Thursday, July 12, 2007

IBF And The CBS Tower

As much as I hate to say it, I do not enjoy going to golf tournaments. And when I say “golf tournaments,” I mean PGA Events. Well, perhaps that’s a little too focused. I suppose I should define it as: ANY golf event where the gallery and $5 hotdogs are a factor. And yes, I do realize the novelty of attending such an event. I’ve just realized over the years that I really enjoy seeing as much of the action as possible. And to those of you who have been to a few golf tournaments before: wouldn’t you say it’s annoying when you’re watching a particular player and 4 holes over you hear a roar from the gallery? Wouldn’t it have been nice to have SEEN that shot live?

So I just prefer watching golf on TV. I feel like I can see more of the action that way. But today was different. Today I’d try to meet up with Ian Baker-Finch and thank him for the experience I had a couple weeks ago.

Saturday of the AT&T National. I’ve never been to Congressional before, but I’ve met plenty of the caddies who work there and I couldn’t wait to see what they had to walk on everyday. Because from the pictures I had seen, the course looked beautiful.

And yes, the course (which I think was the Blue Course, because Congressional has two golf courses you can play—even though I have no idea where they would FIT another golf course) is certainly well manicured, but I do not envy the caddies who have to walk it. It is very large, hilly and devoid of cut-throughs (areas where caddies could make up some ground and get ahead of their player(s)). I think the biggest reason why I felt sorry for the caddies was the crowd space. That extra 10-20 yards of rough that separates one hole from another can really add up after awhile. I’m not saying I couldn’t work there, I’m just saying I can see why I hear of so many complaints with the caddie program. They’re all tired and they just want to go home.

Speaking of caddies, I did get to see Stevie Williams in action for a little while. Out in front and hustling on every hole. I guess he really is “super-fit” like everyone had been saying. He even had Tiger laughing hysterically at a few points. No wonder Tiger pays him so well. Seems like a terrific caddie. At times people would shout from the crowd, “Yeah Stevie!” I was psyched for him.

Now on this particular day I didn’t arrive at the course until about noon. Right as I was about to pull into the front gate, I realized that there wasn’t any parking near the golf course. I would have to drive about 10-15 minutes away and be shuttled back to the action.

About 45 minutes later I was back at the entrance to the course, map in hand and ready to find the 15th hole. I was meeting the boss-man around 2:30 at the base of the CBS Tower. We would then go up together and see what Ian was up to. That was the plan, at least. The original plan also included a nice bottle of red wine to thank Ian for his glowing review of our service, but we soon realized that there was no chance tournament security would let any sort of food or beverage INTO the golf course. Oh well. I asked somebody nearby what time it was. 1:30. I actually had a little bit of time to take in my surroundings. I had entered the grounds right next to the 5th hole. Well let’s see here: what group is approaching 5? I looked up I saw a wave of people surrounding the 4th green. I didn’t even have to check the pairing sheet. Tiger was about to putt out on 4. I crossed the 5th fairway and found a good spot right next to the trail from the 4th green to the 5th tee. Let’s see if this guy looks as ripped as he did during the U.S. Open.

Nope. Guess the camera adds a few muscles. But he still looked quite determined to win. He kept his eyes on the ground in front of him as he moved. I smiled as I remembered that I had caddied recently for his attorney. What a small, small world we live in.

I would’ve walked with Tiger for a few more holes if it wasn’t for the massive horde of people moving with his every step. Every single solid spot for any sort of observation was already well-scouted out and taken. In fact, if you found yourself moving right alongside Tiger, you would literally be carried by a stream of people towards the green. It was just this big, sweaty, enthusiastic mass of people all jockeying for a good position before Tiger’s upcoming shot.

But I can’t really get pissed, because if it wasn’t for Tiger, this tournament wouldn’t have taken place and I wouldn’t have a chance to visit with Ian Baker-Finch.

So I pressed on.

Speaking of a small world, I ran into a caddie I haven’t seen in over a year. He was a part of my crew down in Florida. He must’ve screwed me over about 5 times before he left, saying he’d be back to work the following day but never actually showing up. Fortunately for me, his home course is now apart of the company I work for, and so when he screwed me over that last time I promptly called his home course and told them he needed to be suspended for being an asshole. The guy ended up quitting a month later. And after that, nobody had heard from him. It was just so weird running into him now. You could tell that he really didn’t want to talk to me. I think he was still pretty mad about his last month with the company. But hey, it’s hard for me to feel bad for a guy I was consistently trying to work. Can’t say I didn’t try.

