Monday, April 16, 2007

The Short Game Scramble

Yesterday was the opening-day scramble at my home course. Normally, the head-pro is asking staff guys to play in it because there aren’t enough members interested. But this year was different. Ten foursomes were formed (5 more than last year) and until about 5 minutes before the shotgun, I was unaware that I was even working. It was one of those mornings where most of the caddies were just loitering around the yard laughing, eating and running up to their cars for a smoke break. It was noisy and nobody seemed to care whether or not they worked. They were all just happy to be hanging out—myself included. But secretly, one by one, caddies were chosen for the tournament and after a while, the cart barn went quiet. And as I looked around me and noticed there were only a few caddies left, I finally started to wonder. Was I going to work today?

Almost as soon as I had that thought my boss (who was subbing in for the regular Caddie Master) called my name.


A while back my boss found out that I’m ¼ Polish and so now he calls out almost any Polish-sounding name that comes to mind when he wants to grab my attention. Everything usually ends with a “-ski.” I don’t mind. It usually makes me laugh. I mean, if your name was Mark and somebody started calling you Doofy, you’d probably look at them funny and laugh too. And if it wasn’t “Strapinski,” it was Dumbowski. If it wasn’t Dumbowski, it was Papinski. It’s all gravy.

I grabbed a towel and ran out to the circle to find a horde of people surrounding the head pro.

“—So do you understand the format? Not only do you have to use 3 drives from everyone, but you have to play from 6 bunkers, use 6 shots out of the rough and use 6 shots from the fringe or fairway areas around the greens. You are never allowed to be on the greens in regulation. This is a ‘short-game scramble’ contest today gentlemen.”

Although I’ve never caddied under this format before, it sounded intriguing. Under this format, that meant that if after 12 holes your group had already taken 6 fairway/fringe shots and 6 shots from the rough, from 13-18 you’re now forced to try and get up and down from the bunkers. That meant a lot of Nicklaus-esque course management and planning throughout the round. Because as I thought about it, many of the “good-miss” areas were 1/10th the size of the putting surfaces. And if you’re trying to hit that target from even 120 yards out, that can present a problem. Especially under the crappy weather conditions, which were kicking up some cold and blustery winds.

I felt like I’ve read about this sort of challenge before. Maybe it was in Dave Pelz’s Short Game Bible. I think Mr. Pelz said this is one of the best short-game tests out there, and even the pro’s can only finish even or -1 on their BEST days. I have to agree with him. Without exaggeration, this is the most challenging tournament format I’ve ever seen. It was so much fun to work as a team with my players and try and determine where the best lay-up areas were. It was also very challenging, because every player has his or her own style as far as how to attack any given hole. Certain players are more comfortable with bunker shots than others, for example. But now you have 6 people (including the caddies) trying to put their heads together and figure out where the safest play would be on any given hole. Where should we place the ball—given the pin location—in order to allow for the easiest up-and-down scenario? And we didn’t always agree.

In fact, the indecisiveness of our “A” player annoyed the hell out of the other caddie in the group.

“I just don’t understand it. If you’re a member at this golf course, OBVIOUSLY you’re successful, which means you know how to make decisions. But this guy has no idea what the hell he’s doing. I hate him.”

That last sentence made me a little nervous. This caddie has been working here for about 7 years, and I believe he holds the record for being kicked off of more loops than anyone else. On a previous loop, one of the players turned to him on the first hole and said something to the effect of: “Don’t worry about reading my putts today. I would much rather read them myself.”

To which this caddie replied: “Well I don’t want to fucking watch you miss putts all day.” And so the member asked him to leave. I guess that was just fine with the caddie, seeing as how he wouldn’t have to watch that guy putt anymore.

So the fact that this ticking-time-bomb of a caddie “hates” this player made me a little anxious. And on the 8th hole, the caddie lashed out.

I was carrying two bags and he was forecaddying for the two older guys in the cart. Needless to say, he was 50 yards ahead of me and my players, discussing the necessary strategy for the hole, namely: we need to be on the fairway leading up to the green, and that means a smart knock-down shot to leave an 80-100 yard 3rd shot into this well-bunkered par 5. I understood the logic, because there weren’t any “easy” up-and-downs to be had with the current pin location. But when we arrived at the chosen ball, Mr. Indecisive was most indecisive.

“Alright, so what are we doing here—“

The other caddie immediately pounced: “You know what? You weren’t here and we’ve already discussed it. Just hit your 180 club and don’t ask any more questions.”

Mr. Indecisive’s mouth dropped. My mouth dropped, as did my expectations for a good tip unless I jumped in with something cheerful to counterbalance this stupid-ass comment.

“So Mr. Indecisive…how was your winter?”

“Umm…it was…fine. Thanks, Tom.”

