Saturday, November 05, 2011

Your 18-Year-Old Self

It happened again yesterday.  I caddied for 18 holes, and by the end of the loop, I had barely spoken to the member at all.  I think this is the third or fourth time this has happened—where I’m caddying for a couple of guests, and by the time we finish 18 holes, I almost forget the members’ name.  I suppose there are a few good reasons for this: the constant wind that makes hearing difficult, the challenging walk and limited strength for conversation, and the fact that I’m still new there, and the members have their go-to caddies.  But yesterday I really didn’t have any excuses because it was just me and the member out there. 

I carried one bag, and I barely spoke to the member at all. 

In a traditional sense, this type of relationship is normal.  I mean, I’m there to carry the bag and make the round as easy and enjoyable as possible.  My job isn’t to talk.  But come on: 13 holes and only three or four sentences between us? He even had to ask me my name before we parted ways.  That’s how memorable I was.

He was a nice older gent who mumbled to himself.  At times I thought maybe he was talking to me, but I was never sure.  I mean the last thing he said to me was “good job,” so I guess everything went alright for him.  Maybe he was just old-school, and preferred not to talk to a caddie.  Who knows?

What I do know, however, is that he showed me how effective a straight, 220-yard drive can be on this course.  Granted, he played the whites, which measure around 6400 without wind.  But still: that’s some heavy-ass rough out there with an endless number of funky uneven lies.  Mr. Silent gave me a peek at a new strategy.

Anyway, the poignant moment I really wanted to share was what happened AFTER my loop.  I walked into the TV room to find 6-8 caddies lounging about.  There was an outing yesterday, and somehow I bypassed all the hoopla when Mr. Silent rolled in.  Out of the blue, one of the caddies blurted out: “If your 18-year-old self was here right now, what would he say?”

After a moment of silence, where the only sounds came from SportsCenter, answers to this question flew every which way, but they all revolved around the following theme:

“My 18-year-old self would spit in my face and call me a loser.  I think being a caddie is the last place I expected to be.”

Everyone seemed to sober up in that moment and give a nod of agreement.  As strange as this sounds, that answer shocked me.  I had always seen a symbiotic relationship between caddies and members: the caddies wanted the lives of the members, and the members wanted the lives of the caddies.  I felt this was why so many members and caddies bonded on the course, and as a positive side effect, the caddies were endowed with a superior level of confidence.  I mean think about it: in the real world, these CEO’s, celebrities, board members, doctors or whoever else were all masters of their respective domains.  But on the course? They’re on our turf.

In short, I always thought of caddying as a fun job to have.  Sure I ran into some problems years ago, but overall, these caddies are enjoying their lives, right?

After the responses I heard, I wasn’t so sure anymore.  But at least SportsCenter was on.  Something needed to distract us from the silence. 

Friday, November 04, 2011

Winter Tale

Sorry for the delay, but the last week has been a little weird.

Last Friday night, Big Bear told me to come in at 7:30 am Saturday morning “unless it was pouring.”  I didn’t realize this at the time, but because I live about 30 minutes away from the course, there was a 99% chance that it could be pouring rain at the course but be completely dry near my abode.

So, predictably, when I got up Saturday morning I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary.  About halfway to the course, however, the rain started coming down.  When I finally parked, it was windy, freezing, and raining just hard enough to make you think hail might be on its way.

When I got into the caddie area, there was only one other caddie there.  It was Larry.

“What the hell are you doing here?” This is now his way of greeting me every morning.

“I don’t know.  I heard it might snow today.  I’ll probably stay until 9:30 or so just to say I was here—I don’t think anyone will even be playing today.”

“Yeah, me neither.  You want some coffee?”

So we sat and drank coffee for about an hour.  He’s a good guy, and he gave me the skinny on the season at the course: when the busy months are, the fact that I might be able to get on “weekend warrior” status even while I’m working my full-time job, and even enlightened me about a private men’s bathroom nearby.  Now that’s valuable information.

Then Larry left for some reason.  I think he went for a smoke.  Then the phone rang.  I froze, and ultimately decided not to go near it.  I mean there’s nobody playing today, right? Why answer the phone?

Ten minutes later, the head pro walked down into the TV room where I was sitting.

“Oh, you are here.  We got two guys that want to play.”

Then Larry walked back in: “Hey, what’s happening?”

“We got two guys that want to play.”

“You’re shitting me.”

“No.  Mr. Little-Strange and Mr. Weed.  They’ll be here in 10 minutes, so you guys better suit up.”

Then the pro shook his head and left.  I stepped outside just to see what the weather was like at that point.  It was COLD.  I went back inside, where Larry was already getting ready.

“Hey Tom, if you don’t want to work, that’s fine.  These guys tip well, though, so it may be worth your while.”

“Yeah, yeah.  I’ll do it.”

I never complain about getting a loop, but today I was more than a little worried about my health.  It was freezing outside, and constant rain and a threat of snow really didn’t seem to bode well either.  But, I’m a caddie, and this is the kind of crap some golfers love.  In fact, I have a theory that some private club members who play in conditions like this get such a rush that they end up telling their grandkids about the experience some day.  I mean, many of these members have more money than they could ever spend—they might NEED to play golf in the snow just because they’ve done everything else in their lives and they need that fulfillment. 

