Saturday, October 15, 2011

Holy WIND

From what Big Bear told me yesterday, he works the caddie yard on a first-come, first-serve basis.  Just come in, put your name on the list, and unless you’re requested or haven’t worked in a few days, he assigns loops based on rank.  I arrived at 7:30 on the dot, and I was 14th.

For a caddie manager, the math is pretty easy here: one caddie for every two golfers.  The absence of carts removes the need for negotiation with members.  Upon first glance of the tee sheet, I felt like I would be assigned within an hour or so.  A barrage of players was scheduled, and Big Bear had to send guys down to the water to help with people “coming off the boat.”

Yeah: not only does this place have a helipad, it also has a private ferry that escorts players to the course from Manhattan.  I wonder if any of these players even know what a “Dollar Store” is.

So, assuming that I would be looping soon, I threw on my bib and started stuffing tees in my pockets.  Big Bear called over: “Hey Tommy! You’ll be going out around 11.”

Oh.  So I guess there’s no need to rush.  I wasn’t sure if I was relieved or bummed about the news.  Part of me really wanted to work a double today just to whip my body into shape and get a little bit more of that cheddar, and then another part of me was like: are you crazy? You’re in horrible shape and you’ll probably pass out by the 13th hole.

After stowing a backpack with my rain gear in the special “varsity locker” I had received, I grabbed a book I’m required to finish for a grad school class and sat down in a chair facing the flat-screen television.  The book has been a fast read, and I only had 15-20 pages left.  This shouldn’t be a problem.  But then I started hearing the comments I had missed for four years:

“Why the hell are they showing High School sports highlights on SportsCenter? That should never happen!”

“Who wants to play some poker? I got an itch and I’d like to win some money so I don’t have to work today.”

“That player makes $14 million a year and he’s complaining that because of the lockout, he can’t afford to feed his kids.  Cry me a freaking river.”

Then, the icing on the cake came when Big Bear came in and started assigning loops. 

Big Bear: “Alright, John, you got Abernathie and his kid in 30 minutes.”

John: “Abernathie! What the hell! The guy can’t tip worth a shit!”

Big Bear: “You left an umbrella on the course yesterday.  I’m going to keep doing this to you until you learn.”

John: “What? That’s once! One time!”

Big Bear: “I can think of 10 times this season when you’ve left stuff on the course.  And that’s just off the top of my head.”

John: “Alright, alright.  Hey new guy! I’m John!”

Me: “Oh hey.  I’m Tom.”

The interchange between Big Bear and the caddies or the caddies amongst themselves was just too entertaining.  But I didn’t want to seem like I was eavesdropping, so I moved to the bag room and tried to read the rest of my book.  Out of nowhere, Jimmy V came over and shook my hand.  I hadn’t seen him since Vero Beach, Florida back in 2006.  Back then, he made the trek from Doral and stayed with me and the other manager to help caddie for a tournament.  I remember him showing me his artwork.

“Hey, Tommy! You remember those freaking members back in Florida? The pro shop was willing to waive all cart fees if they took a forecaddie, and those freaking bitches STILL didn’t take caddies.  I just had to get out of there.”

Now there’s something that holds true regardless of where in the WORLD you caddie: money.  Caddies can forget names, but they’ll never forget a tip.  Conversations about money are so common, in fact, that I remember there were times in Virginia when I would leave the room or sit in a cart far, far, far away just because I actually got annoyed.  It has a similar ring to someone complaining non-stop—after a while, you just have to get away.  So far, however, this club hasn’t really had that sort of atmosphere, which has been refreshing.

Due to the distractions (welcome, of course), I decided to put the book away and move back to the TV room.  Of course the phone right next to me had to ring.  Why wouldn’t it? You’ve got a new guy standing next to it who has no idea how this place runs yet.  Let’s tell him to do something!

“Caddy Yard?”

“Yeah, we need another guy down at the boat and four guys with carts.”

“Sure, absolutely.”

Okay: I knew about the boat.  But four guys with carts? Where? Down by the boat? Up top for valet? Who’s on first?

So I ran around, trying to find Big Bear to make sense of this madness.  When I finally found him up top, he looked at me over his shoulder in a nonchalant, what-you-have-to-say-cannot-possibly-be-that-important kind of way.

“Bear, we need another guy down for the boat and four guys…with…carts…the phone rang downstairs.”

“Yeah? Don’t even worry about it.  It’s probably nothing.”

What?

Well fine, then.  I’m just going to sit back down in the bag room and READ something that makes SENSE.  But that didn’t go very well—caddies kept coming up to me and introducing themselves.  God DAMN their friendliness.  Ah, who am I kidding? I really enjoyed it.  It’s already a special treat to get to go back to caddying for a little while.  It’s even more of a treat to be surrounded by sincere handshakes and to feel welcomed.  I remember I had to put in a good 3-4 weeks on the couch as a rookie just for other caddies to give me the time of day and warm up to me.  But here it’s been automatic.  I also think it’s a reflection on Big Bear: the caddies really respect him, and seeing as how I’m a friend of his, they’re willing to give me the benefit of the doubt.

The phone rang again.  A caddie shouted out: “Tom! Up top!”

It wasn’t 11 am.  I didn’t even think 30 minutes had elapsed.  Well, I’m not complaining.

I decided to take an extra moment and layer up with my trusty wind-breaker.  I’m really glad that I did.  The wind was howling when I got up to the podium, and the difference in temperature between sun and shade at that moment was analogous to the sun and shade found by astronauts on the moon.  Sun equals 60 degrees, shade equals balls-up-in-your-throat cold.