So anyway, back to the story. I finally made it to the tower on 15, but spent the next 15 minutes watching players’ attempts at the par-3 10th because my boss hadn’t shown up yet. And by the way, the 10th hole is just perfect for a gallery. It was like an ancient Greek amphitheatre on grass. Granted, I had an umbrella and a 300-pound woman in my way, but I could still see where 75% of the other patrons were sitting and enjoying themselves. And after trying to visualize just how good the views were from THEIR seats, I decided to live vicariously through some of them as I waited for my boss.

Tiger missed another putt. I didn’t actually get a chance to SEE him miss, but the crowd keyed me in by releasing a somber “ohhh.” Upon hearing her mating call, the woman in front of me finally moved. At least now I was able to catch a decent view of Tiger looking pissed as he walked off of the back of the green. At least I didn’t miss that.

Then I saw my boss. He hadn’t noticed me yet, and so I had a brief moment to take in how he was REALLY feeling before he tried to act all tough and pretend like it WASN’T hot as balls outside. He was huffing and puffing and literally RAINING with sweat. He raised a hand and wiped the sweat off of his forehead, and it literally acted like a squeegee as a pint of water hit the ground. Then he saw me wave.

“Hey, Tom. What’s up? Have you gone up yet?”

“No, I was waiting for you. I thought we’d head up there together.”

We both glanced at the entrance to the tower.

“Where are the guards?”

We both looked around. There wasn’t a badge in sight. The only people around were passers-by who probably wouldn’t have cared one way or another if we ducked under the rope and went up. For a moment we considered making a break for it, but we didn’t want to inadvertently piss anyone off and risk being kicked off of the golf course.

Finally, my boss spotted a guy with a “CBS Sports” logo on his golf shirt.

“Are you in charge here?”

“Umm…maybe…what can I do for you?”

“Ian told us we could just go right up and see him, but we didn’t want to just barge up there without anyone knowing about it.”

“Oh. Sure. Let me just check and make sure he’s up there.”

We didn’t have to wait long.

“Yeah, he said it was fine. Just head right on up. But try to be quiet, because he could very well be on the air.”

“No problem.”

And so we ducked under the rope and made our way up the tree-fort-like TV Tower. One thing that kept running through my mind on the way up was: we didn’t even give him our names. He has no idea who is coming up to greet him. Part of me thought that was pretty cool, because that meant he was generous with his invites. But then another part of me started to worry that somehow the open-ended invite might mean that he really didn’t care that we were there. Now, I would understand, because he’s announcing LIVE and he definitely needs to keep his mind on more important things. But I guess I was just hoping the euphoric, elated feeling I had left the golf course with two weeks ago had followed me to Ian’s booth.

As we neared the top, a tarp flap hung over the staircase, forcing us to duck and lift. This really did feel like a tree-fort. We tried to be as quiet as possible, not knowing what awaited us on the other side.

There were three people up top: the camera-guy, a “statistician,” and Ian Baker-Finch. Ian and the guy next to him both had on headsets and were looking through the plastic window on their cubicle-esque desk to see Chris Couch tap in his par. It was kind of a neat setup they had going. To Ian’s left was a high-def TV with the live broadcast on display. Surrounding the TV were pictures of a couple of holes, pin sheets, course descriptions and post-its with all sorts of random notations. The man to Ian’s right, known as the “statistician,” was assigned to feed Ian all kinds of random facts and figures about each player so Ian would have some material to work from. The camera-guy spotted us.

“Oh, hey. You guys here to see Ian?”

We nodded.

“Well, go ahead. Tap him on the shoulder. He can’t really hear you guys right now.”

We both approached him slowly. It was like we were both afraid to touch him. We were like two med-students working with a cadaver for the first time.

Finally my boss sacked-up. The tapped him briefly. “Hey, Ian?”

It took him a second, but he remembered us. He smiled and quickly slammed his finger down on a button in front of him. “Oh, hey guys! Glad you could make it.”

“We don’t want to interrupt anything, we just wanted to say hello.”

“Oh, nonsense! Take all the time you want up here. Just try to be quiet. If I have my finger on this button here, that means we can all talk. If not, anything we say might be heard on the air.”

