Sunday, April 08, 2007

Switching Gears

As a caddie, switching gears is very hard to do. At least for me. And by switching gears, I mean that you have your mind set on doing one task, but you’re assigned another. Take for example a slow day on the golf course. After a while, you get it through your head that you’re not going to caddie on that particular day. So you start to accept it, and pretty soon you’re looking forward to getting home early, maybe going to hit some golf balls and or hitting the crack pipe. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, a rogue group walks down the path and before your foot is out the door the Caddie Master pulls you back in, saying you need to work.

Whenever this happens to me, I get a little frustrated. And it’s not because I hate making money. It’s that I had just set my sights on doing something else, and now my dreams are squashed. I’m still not exactly sure if this is something that only afflicts ME or if this is something everyone can relate to. And the worst part about this is I inadvertently make the wrong first impression with my players and they immediately assume that I don’t want to be with them. This can cause some awkward tension on the first few holes.

Today was the extreme of switching gears. It’s like I went from 5th to 1st. I was redlining.

The weather was a little colder than usual, and so my assigned group at 9 am had cancelled. Fortunately, I called in ahead of time and didn’t have to drive all the way in just to find that out. And as an added bonus, I was told to come in at 12:30 to play the course with the new trainees.

Just as an aside, my boss has adopted a new training program. The way it used to work was, the Caddie Master would be playing golf and YOU (as the new trainee) would carry his bag. And so while the Caddie Master was playing, you’d try to pick up on all of the pointers. But now, the Caddie Master walks up the middle of the fairway and directs the new trainees while the SENIOR caddies play golf. What a sweet idea. So today, I got to play golf while a future jam-boy took flight.

So I arrived on time, but was unsure as to whether or not I should bring my bag down into the caddie yard. It just felt weird being able to play golf in the middle of the day on a Friday. I felt like I was going to get into trouble at any second. But then I saw another senior caddie waiting with his bag in the parking lot smoking a cigarette. I guess I wasn’t the only one feeling a little hesitant to walk down with my bag to the first tee. But when he saw me approach, he smiled and we both seemed to agree that as long as we went down there together, we were safe from getting into trouble.

And about a half an hour later, after I realized that this was for real and all of the trainees and senior caddies had arrived, my boss started the same speech I had heard and tried to soak up two years before. Greeting the golfer, meeting the bag, organizing the clubs, making sure you have tees, scorecards, a pin sheet and a towel. The whole nine yards. And then we all moved out to the first tee.

Now, the three other caddies playing were all guys I had played with before. I knew their games and their potential, as I’m sure they knew mine. But there was just something about having all the trainees, my boss, and 5-6 staff guys surrounding the first tee that made the tee shot that much more nerve-racking. I’ve played in junior tournaments before and had maybe 3-4 people following my group, and even THAT was a rush. Now I was in a group of 15. And on top of nerves, I was wearing like 200 layers and I wasn’t sure I could even make a good swing.

I was the last to tee off. One of the other guys playing was a 2 handicap, and he ended up toeing his tee-shot into the right bunker. The second caddie went into the woods. The third guy ended up in the left rough. Somehow, I put it in the fairway.

The whole walk up to my ball was spent trying to relax. And even though this was just for the new trainees’ benefit and my score didn’t matter at all, the fact that my boss and some other people were watching made my hands shake. I could tell it was affecting the other players as well, as they went from 2-5 handicaps to 15’s, putting their balls in all kinds of weird places.

A birdie.

I knocked my second shot to 20 feet and somehow managed to drain it, hands still shaking, not even able to focus on the ball. I have no idea how the tour players do it week in and week out.

After a lucky putt and a par on 2, my playing partners were starting to give me some crap.

“You know Tom, normally I’d say you’re doing pretty well, but we’re playing off of the blue tees. You’re practically playing off of the reds, dude.”

I quickly countered: “So what does that say about how well YOU’RE playing right now?”