Mr. Little-Strange pulled up first, and although I tried to be a good caddie and valet his Porsche SUV for him, when I got inside the vehicle I couldn’t figure out how to put it in reverse.  Ridiculous, I know.  But when I sat down, there were so many lights and vibrations that I felt like the car was on when in fact it was OFF and I merely needed to turn the key.  Damn luxury vehicles.  So when I got back outside and told the member that I couldn’t put it into reverse, Mr. Little-Strange gave me a look that seemed to say: “Wow you’re an idiot, and I hope to God you’re not my caddie.” 

After he parked the SUV, I gave him the good news: “Hi Mr. Little-Strange, I’m you’re caddie.”

While Larry and I waited outside in the horrific tundra-esque conditions for our golfers—who were most likely inside warming up with a crack-pipe—we admired the 100-pound American flag that normally flies high and graces the club with its sense of pride and direction.

That morning, however, it had become tangled around the pole, and the cold, unforgiving winds were now ripping it to pieces.  There was something so sad about the sight.  Then I turned around and looked at my reflection in the window, and felt even sadder.  Are these douche-bags really playing today?

When the golfers finally came back outside, they were so gung-ho about playing it was scary.  They ran down to the first tee like a couple of kids.

“What should we play for? $5? $10?”

“How about a $25-$50 Nassau?”

“Yes! Yipeee!”

To add to the fun, I realized after Mr. Little-Strange’s tee shot that not only was he a little strange, but he also couldn’t hit the ball very far.  I’m not knocking the guy for that, because golf is hard enough, it’s just that when it’s cold, the ball doesn’t travel very far ANYWAY—and with all of the forced carries off of the tee-boxes, I would need to field these balls a little closer to the infield.

Did I mention it was cold? Larry had given me an extra rain hat he didn’t need, so at least my head would be dry.  The problem with the hat, however, is that every time the wind decided to gust—which was quite often, actually—the front of the cap would flip up so I looked like Gilligan, and my entire face was exposed to the elements.  It felt like opening up the freezer while a 10-year old doused me with a water-gun.

Fortunately, we whipped around the front 9 quickly.  I wasn’t wearing gloves, so every time I tended the flagstick I thought one of my hands would be stuck forever.  By the 5th or 6th hole I think my hands were almost numb, so every time Mr. Little-Strange tossed me the ball I would just slap it back to him and say “no thanks.”  Pulling clubs out of the bag was also fun—I found that using the back of my hands, although slow and stupid-looking, could still work in a pinch.

After 9 holes, the two brave souls—ahem, “douchebags”—went inside for more crack and to “warm-up.”  So me and Larry did the same, and went downstairs for more coffee and shredded some layers to air ourselves out. 

After about 15 minutes, the telephone rang.  I picked it up: “Are they ready for us?”

“Yep.  Come on up.”

Wonderful.  After putting on every layer I could think of again, we stepped outside and found that it had started to snow.  And I’m not talking a slow, graceful snow.  I’m talking fast, accumulation-type snow.  Oh, and the wind and cold temperatures were still in full-effect, which I was happy for, because I needed to get my hands numb again to pull clubs out of the bag.

When we got to the 10th tee, something finally dawned on Mr. Little-Strange.  He turned to Mr. Weed.

“Hey, how are we going to find a white ball in the snow?”

This seemed to stump them, so I butted in: “Just follow the trails in the fairway.”

Mr. Little-Strange was so overjoyed he yelled to the heavens: “Yippee!”

There was one small problem with my theory on “following trails in the fairway,” and that was the fact that Mr. Little-Strange wouldn’t be reaching any fairways off of the tee.  So that meant careful inspection of the rough, which at that point looked like something out of a Stephen King novel.

Somehow, we didn’t lose a ball for the rest of the round.  They picked up intermittently throughout the last four holes we played, which was a Godsend for me and Larry, who were both shivering at this point just to keep warm.  When we looked at the clubhouse to see how the American flag was doing, we saw quite an unusual sight: the STARS were now completely separated from the STRIPES.  The red and white stripes were wrapped around the pole a good 80 feet above the ground, and the blue and white stars were flapping high above—unencumbered—in the winter breezes.  As if this course wasn’t surreal enough: a links-style course with a complete view of Manhattan and the industrial sights of Bayonne, a clubhouse with a Lighthouse built into it, 2-inches of snow and fog so thick we couldn’t even see the water, and now a mutated American flag that was now most likely frozen to the pole a good 80 feet above the ground.

On the last hole, to win the match, Mr. Little-Strange used a wedge from 4 feet away and chipped the ball directly into the hole.  YIPEE!

All of a sudden, the round was over.  The pro came out to greet us after the 13th hole, saying that because of the snow he couldn’t let us go any further—we’d be doing too much damage to the grass.  Our entire foursome cried hysterically—tears of sadness for the players, tears of joy for the caddies.

I remember years ago caddying in February in Virginia.  There wasn’t any snow, but the ground was so hard that the caddies had to pass around a cordless power drill just to be able to tee-up the golf ball for the members on each hole.  I can say, without a doubt, that my experience on Saturday in the snow tops that. 
Driving home was a nightmare, and there were so many branches and trees that were down that there were times when I didn’t know if I would even make it back.  Later that day, after getting home and changing, the power went out.  It wouldn’t come back on until Wednesday night.

Although I caddied yesterday, it was far less entertaining than my experience on Saturday, so I figured I’d relay this story instead.  There’s a 40-player outing this morning, so I have to get going.  But I hope you enjoyed the read.


