club pro), I asked him about Palm Beach-area courses that I have played. To my pleasant surprise, he has played Mayacoo Lakes (where my grandpa belonged for many years), and loved it. He said that fellow pros like it, as well. Cool to know.
He has also played the Town of Palm Beach Par-3, a gorgeous par-3 course located right on the Atlantic Ocean. The views are priceless, and KJ said he always enjoys going there. He also had a fun fact – when the winds blow as tropical storms approach, he likes to go to the par-3 and play, where winds can be gusting in the 50-mph range.
Bet that course plays plenty difficult in the wind, even for the pros.
I also asked him about his family growing up, and he said he has two older brothers. The middle brother was a very good golfer through high school, but lost the complete passion for the game somewhere along the way. His older brother Chip, on the other hand, has maintained the enthusiasm – working as a club pro in the Boston area, where the family grew up. Kevin said that Chip is a very good player who has played well on the competitive stage, nearly qualifying for the PGA Championship on occasion.
That must be a highly competitive sibling rivalry, right there.
After KJ hit a beauty to inside 10 feet on the par-3 15th, I handed him the putter cover instead of the putter. He corrected my mistake, noting that Chip did the same thing many times when he served as caddy one week. That made me feel a little better.
But I was at it again on the 17th green, rattling the clubs while looking through the bag to make sure everything was in order – while someone was getting ready to putt. KJ looked over and gave me a corrective look, but I was too late. Strike two of the late-round mishaps.
On the 17th tee, Brian (the bomber) decided to hit a fairway wood off the tee to lay up. He said he was worried about reaching a bunker over 300 yards down the fairway, which he could probably reach with a well-struck shot.
Brian hit the shot left, near the out-of-bounds line. The group had been whispering about it all day, but finally decided to speak up at this point – why was he not hitting driver more? Brian explained his bunker worry, but then hit a driver down the middle, short of the bunker.
If I see Brian play again, I’ll make sure to take careful notice of his decisions when to hit driver and when not to. I have no idea what his strategy has been so far this year – all I know is he hasn’t been making cuts. It’s impossible to speculate – is he nervous to hit driver now because of problems earlier in the year, or has he been laying back all year. Brian is near the bottom of the Tour in driving accuracy (a paltry 53.4%), but in the top 5 in distance.
So maybe he is trying to change. We’ll check back at the end of the year to see if his distance and accuracy ratings change at all.
Finishing up, I got into another spot of bother on 18. Leaving the tee box, I dropped the driver headcover – not noticing until I had walked 20 yards past it. I quickly turned around to grab it, hoping nobody would notice. Surprisingly, nobody did.
I wasn’t done. After a fellow player had hit, I was caught directly behind Ryan as he was getting ready to hit. I didn’t want to move during his routine, but knew it would be best to get out of the way. Luckily, KJ made the decision for me, instructing me to get out of Ryan’s way.
KJ had less than 220 yards to the green on the par-5, well within his range despite the water guarding the front of the green. But there was no decision to be made: he would obviously lay up.
Why? The bogey game. He was still without a bogey, and a layup would make a par fairly easy to attain. So he hit a nice layup.
(A funny side note: After KJ laid up, a few players from a group on a parallel hole started to cheer, seeing that he had played a completely safe shot in a practice round. KJ heard the cheers, smiled, and tipped his cap.)
But then after laying up, KJ hit his wedge approach to the back of the green – 20 feet past the hole, and onto a level below the hole. Around the cup, there looked to be plenty of slope.
This, after saying before the shot that he didn’t want to miss long. Pressure in a Tuesday round? With the bogey game, you bet.
KJ took a long look at the birdie bid, and left the putt three feet short. The throw-up zone, as many pros like to call it. With the rest of the group looking on, knowing KJ needed to miss the putt if they wanted to avoid paying up, he calmly drained it and smiled. Money to be collected.
Walking back toward the clubhouse, KJ told me I was off for the day, and would have off on Wednesday. He said he wouldn’t play again until the tournament proper began, and wouldn’t need me to ‘babysit’ during practice sessions and workouts.
“I can carry my clubs from my car to the range,” KJ said.
Much appreciated. No place for the diva lifestyle in Triple-A golf, and KJ is anything but a diva. After all, nobody who took things too seriously would allow a college journalist to carry the bag in an event with a $625,000 purse.
So as we were about to part our separate ways for the afternoon, KJ collected his winnings from the bogey game. Although he and Ryan lost the Nassau, KJ came out ahead on the day thanks to his bogey-free 68.
As he collected, I considered asking for a caddy’s percentage of earnings.
I decided not to push it.