The button he was referring to is known as the “cough button.”

Then he proceeded to give us a bit of a tour.

“Now, here you go. Take this headset. Don’t put it on your head, cause you’ll go deaf, but if I turn it up here…there we go…you can hear the producer directing the entire staff as to how the show will go.”

We paused for a moment to listen. Over the headset, we heard somebody counting down.


I started looking around, wondering what was going to happen. For some reason, I focused on the TV. It was currently showing a nice background shot of the 10th green.

“2…1…And go.”

Suddenly, a digital scoreboard flashed on the screen, blanketing the background shot of the 10th.

“Go ahead, Nick.”

And like clockwork, Faldo started commentating on the leaderboard. Well that was neat. Kind of weird, but neat.

As soon as Faldo finished, they cued the screen back to some of the action on the course. They were replaying some of the great shots of the day so far. Ian hit the “cough” button again.

“Hey, you guys hear that over the headset? Right there! You hear it?”

I looked at the boss. We didn’t know what he was talking about.

“There it is again! Faldo’s eating! Every time he’s not on camera he’s got something in his mouth! I mean seriously: lunch is at 12:30, Nick. Eat your lunch, and then focus.”

He took his hand off of the button.

“Hey, Nick? You eating again?”

We couldn’t hear the response, but Ian smiled and continued to give him crap.

“Well I don’t care if the lunch was superb. Stop smacking those lips. It’s annoying.”

And that’s the way it went for awhile. Ian would do some commentating, stop to tell us a little more about how he did his job, and then he’d turn and go back to commentating again. After awhile my boss said he had to go. So he thanked Ian and walked out. But I decided to stay a little longer. I mean hey, Tiger’s group is 3 holes away, and this was a pretty sweet view.

When Tiger finally arrived on the 15th tee, it was neat to hear Ian talk as I watched the play in progress.

“Here’s Tiger…with a 3-wood…hitting a stinger up the left-hand side. Perfect.”

Tiger had just placed his 3-wood about 10 yards further than his playing partners’ driver. After the downhill tee-shot, the hole moved back up a steep grade to a fairly small green. The tower was placed directly behind the green with a perfect view of each player coming up the slope. I was wondering if any player had hit the tower yet.

And just then, Stadler slammed his ball 20 yards over the green into our tower.

“I guess Stadler misjudged that one…but 20 yards off is a little excessive. That’s just inexcusable.”

Oh. So I guess it’s not our fault that there’s a giant TOWER behind the green. But hey, that means free relief for Stadler.

“And just look at this crowd. They’re swarming the green now…all trying to get a good look at Tiger.”

Tiger’s ball was near the back fringe so I felt like I was literally standing OVER him while he paced back and forth, trying to figure out which way it was going to break. Now, I knew it was straight. But that’s only because I had just watched 7 groups come through and it seemed like everyone was putting from identical locations. He must’ve looked at that putt for 5 minutes.

The crowd was deadly silent. He took the putter back.

Another somber sigh. Tiger missed his birdie attempt and the crowd started to disperse. While I waited for the movement to subside, I tried to find an opportune time to thank Ian. But he was well into the telecast now, and I couldn’t really find a good moment to interrupt him. So after about 20 minutes, I finally decided to force the issue.

There was a list of golf courses on a piece of paper to his left that I had been staring at for a while now. The list included the new Jack Nicklaus course I had just caddied on, and so I decided to use that to say my goodbyes. I tapped him on the shoulder.

“Hey Ian?”

“Oh, hey. You heading out?”

“Yeah…thanks so much for everything. I know you have some things to get to, but I just want to thank you for hooking me up with a new job. I hope to see you there.”

And I pointed at the course on the list. He smiled and nodded.

“Alright mate. See you there.”


Anonymous said...

So does this mean you guys did get the contract, and you will be the caddie master at the new course? I wasn't sure it was official.

Shades said...

Awesome blog. You are getting some props at our Fantasy Golf blog.

The Armchair Golfer said...

Tom, I think you need to stay in touch with Ian so you can loop for him when he joins the 50-and-over circuit. It's the next logical career move for a caddie master. ;)

English Dave said...