Monday, October 24, 2011

You Spinning?

*The following occurred on Sunday, October 23rd

There’s no doubt about it—this course has officially made me its bitch.  I don’t ever remember being this sore.  I think my ankles now have biceps. 

The funny thing was, when I came in around 7:30, I really wanted to work.  I did—I thought, “After yesterday’s round with the Carters, every subsequent round should be butter.  The weather is supposed to be perfect, and there really isn’t any wind out here right now.  Golfers should be having fun and then I’ll have three days off for school so I can rest up.”

But TP and Big Bear were nowhere to be found.  The wedding the night before must’ve done some damage.  I think both of them were there for at least 14 hours yesterday.  So an outside staff member named Blue was up top running the show.  At first I thought that would be fine, because everyone in any capacity at this club seems to pitch in their fair share and the whole operation seems to run seamlessly.  But Blue made me nervous.

First he told me I would be working at 8:52.  Then he came back down 10 minutes later and said it was now 9:30.  Then he came down again and said: “You know what, you’re getting out today, but I’m not giving you a time anymore.”

The stop-and-go feeling was a little nauseating if I’m being honest here.  Not only because I really wanted to work and with all of his switching I started feeling like I may not work, but also because he reminded me a little of me when I started assisting with Caddie Master duties back in the day.  I can remember on a few occasions going back and forth with caddies because members were cancelling, changing requests, taking longer to eat breakfast, or whatever else.  It was frustrating because I knew that it was my job to get the caddies work, and if it just wasn’t happening the way I wanted it to happen—well, there’s that nauseating feeling again.

Big Bear finally showed up around 9.

“Man, I can still taste the Cuervo…that’s not good.  And I swear, the next time I go to grab a cart key from the bucket and there ARE NO cart keys, I’m going to grab an outside staff member by the neck and just start bludgeoning him with non-stop right hand punches.”

The caddie / staff parking lot is a HIKE up the hill to get to the clubhouse, so having a cart to ride up in is crucial.  Apparently Big Bear had thrown the bucket against the ground in anger, shattering it into “ten distinct pieces.”

Then the phone rang.  I’m starting to love the sound.  It was my turn to head up top. 

When I arrived at the podium, Blue walked over and pointed at my bags. “It’s a husband-wife, and you’re going to have a great time out there.  They’re high maintenance, and don’t give them too much information.  And they like to see some hustle.”

The bags were trunks, and I noticed as I walked up the steps to the podium that I was still sore and tired.  I really wanted to work, but I just didn’t think I had the energy I needed.  This is sacrilegious for me to say, but I wanted to try to take it easy out there today.  And did I mention the bags were heavy?

I was about to assess what I could remove from the bags when the husband-wife came out: Mr. and Mrs. Soccer.  As soon as he saw me eyeing the bags, Mr. Soccer stated the following: “The last caddie thought these bags were heavy, but I don’t really think so and I would feel more comfortable just leaving everything in there.  What do you think?”

You like all 15 clubs including a 1-iron, sir?

“I think the bags are fine.  You guys ready to go?”

The icing on the cake came when Big Bear sauntered up to the podium and greeted the Soccer’s. 

BB: “And how are we doing today?”

Mr. Soccer: “Fine.  Listen, we really want to whip around.  How busy is it out there?”

BB: “It’s not busy right now.  You’ve only got a twosome in front of you.  And you’ll whip around—Tommy is one of my best hustlers out there.  He’ll be in front of you all day.”

Me: “Thanks Big Bear, you’re the BEST.”

Sonofabitchoreocookiesareawesomebutnottodaybecauseimightdiebythetenthholeyoubitchassbitches.  Now the pressure was really on, and I was hoping some sort of caddie deity was watching over me.

After they teed off—and after I was well ahead, thanks Big Bear—I laughed for a second thinking about my initial training as a caddie all those years ago.  The owner of the caddie company had taken three of us on the course to complete the last 4-6 hours of our instruction, and he made a comment about caddying for husbands and wives.

“While I want you to work hard for both the husband and the wife, make sure for the first nine holes that you avert your eyes from the wife as much as possible.  Believe me, it’s the only way you’ll get both people to trust you by the back nine.  Then you can stare at the wife’s ass all you want.”

I had always found the overall concept particularly useful.  These people don’t know who they’re dealing with—a Jedi among Padawan-learners.

These people LOVED head-covers by the way. They couldn’t seem to get enough of them.  At times I felt like I was juggling with two bags on my shoulders.

One really surprising thing about the front nine was that all of my reads…were…perfect.  I would have never expected that in a million years, and OF COURSE I’m going to let it go to my head.  I need to soak it up while it’s there. 

Unfortunately, there was never any reaction from the Soccer’s.  So far, there seemed to be a wall between us, one that segregated members from caddies.

Then, on number 10, for whatever reason, Mr. Soccer pulled a 180-degree turn.  He started asking me about where I went to school, if I played soccer growing up (he and his wife rarely play after Labor Day because they’re too busy watching their daughter play soccer), and mentioned that “I was fast.”  So at least I had conveyed some hustle at that point.  Then again, that also made me work a little harder on the back nine (for whatever reason), because I guess just needed to make sure they got the point—I work hard for that cheddar.

When I said my goodbyes after a successful loop and brought their bags back to the podium, TP power-walked across the porch to get over to me.

“Yo, dude! You spinning?”