“I know, I suck.”

I smiled. I was just grateful that they were trying to cut the tension. We were all nervous playing in front of strangers. Even IF they would eventually be our brothers. But the comment helped me come back down a little from all of the anxiety. Now I was just pumped. I mean hey, I’m -1 though 2. That’s better than Tiger Woods.

Yeah right. I pulled my drive on 3 so far left you would’ve thought I had an offset club-head on the end of a whippy-whip cream shaft.

The guy carrying my bag went from smiling, thinking life was grand to a POKER face by the time I reached my ball, 70 yards left of the fairway next to the water on 4.

“Well, you can’t be in the fairway all the time.”

Clever. Sounds like something I would say. Touche newbie.

I hit a solid second shot, but was so hopped up on testosterone from being 1-under that I jacked my 5-iron over the green into the rough. And even after a decent flop shot, I couldn’t convert the 10 footer for par. Back to even.

We skipped to the par-4 13th so we could play 13-18 and end up back at the clubhouse. On the way over to the tee, one of the caddies interjected: “Hey, I just made par. If we were playing match play, we’d be even right now Tom. Care to place a little wager on this?”

Oh. How could he. The nerve. What an insensitive little—

“You’re on.”

Well, what can I say. I couldn’t help myself. A little wager to spice things up couldn’t hurt. I mean hell, I was already feeling nervous, why not add a REASON to be nervous?

The 13th hole at my course is a huge bitch. Way too long to be a par-4 and yet not long enough to be a par-5. So I’m sure the course architect in all his omnipotent glory just rounded down and decided to make everyone’s life a living hell.

The only reprieve a golfer finds on this incredibly evil par-4 is the rather large fairway. But, I figured WHY be like everyone else. So I snap-hooked it again, this time into the trees. My boss yelled back as the ball played PLINKO with the branches: “Don’t worry! Just be thankful it’s hitting so many branches!”

Oh. So maybe that meant I wasn’t in the lateral on the left.

Close. I WAS in the lateral on the left, but it was playable. And after 5 more heroic shots, I was in for a double-bogey 6 and a few jeers from my fellow playing partners.

“You like the trees over there?”
“You knew that putt didn’t break that much. Dumbass.”

But out of nowhere, the rookie caddie on my bag made a comment.

“Don’t listen to them. Just catch some of that fire you had on the first 3 holes and we’re right back in this thing.”

Wow. I’m impressed. It’s amazing what a well-placed comment from a caddie can do for your confidence. Although he was only a trainee, I felt like a tour player getting some last-minute advice from a veteran.

The 14th is the second signature hole of the golf course. It’s a par 5, and if you’re long enough off of the tee, it sets up a tin-cup-esque yardage over water to the green. From the tees we were playing, a well-struck tee shot would leave a long-iron into the flag. After the stellar double on the previous hole, I was the last to tee off. After a crisp tee shot, I was 174 from the front and 192 to the pin. There was a little wind in my face and the flag was tucked just over the pond. Normally I’d try to swing a smooth 3-iron, but then I remembered that I can’t hit my 3-iron worth a crap and if I just so happened to catch it WELL, I’m over the back of the green with an impossible shot. So I opted for the 4-iron.

“I like that club.” I can already tell this caddie will do just fine if he sticks with it.

The other players in the group started giving me crap.

“Oh come on Tom. Go for the green you pansy.”

From their vantage point, they couldn’t see the loft of the iron I held in my hand. I just gave them a quick look and fired away. I thinned it a little bit, but I ended up JUST clearing the hazard, bouncing up onto the green and rolling to about 6 feet behind the hole. The next putt would be downhill and lightning fast.

As we approached the green, my boss was still giving some instructions to the new recruits.

“Yes, that’s right…make sure you’re pinching the grass IN as you fix the ball marks on the greens…and just so you all know, it’s never a good idea to put pressure on one of your players to make a putt, but Tom had BETTER freakin’ make his eagle putt. Period.”