I've never been to a professional golf tournament. I had the opportunity to go when the European Tour used to hold the B&H International at St Mellion, which is a Jack Nicklaus-designed course about 30 minutes away (and which I've been fortunate enough to play several times since - it's fantastic), but it was a while ago (I think about 12-15 years?) and I was only just starting to play golf then and wasn't into it anywhere near as much as I am now. I would love to go to one, just to see what it's like, but, more importantly, see how well the pro's hit the ball and just soak in their rhythm and tempo, listen to the contact and watch how they work the ball around the course. I bet it's just a different world to the crap that I usually watch when I'm out with my buddies, and I'm damn sure including my own crap in that. I think I would want to pick someone cool who was out early and follow them around for 18 holes, to see how everything was playing, in the morning, and then find a good spot to plant myself in the afternoon and watch everyone come past, because I'd probably be knackerd by then. If you're cunning, I reckon you could get a spot on most courses where you could see several holes at once. For anyone who is going to Carnoustie this week for the Open, that spot is the 17th tee. You can see everything from the 16th through to the 18th green from there.

Did Stevie Williams see you and give you shit for writing a bunch of stuff about him and how you reckoned you could do his job easy? Actually, I don't remember you saying that, but I remeber something about something. That would have been great. Him walking past with all Tiger's stuff on his shoulder, seeing you and roaring "Jam Boy! You wanker! I'm gonna f-ing rip your arms and legs off! Right after I've finished shouting at this other guy for being a nob-head!" I read somewhere that Stevie might be thinking of jacking it in, or him & Tiger might be going their separate ways. I can't believe either one of them would want to do that - it would be madness, surely. Hopefully it's just rumours and idle gossip.

Tiger didn't look as big on TV either during the National as he did during the US Open. I would imagine that he didn't get to the gym as much, what with his new daughter arriving on the scene. What a shame she looks more like Tiger than she does Elin. Otherwise I would have been knocking on his door in 16 years, asking if his daughter wanted to come out for an evening of coffee, dancing and felching. I reckon everyone would go for that.

IBF still sounds incredibly cool and good company. I think it's rare to find someone in the public eye who is so laid-back and seemingly happy to talk to anyone about anything. Being able to watch him at work would be fantastic, especially if you could chat to him a little bit in between whenever he was talking on air. I think I was awtching when Tiger played the 15th on Saturday and I remember him saying something like what he did. I wish I'd known you were with him at the time. I would have phoned you up and seen if I could have got you on the air!

I've never liked Nick Faldo, either as a player or a commentator. As a player, he was concerned only with himself to the exclusion of all others, which is, to my mind, why he went through so many wives (4 or more?), caddies and Ryder Cup partners until he found Fanny and Monty. Not together, you understand. I'm not implying anything like that. And he was SO dull and boring to watch - no fun at all. And now as a commentator, he seems intent on trying to re-invent himself as a light-hearted, witty, eccentric English humourist, which he just isn't. And he tries to find associated glamour and controversy by criticising the leading players of the game, particularly Tiger, I've noticed, in order to get himself talked about. CBS, paying him all the money that they are, seem intent on pushing him to the fore at every available opportunity, but I get the impression that IBF, Peter Oosterhuis and particularly Gary McCord and David Feherty can talk rings around him. Just 'cos Faldo won a few tournaments and majors 10-20 years ago doesn't make him an expert on today's players, swings, tactics or equipment and it certainly doesn't make him entertaining to me. But that's just me. Other people might love him. Weirdos.

Right, that's my rant over for the day. Thank you so much for writing for us again, Tom. It was a really good read, as ever. 3 days to the Open. I'm taking both weekdays off work to plant myself in front of the TV to watch it all and shout "I've been there! I've played there! I've birdied that hole! (Only applicable on the 8th and 14th holes) I've properly fucked that one up! (certainly the 18th and half of the rest, too, if I'm honest). Can't wait.

Keep yourself nice. All the best


Jam Boy said...

Thanks so much for responding guys.

Hey Dave, what did you make on 18? Was it Jean-V-esque?

I'd spell his last name if I knew how.

And Armchair, I hope I do see Ian again so I can propose that idea to him. I'd love to caddie for that guy. As long as I don't screw up a yardage, I think I'd be good.

And anonymous, I think we're getting the golf course, but no, I will not be the Caddie Master. Sort of a long story. I'm still a little shaken from it, but I'm sure I'll elaborate later.