That’s caddie lingo for “double.”  JUST KILL ME NOW.

“Yeah, as long as I can get something light.”

“No worries, I got you.  Go downstairs and grab some lunch, and come back up when you’re done.”

I didn’t mean to sound like a baby, but I was seriously hurting after carrying those trunks.  The Aleve in my system had all but worn off after only 5 hours (supposed to work for 12, bitches), so I was forced to pop another just to see if the medication could TOUCH the pain in my shoulders.  No joke—I could barely lift my arms.  As I walked to the lunch-room—still can’t believe that they have food for caddies here—I contemplated telling TP that I just couldn’t do it.  It was the first time in my caddying CAREER that a course had gotten the best of me.

I shoved some sort of beef thing covered in crispy dough into my mouth, along with pasta and lemonade.  I ate so quickly that my jaw was unable to keep up with my brain after about 5 minutes.  I was eating in slow motion at that point, and had no ability to change gears.

I decided that I would commit to the second loop.  Just suck it up and deal with the consequences.  I figured my chances of dying were slim, so I should just quit my complaining.  When I got back up to the podium, TP gave me a weird look.

“Did you eat?”




“Okay…well just go downstairs and relax.  I’ll call you.”

I guess I broke the sound barrier eating that beef.  So I had a little time to let the Aleve kick in, which was just fine with me.  When I sat down in the TV room amongst the other caddies, however, word around the campfire was: I might not be going out.  Nobody in the room—and there were 8 of us—had been assigned a loop yet.  So maybe I’ll be alright.

Then the phone rang.

A caddie picked it up, hung it up, and yelled out: “Tommy! Tommy! You’re up!”

Glad I had enough time to go up and down the stairs one more time.  That really did wonders for my legs.

Turns out TP took care of me.  I had a single bag.  Not only that, but for the first four holes, my player was showing his kids around the course and I really had nothing to do but walk along.  The bag was light, and one of his kids—at the age of 8—sounded like a future PGA Tour Hall of Famer.

Not only did this kid drill a 3-wood 130 off a side-hill lie right onto the green, but on a previous shot, he held his finish and said: “I hit that on the toe.”

Dude, when I was 8, I’m pretty sure the only thing I knew was that I really enjoyed tater-tots.  That’s amazing. 

When the player finally dropped off his kids, he wanted to jump around the course and see if he could find another member to give him a ride home.  Although the caddying part of it was still easy, keeping up became exponentially more difficult.  By our 9th hole I was trying to think of a way I could fake hustle while I was actually walking in pain.  Turns out you can’t really “fake” hustle.  When the member asked me how long I had been caddying, I gave my new answer a try: “A little over a month.”

“Wow.  I knew you were new, but not that new.”

Okay then.  I guess the next time I’m asked, I’ll say 2 months.  But these members are so tight-nit with the caddies, that even then they may say, “Well that’s funny, I haven’t ever seen you around here before.  And didn’t you just say that number 7 was a par 5 when in fact it’s a par 4? Are you lying to me you little punk?”
When I was finally done for the day, I headed straight to Wendy’s.  It’s my new routine.  That 99-cent menu is a Godsend.  It beats the McDonald’s dollar menu any day.  Why? Try buying ONE f-ing thing on that “dollar menu” and see if it ends up being less than $1.40.  I dare you.  And hello: Monterey Jack cheese and ranch on a chicken sandwich with lettuce? I’ll take four.  And fries.  And a burger.

Another great day.  Time for more Aleve.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Carters

I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience when I woke up this morning.  The pain was there, sure, but my brain felt detached from it.  It was like I was observing my own pain and then saying, “Wow, that must hurt like hell.”

I stopped to pick up some Aleve and yogurt on my way in this morning.  I seem to be falling back into my old routine—I could never seem to eat very much for breakfast when I was caddying, and Aleve would always make me cry tears of happiness. 

The owner of the golf club is getting married later this afternoon, and so the parking lot I normally use was unavailable—they needed all the space they could get for valet.  When TP tried to explain where I COULD park today, his explanation went something like this: “As soon as you come over the train tracks, take a hard left into what looks like nowhere to go.  It’s right next to the 4th green.”

I knew the train tracks he was talking about, and I knew where the 4th green was.  As soon as I came over the tracks this morning, I slowed down and looked for the first possible left.  I saw one possibility about 30 yards ahead of me, but then I heard honking.  TP was directly to my left, signaling for me to turn into…well, nothing.  When I stopped, backed-up the car, and looked at the “parking lot,” I realized that unless TP had honked, I would’ve never found it.  TP’s shuttle van sat right next to the entrance of the narrowest, most secretive parking lot known to man.  The opening provided by the gate was probably only 15 feet wide, and once you pulled up into the lot, you had about 20 feet on either side to work on k-turning or reversing your car in a line down the left side.  Spare construction equipment and materials lay scattered on the ground or in piles everywhere.  It was like we were in the appendix of the trucking / construction site—it was hard to find a use for this space because of its shape and size.  So why not park caddies there?

When I got into the shuttle van, TP was laughing with a couple of the other caddies: “No, dude, you don’t understand.  The maximum capacity for this club is like 120 people.  When that happens, it’s a shit-show.  With this wedding, we’re looking at about 300 people.  So we’re beyond shit-show status today.  I just don’t understand why the owner doesn’t just say: ‘You know what? This is my course, and I’m getting married.  No play today.’  But no.  We have play on top of play on top of play on top of a wedding.”