Whew. I knew that comment was random, but jeez. I had to say something, or I might’ve had to break up a fight. You should’ve seen the look on Mr. Indecisive’s face. I usually only see that look when I see Vince McMahon’s threatening to kill another wrestler.

Fortunately, after a well placed comment to the other caddie, he calmed down and the rest of the round went smoothly.

One of the coolest aspects of this format was how it REQUIRED everyone’s help. In many scramble situations, you usually have 1-2 players contributing most of the shots, and normally the older players are left just sitting and watching the tournament rather than playing in it.

But in this tournament, the 67 year old man was our HORSE. He’d be 80 yards from the bunker we want him to aim for, and he’d skull it right in there. Meanwhile, our better players were trying to float it into the bunker and missed the landing area completely. I’ve never seen an older man laugh so hard. This had to have happened on 8 or 9 holes of the round. And the really amazing thing I started to notice throughout the day was how WELL everyone’s shots were ending up. There were a few holes where the perfect miss was to go just over the green and into the rough. Instead, the player would end up sticking it 3 feet from the cup.


And then he’d laugh hysterically, because on any other day and in any other tournament, that shot would’ve been great.

Our team had 2 lucky chip-ins on the front nine and ended up finishing the tournament 2-under. The closest group to us was +1. It may sound sadistic, but when you’re playing in a scramble format and you can’t seem to do any better than -1 or -2 no matter how well you’re whole team plays, that’s a great tournament.

And the benefits from playing in a tournament like this cannot be underestimated. I would imagine that at least 5-10 players who participated yesterday will now start thinking more in terms of “where do I want to land this ball, and what is the yardage to that spot?” instead of simply “how far to the pin?”


Cal said...

Usual story of you can't hit what you're aiming at! Aim for the green and hit it in the bunker. Aim for the bunker and you stick it near the pin...

Hmmm maybe I should try that strategy this weekend :)

English Dave said...


This scramble sounds a weird format. I've never heard of anything like it before. I'm not sure I would like it if it was the first time I had played a beautiful or prestigious course, such as yours. However, it does sound quite fun if you play it at your own course, although I reckon it does leave the window open for "creative scoring", with people using more efforts from greenside than out of rough and bunkers. I must admit, though, I quite enjoy the creative aspect of the short game, trying to hit different types of chip and pitch shot depending on lie and pin location, so maybe it would be a blast, after all. I suppose a target is a target, it's just swapping flags for bunkers and stuff. And I'm quite good at hitting my ball into the shit when I'm not aiming for it anyway, so it would be nice to stick the rest of the team in there, too. That'd learn 'em.

The other caddie sounds like a twat. Never mind poor sales/customer service technique, it's just plain rude (look at me getting on my high horse!) If I was paying him a bunch of money to help me around a golf course and he said to me the things that he said to the other players, I think I would have told him to fuck off and put him in a guillotine headlock. I've gotta stop watching UFC so much. Has anyone tried kicking him in the nuts? That would have been my Plan B. In my mind's eye, I can just see you slamming him in the hoo-jahs on the course ... I think there should be more of that in golf. By the way, Vince McMahon is god. If he ran for President (and I was an American citizen), I'd vote for him. How could you not? An incest/bestiality/necrophilia angle every year or 10 cents off your tax rates ... GUARAN-DAMN-TEED!

Collins is a Polish name? I would not have guessed that. Mine sounds German, but I am assured by my Dad that it isn't. It was different about 5 or 6 generations back but, at a christening or wedding or something, the parish clerk misheard the surname and wrote it down incorrectly and one of my distant ancestors was illiterate and couldn't tell it was wrong. There's far too many "and"s in that sentence - please mentally delete some of them.

I think I'm done for now. Thanks again for writing for us - you tell good stories great. Like what I does.


Anonymous said...


Dang, I sure hope the other caddie didn't ruin your tip. I know how that goes, had it happen to me a few months back when two new caddies showed up without pin locations. I told them next time they came out with me that they better have the stuff together cause the were affecting my income.

On the lighter side, you never said how long you were out there. It must have been brutal in that aspect. Of course when you're having fun the time flies.

I had a worse one last fall when a company did a team building exercise on the golf course. They would open a card on each hole saying what they were to do i.e. you have one minute to dicuss the hitting order, 1st person will hit the drive, 2nd the approach, 3rd the putt. After the drive is hit you cannot talk. And they also had two holes of worse ball scramble on two of the harder holes on the course. Needless to say it took 6 and 1/2 hours to finish, but it was fun.

bert (fellow caddie)

Jam Boy said...

Wow Bert...that's like James Bond playing golf with his fellow spies. But that does sound interesting.

Always great to hear from a fellow caddie. I hope you check back from time to time.