Today I’d be with another caddie in a threesome, and I was assigned to one bag.  Of the three, two were a husband and wife who owned some sort of business that specializes in paint.  Not just any kind of paint, however—we’re talking paint specifically for Mercedes.  The third in the group was a business associate, and I would find out later that the husband and wife were treating him to a weekend of fun in the city for his 60th birthday.  When I arrived at the guests’ bag, it was propped up against a wall next to a carry bag.  The other caddie in the group is a regular for Mr. and Mrs. Swede, and he had already transferred everything from the guests’ black, ominous cart bag into a smaller and easier-to-carry golf bag. 

“Hi, I’m Jay, and that bag has 17 clubs in there.”

Wonderful.  I mean screw the rule-book.  Fourteen clubs does not provide amateurs with enough OPTIONS out there. 

I also noted that the carry bag was devoid of balls.  On a course where it’s hard to track a golf ball in CLEAR conditions, I had no idea how many balls a human being could lose out there.  I packed in 8, relying only on my rusty ball-finding skills to save me.

Jay assured me that the members were the nicest people in the world, and from that first handshake, they certainly seemed to fit the bill.  My player? A nice man to be sure.  Wanna know what else I was sure about? He was toting a $1,400 camera over his shoulder the size of a football.

I’m not a camera expert—the thing could’ve been only worth $1,150.  And don’t get me wrong—the sights around this place are quite surreal.  A well manicured, links-style golf course meets the Hudson River and industrial barges and massive ship-building cranes.  But bringing something that expensive with you on the golf course WITHOUT a cart just increased MY fun level, I can tell you that.  If something inadvertently happens to that camera in these 50+ mph gusts and weeds, rocks, and water, the fair market value of that camera is coming out of my left butt-cheek. 

Once we teed off, I noticed something else.  Other than my horse being a hell of a nice guy bearing a resemblance to Craig Stadler, he bounced the shaft of the club off of his shoulders on the backswing to initiate the follow through, which meant that he was in complete control of his swing and liked to produce a power fade into these perfect-storm-like gusts.  And, due to annoying laws of physics, strong winds exacerbate fades and draws, so I was in for some good old fashioned fun.

During the first five holes, my player’s ball would go right or way right.  It was consistent, but the issue for me was FINDING some of these shots.  The grass here works like this: fairway, first cut, Sasquatch second cut, then weeds and tall grass on steroids.  Even if you have a perfect line on the ball and see where it lands, there’s absolutely no guarantee you’re going to find it.  As I watched Jay work, it made me feel a little better that he would give it the old college try, but then just shrug his shoulders and tell his players to drop whenever they got into trouble.  Or, the members would just drop a ball and say not to worry about it.  In other words, I didn’t feel I had to be perfect.

On one memorable hole—and forgive me, because although I know it was a par-4 and it was on the front side and I remember how it looked, I can’t figure out what hole it is yet—my player carried an iron just over a rise.  I could tell by the flight path that the ball had landed in the deep rough on the other side and had not reached the green.  Somehow, I found his ball in 4 feet of grass on a 70-degree angle just before the greenside bunker.  At first, I told him to just take a sand wedge, hold his balance, and take a whack at it.  But after seeing his stance and the fact that he couldn’t even flick the ball straight up with the club-head if he wanted to—because of the overhanging grass—I told him to just throw it in the bunker so he didn’t break his ankles.  I would find out on several occasions today how easy it is to lose your footing and / or slip and twist / break an ankle.

To give you a better idea of how vicious the wind was today, I thought of three good images.  First, as I said before, the American flag they fly high above the clubhouse weighs 100 pounds.  That flag was stretched to its limits all day.  Second, I noticed that a few of the flagsticks were splintering near the cup due to the constant tilting.  Third, visualize this: imagine being on top of a bus with a golf bag, and your job is to walk from the back to the front while the bus is moving 50 miles per hour down the highway.  I was constantly wobbling and struggling to hold a straight line, and the variation in topography all over the course just added to my fun.  I felt like the course was hazing me.

On the 18th hole, the caddie collapsed onto his back, saying, “I can’t do a double today.  I feel like I have shin splints in my ankles.”

Wow.  Now that’s a painful feeling.  He told me that he had worked for the last 48 days straight, maybe more, because he had lost track.  Only a few more weeks buddy, and then you get a whole winter to hibernate.

Fortunately, today I was finally able to see the entire course.  The layout of this course is tricky, because as a newcomer, it’s hard to figure out where you’re heading next.  But I think I have it down now.  The greens are easy to read, but the speed is something that will take me the longest to gauge.  Today with the wind, it was common to knock a 10 foot putt 30 feet by, and have that ball roll off the green into the rough or a hazard.  Before today, I didn’t really think the greens here were all that fast.  But, as Jay told me on the first hole:

“If the wind picks up, this course is close to unplayable.”

As I sit here now finishing this post, so many thoughts and feelings are coming back.  Muscle aches that plagued me years ago are back for a reunion; agonizing over the editing process of this post, trying to figure out what random rants are useful and what can be deleted; and, most importantly, coming to the end of another satisfying post, looking forward to another day.

Cheers. 

3 comments:

Rob said...

Tom,

Great to see you writing again. Next to me you're my favorite golf blogger :). It's odd, because I just started my blog back up after completing my degree. I refreshed my blog and cleared out my blogroll (most of them were dead anyway) but I'll make sure to add your blog.

Keep it up man! You have great stuff.

Tom Collins said...

Thanks so much Rob. It's great to hear from you again, and I hope you're doing well. I've always enjoyed reading your posts--I'll be stopping by soon so say hello a little more formally.

Kiwi said...

Hows the body feeling after a couple of days, bit of a change from driving a desk.