I took my time signing in, because if the course is really that busy, there’s no rush to assure myself of a loop.  I knew I’d be getting out on the grass quickly.  So after throwing on an extra layer (it was nippy this morning), my jacket, bib, grabbing a cup of coffee and watching Sergio Garcia take a sizable lead at the Castello Masters in Spain, Big Bear came in and said: “Alright Tom, you’re going with Mr. Absent today.  He’s laid back, works on Wall Street, and smokes pot.  I just wanted to make up for all of the tortuous loops I’ve been putting you on.”

Four things: if every professional golf tournament was held in Spain, Sergio Garcia would win constantly.  Is it just me, or is he always right at the top of the leaderboard or winning every event that’s held in Spain? I don’t watch a lot of the European Tour because of the time difference and because the announcers put me to sleep—but I’m pretty sure I’m right about Sergio.  Second, Big Bear relayed a story about playing in an AJGA (I think that was the affiliation) event with Sergio the week before he went to play in the US Amateur back when Sergio was 17 years old.  Big Bear said on the first hole Sergio drilled a 2-iron “dick high” about 270 yards.  “It was a laser.”  I think it’s pretty unbelievable that Big Bear was able to play in a tournament against Sergio.  Big Bear said he shot 76-72, and Sergio fired a 71-74. “At least I beat him on the second day.”

Third, one of the caddies explained the McDonald’s Monopoly game to me.  Apparently, it’s impossible to get all of what you need to win if you keep buying food in the same State.  He said “they” have done “a study” to prove that all of the spaces you need will come from 3 different States.  If this caddie is correct, that means that A) McDonald’s is smarter than I thought, and B) If people can organize flash-mobs, they sure as hell can orchestrate some way of linking people with various Monopoly pieces all over the United States.  The overall prize you split may be much lower, but at least you don’t have to drive all the way to freaking Juno, Alaska to get Boardwalk.

Fourth, the loops so far have been great.  Torturous my ass.

When it was finally time to loop, and the group had completely formed, the only thing that came to my mind was “Carter.”  I say “Carter” because when I used to bartend for a few muckity-mucks, it seemed like they were all named Carter.  The member seemed like a stand-up guy—in fact, he was the regular for one of the caddies in the car accident, and when he heard the story on the first tee, you could tell how concerned he was.  The rest of the group, however, just reminded me of trust-fund babies—Carters.  Even after 18 holes, I still didn’t really get to know them that well, so it’s very possible I’m wrong.  But I felt I had to go with my gut on this one. 

There were two reasons for this belief: there were several occasions when one of my players acted like they were “putting me in my place” because I was a caddie.  They also struck me as the type of guys who never really had to work very hard to get into their current jobs.  Some of the conversations they had made it sound like they were born into connections, and mom or dad just had to pull a few strings to give them the best possible start. 

This may sound harsh, but I really have no interest in getting to know someone—I don’t care how rich they are—who treats certain people differently.  I may have a slight crack addiction, but I play to the same handicap and I don’t force my services upon you—so don’t say things like “let the caddie go get it” after you purposefully smack a ball in anger across the green.  Sure I’ll get your ball for you, but you’re not scoring any points, buddy.

You know, perhaps some of it was my fault for being honest.  When one of the players I was carrying asked me how long I had been working out there, I answered “this is my second week.”  The look of surprise on his face made me add: “But I’ve been a caddie for 3 years.”  I think divulging my inexperience is what made him crack down on me like he did today.  So I guess from now on I should lie a bit—maybe extend that experience out to a couple of months, just to gauge the reaction.

It’s not really like me to let players get to me, but honestly, I felt like I was closed off all day.  I wasn’t looking for long conversations with these guys, but to constantly get the cold shoulder does wear on you after 4+ hours.  I was just glad I had taken my Aleve.

Tomorrow will be better.  I feel like I’m finally starting to get a handle on the course, and my reads are getting more exact.  Or, maybe I shouldn’t jinx myself. 

Take care all.

Friday, October 21, 2011


It’s been a long time since I’ve been in this much pain.  I did 36 today—a single in the morning and a twosome in the afternoon.  I think I only survived the last half-hour of my second loop because of an intense desire not to pass out and die.  In short, I’m going to try to make this post short, because right now I’m having trouble lifting my arms above my shoulders.

So what can I say about the first loop that hasn’t already been said?

Well, the guy was not happy at the start of the round.  Remember that whole order of operations I talked about before? Well for some reason, even though the staff knew he was in the clubhouse and rushing to get on the tee, they still sent a threesome and a foursome in front of him.  He had signed up for a tee time ahead of all these blokes.  So what gives?

Well that was his line of questioning from the time I shook his hand until the middle of the first fairway.  He didn’t want to bad-mouth anyone, but he also really wanted to bad-mouth someone.  The foursome ahead of us on the 1st green simply stared back at us, smiled, and continued to take mulligan after mulligan and continue their topographical analysis of the putting surface.  My player, Mr. K, was about to explode.

So I said: “Why don’t we just skip around them and head over to 3? I saw a twosome heading to that tee but we’ll probably fly right through.”

Wait a second.  I said I wanted this post to be short, because it hurts to shrug right now.  So let me fast forward the first round.

On the 3rd hole, we marveled at a horrible pin location and played through a twosome.