Great. Now my hands are shaking again. I was feeling so good, but now my eyes have glazed over and I can’t seem to tell whether that’s the green or the sky I’m looking at. I’m screwed. Just then, my boss leaned over towards me.

“By the way, it’s no more than right edge. Don’t go outside of the hole, Tom.”

Well that was nice of him. I wasn’t expecting that. Man, I tell you: if these caddies didn’t boost my confidence, I probably would’ve quit by now. I couldn’t believe how nervous I was. Yay for caddies.

The caddie on my bag just looked at the putt and then back at me, shaking his head. “Jesus. That’s fast. Good luck, man.”

Thanks. Non-yay for caddies. Whew. Here-goes. I don’t even think I took a backswing. I just squared the putter towards the inside-right of the hole and got the ball started end-over-end. And wouldn’t you know it, it went in.

Then, just at that moment, a cart was seen speeding over the hills near the 15th towards the tee-box. At first I thought it was just one of the staff-guys wanting to hang out with us because there was nothing going on. But I was mistaken.

“Mr. High-Roller is going to be walking today and he needs another caddie.”

There was a brief pause, and my boss turned to me.

“So how about it Tom? You want to caddie?”

I still feel like an ass for doing it, but I couldn’t help but frown. “Yeah, sure, I guess.”

He paused.

“Tom. Do you WANT to?”

“Well, I don’t WANT to…but you need me to. So there’s no ifs-ands-or-butts about it.”

So I hopped in the cart and flew back to the clubhouse. The foursome on the 1st tee was waiting for me as I ran inside to get ready.

“This is such bullshit.”

I couldn’t seem to stop my mouth. Tom, you’re a caddie. You need to make money. Why are you bitching about this great loop?

And that’s when I realized my problem. Just like I mentioned earlier, when I switch gears—going from not expecting to work to being asked to work—my mind can’t seem to accept the reality of the situation. I LOVE working as a caddie, and yet for the first 3-4 holes of this loop, I couldn’t help but scowl. What the heck is wrong with me?

Fortunately, the guys I was carrying were both really friendly and started drinking beers almost immediately. By the 4th hole one of my players had his hat turned around backwards and was asking the other players if anyone dared him to jump into the lake. So that cheered me up a bit.

And the loop ended up being a lot of fun. I mean sure, I was done a little later than I would’ve wanted, but hey, I got to work and only one other caddie could say as much for that day. I guess this is something I’ll work on.


Alison said...

Jam Boy, what a fine example of professionalism you set for the nuggets. Knock in an eagle, then go make some money. You'll be going places in this life. Someday maybe you'll be Caddie Master.

Bob Royale said...

Hah! Shifting gears is always a pain in the ass. It seems as soon as I settle in to a hard night's video games and Pabst Blue Ribbon, the girlfriend comes a-knockin' wanting me to do SOMETHING else. Now, it may be fun, it may be chores, it may be free food- but I was kinda enjoying what I was doing. And if it's the cat box, I'm a-gonna scream.

Congrats on the eagle, too. Too bad you didn't get to finish taking that other guy's money at the bet, though.

Jam Boy said...

That's hilarious. A girlfriend interrupting a Pabst? That's like the third time I've heard of this scenario. Something has to be done about it.

Anonymous said...

Jam Boy,

Hey, don't know if you remember me, but I'm a fellow caddie and know exactly what you mean. I was sitting in the caddie office watching TV and counting down to the last 12 minutes until I was released for the day when the radio went off with an add on. Now I went from, well I guess I'll just go have a few beers and relax to jumping up and grabbing a pin sheet and running out to meet my players. Unlike your fun loop though, one of my two players shot an amazing 250. I ain't lying. I ran along 10 to 20 yards at a time and tee'd his ball up for every shot. On the 7th, I had to run into the woods and find him a dozen balls and was praying that it would be enough to finish the round with. It was pure hell.