Mr. K finally calmed down by the 6th hole, and when we got to the green, we marveled at another horrible pin location.  Mr. K: “What the hell? What the hell? Does the Superintendent even play golf?”

Somehow, my crack smoking didn’t interfere with my green reading.  I was ON FIRE with this guy. 

Sometimes you just click with a player and you can trust his putting stroke.  We made some great putts on the front, and I cursed a few times in excitement, to which he replied: “I like that!”

When he found out I was studying to be a CPA, he told me that I’d have a better chance finding a good employer if I shoved my head up a cow’s ass.  He told me “good luck.”  Then he said his wife is a CPA, so I wondered if she had shoved her head up a cow’s ass.  Turns out she now works for him, so I guess it’s a regular freaking cow-fest.

My first “bad” read came on 11.  “Bad” as in 1-inch offline.  Mr. K blamed the wind, and I liked that.

Mr. K made 3 incredible pars in a row, and we both marveled at the horrible pin locations.  I mean with the strong winds and fast greens, some of these pins are just bad-ass—like “Superintendent Revenge Day” bad-ass.

We skipped back to number 1 after the 18th—2.5 hours had passed in 16 holes.  I was sweating just about as much as the day I tried to learn vector calculus.  After the second hole, he said he had a great time.  I hope I get a request from him in the future.  A fast-talker and a fast player—I like it.

Big Bear advised me that my next loop would be at 1:30, so I had 30 minutes to have a “serious burn.”  Dude, keep it down.  I don’t want EVERYONE knowing about my crack addiction.

So I sat down in the poker room downstairs, had a little lunch, drank a little coffee, and shed a layer.  I had been sweating so much that one of my layers—not the initial layer—was completely soaked.  As soon as I took it off, I felt much cooler, but then it was almost like I had a fever.  I was now freezing. 

My 1:30 canceled, but I hung around just in case some stragglers showed up.  TP then assigned me a single, but when I went up to the podium to introduce myself, a twosome showed up out of nowhere and TP assigned me to the newcomers instead.  When I looked at the bag-tag on the first bag, I couldn’t believe what I saw.

This player is a member at my old stomping grounds—that great track in Northern Virginia where it all started for me: my gambling problem, my drinking problem, my crack problem, my bad green reading problem, and my caffeine addiction.  It was a magical 3 years.

The highly un-magical thing about Mr. Pastime’s bag, however, was that he had 17 clubs, which included two identical 4-irons.  One of my eyes twitched slightly.  I decided, for the sake of whipping myself into shape, that I would carry this overweight bag and not say a word.  It seemed like a smart idea at the time.

The other players’ name was so unfamiliar to me that it would take me 18 holes just to come CLOSE to remembering parts of it.  I feel as though I’m good with names—but this one was the grand-daddy of all names.  Consonants, syllables, and vowels were thrown together in an entropic array that would give Keith Richards a high.  Even when this player SAID his name to me when we shook hands, it came out sounding like all the grown-ups on Charlie Brown.  It flew by too fast, and I felt very alone and scared.

Alright, time to fast forward the second round so I can take some more pain medication.

So the bags were heavy, I was already tired, and the temperature had dropped about 15 degrees.  The sun was already starting to set, and with the overcast sky, I wondered if it would be alright if I screwed up absolutely everything in this round.  Well, didn’t WANT to screw up, it just sort of happened that way.

First off, it’s an entirely different golf course for 5-6 handicappers who can hit the ball over 270 from the tee.  I hadn’t thought about how a golfer would play this course if he or she could drive the ball over 220, because that’s all I had encountered so far.  Handing a driver to the player seemed appropriate in most situations, and I was always hoping that the ball would carry over certain waste areas, even though I knew exactly where the ball was going.  But not with these guys: my yardages would have to be adjusted back to something I would actually hit.  That may seem easier, but when you throw in those horrible pin placements and a strong cold wind, you feel totally unprepared for any and all questions they throw at you.  And putting? Piece of cake.

“Tom, does this putt break left?”


Gorgeous putt.

“It broke right, Tom.”

“Wow.  So it did.  That’s amazing.”

MAN that felt good.

After—oh I don’t know—the 2nd hole, the players stopped asking me for reads on the greens.  That freaking Superintendent moved SOME of the flags since this morning, and so many times I was looking at putts I had never seen before.  Other than my previous example, I usually got the direction of the putt just fine, it was the “amount” of break that alluded me.  It did wonders for my confidence.

Did I mention Mr. Pastime had 17 clubs in his bag with 2 identical 4-irons? By the back 9, I was piecing together my last will and testament in my head I was so excited about it.

These guys liked to play incredibly fast.  Normally, this is a great thing for a caddie.  But I was having trouble keeping up by the time we reached the back 9.  Not only that, but they were splitting me on every hole.  One of them was always in the fairway, but the other was always NOT.  I think I added another mile to my foot-action today—I also think the arch of my right foot just wheezed—and made me feel as though I was holding them up, regardless of how fast I tried to move.

By the end, they both gave me a wink and a good handshake—even though I think I screwed up just about everything I could screw up.  I was so happy I had finished I wanted to cry.  It was pitch black by the time we walked off the final green.  I did think it was important to discover that I could work using sonar. 

The fun wasn’t over, however.  Now I had to put their clubs in their cars.  Turns out I needed to figure out where the list was to identify their cars, where their keys were, and where someone with a key was to open the bag room because my STUFF was locked inside, which included my car keys. 

But it all worked out.  Now I’m just trying not to move too much and hope that when I get tired, I can move from the keyboard to my bed and fall asleep instantly.  I know tomorrow morning is going to be even worse.  I imagine I’ll tighten up something awful by then.  It’s really just my shoulders.  Then again, as a caddie, that’s about the worst place you can be hurting.

I know I’ll be fine.  Tomorrow should be interesting.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Pulling Something from Somewhere

When I pulled into the parking lot this morning, there was a familiar caddie waiting in a cart.  When I opened my door, he started laughing.

“Whoa now.  Don’t hurt yourself.  Slow down.  There’s nobody here right now.  When you sign your name you’ll be number 2, behind me.  I think there are 10-15 golfers on the sheet all day.”

Sure enough, when we rolled into the caddie room, I was in the 2nd spot.  I decided it would probably be a good time to get a little reading done, as well as figure out how I would layer up for caddying today—somebody had cranked up the air-conditioning in the basement from “normal” to “North Pole,” which made me forget in the span of a minute what the weather was like outside.  So I put on a couple extra layers.

I bundled up so much, in fact, that TP—an old friend and the Assistant Caddie Master—looked over at me when he walked in and said: “Hey, Tommy, what the hell do you have on there? You need a blanket and a pacifier too?”

So while I struggled to determine my proximity to the Equator, three more caddies came in and told the most unbelievable story.  Well, to be honest, it wasn’t the WHOLE story—I was only able to pick up fragments.  I didn’t want to pry and get every detail, because I’m still new to the yard and it’s the type of story where I felt it would be inappropriate for me to ask a lot of questions.

In essence, here’s what happened: four caddies went off to play golf on Monday.  While driving on one of the nearby highways, something came loose on an 18-wheeler carrying 10 cars.  A couple of the cars being transported fell off the back of the rig, and so now two stationary vehicles are in the middle of the road while on-coming traffic is traveling around 65-70 mph.  Unfortunately, the car carrying these caddies was only a few car-lengths behind the truck when this happened.  The driver swerved to miss the first stationary vehicle, clipping part of it, which sent the four caddies into a spin.  They were then T-boned by the second stationary vehicle and slammed again by a car that had been following behind them.  One of the caddies broke his arm and fractured his skull, another caddie punctured a lung when his ribs broke, and I think one of the other caddies broke a leg (again, I’m just piecing together fragments of the story).  All four caddies suffered memory loss in regards to the accident, and their golf clubs flew out of the trunk and were scattered all over the highway.

Only two “positive” things came of this.  First, when the ambulances arrived at the hospital and during their short wait to be seen by doctors, all of the caddies were yelling at each other.  Things like “I may have a broken arm, but I could still kick your ass!” Apparently they had the hospital staff laughing hysterically, and one of the doctors even said: “You guys are like…too much for the emergency room right now.”  I’m saying that was “positive,” because at least that meant that they were doing alright—well enough to be bitching at each other. 

The second positive thing—very positive—was that a couple of the caddies orchestrated a visit, and after everyone in the room knew the story (more caddies had shown up by then), 5-10 caddies planned a visit to their friends in the hospital after their loop was over with today.  That gives you some indication of how tight-nit these guys are, which I think is really special.  Out of the 5 or 6 clubs I’ve been a part of, I can think of only one other group of caddies where you could get a group of guys together to do that.

After that somber tale, I sat down in the bag room to get a little reading done and work on one of my books.  Then I thought: why does every bag room smell like grass and feet?

“Hey Tommy! You’re going out with Sanders at 10 with some ‘un-accomp’s.’” It was TP, giving me the lowdown. 

That was another new concept for me: unaccompanied guests.  This club allows a member to call the pro-shop and say, “Hey, my man, I got 4 friends that wanna play your course, but I can’t make it.  Let them play unsupervised the way God intended, alright?”

“No problem.  What time would they like to grace us with their freaking presence?”

I’m positive that’s how all of those conversations go.  At every other private club I’ve ever been to or worked, either the member has to be present or one of the professionals would need to join the group.  I suppose this particular club, with its close proximity to Manhattan, would rather show off the goods and attract new members than play the upturned-nose card.

The time was 8:45.  Plenty of time to read and relax.  So I poured myself a big cup of coffee (another perk I will never take for granted—I mean are you freaking kidding me?), and sat down in the smelly bag room to read over some of my notes.

Around 9:15, a caddie flew through the basement door and tracked me down.  “Hey! Get up there!”

Already? Damn.  So I dumped the rest of the coffee, grabbed a towel, and followed the caddie back up to the podium.  He pointed down to the first tee.

“They’re already down there.”

Wow.  I didn’t mean to be a freaking SLACKER.  In thinking back, however, this is pretty much par for the course when it comes to caddying.  Regardless of how “prepared” you want to be, there will always be times when the Caddie Master will throw you a curveball. 

Today, I would be carrying two bags.  I’m growing up.  Mother would be so proud.  My two “un-accomp’s” were Mr. Fallback and Mr. Highslice.  Both were tremendous people—don’t get me wrong.  It’s just that Mr. Fallback liked to fall back on this right foot on the follow through, which led to some wonderfully consistent golf shots.  Mr. Highslice, on the other hand, liked to swing on an aggressive outside-to-in path, which produced a surprisingly high slice.  I knew that with the stereotypically strong winds on this course, both players would really enjoy their day.

My first issue came on the 2nd green, where Mr. Fallback had a putt for par.  Although the greens here roll true and I don’t feel they’re overly difficult to read, my name is still Tom Collins, and at times the crack I’ve smoked will cloud my vision and make it more than a little difficult to give the correct reads.  The additional problem was that the wind actually affected the line of a putt.  In many cases today, the ball would be wobbling or move while the players addressed the ball.  Anyway, all crack smoking aside, Mr. Fallback had a legitimate chance at par.  It was about 20 feet and downhill.  He asked me for a read (first mistake) and trusted that I knew what I was doing out there (second mistake).  After reviewing the putt from behind the hole, I thought the ball would move about two cups right.  I gave him an aiming point, and stepped back.

The ball stayed completely straight, and with perfect speed, stopped EVEN with the hole, two cups out on the left.  You have got to be kidding me.  So, I searched out-loud for an answer.

“Well, I guess the…wind…must’ve held that out there.  From down here it looked like it was going right.”

Then things were cool for awhile.  Nobody asked for a read, which made me a little nervous, if only because once a player cuts you off from reading his putts (unless he simply prefers it that way), you can wave bye-bye to a decent tip.  But that wasn’t the case here—the players were relaxed, joking, and just wanted to pick-up play, so they just stepped up and hit the ball in most cases.

Then we got to the 5th hole.  The 5th hole—without wind—is sort of a joke.  I think from the tips it’s a 160-yard par 3, which means that from the blues it runs about 140.  The nicely folded pin-sheet in my hand said 30 paces back from the front, so after a quick calculation, I came up with 145 pin.  The pin-sheet said back right, and from where I stood, the pin looked back right.  The other caddie even chimed in: “Yeah, I like 145.”

When we got up to the green, the pin was FRONT right.  I’m not sure if I coughed, cleared my throat, farted, or wheezed, but I was taken aback.  I looked at the other caddie.

“Yeah, I wasn’t about to question your yardage on the tee in front of the players…but I could tell that flag wasn’t back right.  I could just see too much of it sticking up.”

Nobody really said anything, so I thought I was in the clear.  But then I had another hiccup: I handed my players their drivers for the 6th hole.

Without wind, the 6th hole is a really short par 4.  I think it’s under 300 yards.  There’s a waste area with bunkers that runs from the green about 50 yards back towards the fairway, and so from the elevated tee—without wind—you don’t want to hit anything longer than 200 from the blues.  The other caddie explained this to everyone in our group, and my players turned around, looked at their drivers and then at me.  Again, I think I might’ve wheezed, coughed, or farted—I can’t be sure.  Bottom line, I handed them their hybrids.

After watching Mr. Fallback and Mr. Highslice rip their tee-balls high into the wind and land short of the fairway, I did wonder why I hadn’t insisted on drivers for them anyway.  But I still felt as though my club selection was premature.

On the 8th hole, all four players crapped the bed.  One player lost a ball.  Then another.  Then someone hit it in the water.  Then Mr. Highslice gave up. Then someone skulled it over the green, then someone three putted, and when it was all over, I think a 7 won the hole.  I would have needed a graphing calculator to determine their aggregate score.  Laser my ass.  Get me something that can add exponents. 

One thing the 8th hole did, however, was jumpstart my confidence and get the whole group on a roll again.  With a bad 8th hole, now players are turning to me for more guidance, I’m feeling better about myself, and everyone is playing better.

When Mr. Fallback asked me about my tenure on that course—as in: “How long have you worked here?”—I had to lie.  Well, I tried to avoid a “number of years” per se, and just condensed it to “a while.”  During one of my initial loops here, a member asked me the same question.  When I responded with: “Oh, about a week,” he nearly choked on his Cohiba.  I little white lie never hurt anyone.  I’m still running my ass off trying to be a good caddie—no need to introduce any doubt in the fragile minds of my players.

After the round, the other caddie mentioned that “you can always tell when you’re caddying for a player who normally rides in a cart, because by the 14th or 15th hole, their legs get weak and they can’t seem to swing the club as well anymore.”  I noticed that this was true of Mr. Fallback on 17, because after his trek up to the green, he just stood over the ball and laughed as he took multiple swings in the deep rough just to move the ball a couple feet.

I’ll say it again: just tremendous guys.  I really enjoyed caddying for them.  I’m just glad things got turned around today after the 8th.  When I came back down to the caddie room after the loop, a hand-written sign was plastered on the entrance to the TV room.  To paraphrase, it said: “All hands on deck Friday morning.”  Apparently it’s going to be busy tomorrow.

Can’t wait.

Monday, October 17, 2011


**The following is based on experiences from Sunday, October 16th.

One of the big differences between caddying five years ago and today is grad school.  I’m happy to report that they’re not just handing out master’s degrees—so far it’s non-stop work.  For whatever reason, one of my professors made an online assignment due today at noon, even though I won’t have class this week.  So I had to finish this particular assignment late last night.

So waking up this morning wasn’t fun.  The pink and red sky over industrial Bayonne was certainly a sight, though.  When I finally arrived in the bag room (successfully navigating the maze of doors in the bowels of the lighthouse) and signed my name, I was 9th.  Movin’ on up to the East-side.

I would soon discover, however, that I was in for some good old fashioned couch time.  The tee sheet was packed, but Big Bear had to look after his regular guys first.  So after about an hour, I decided to sit in the poker room and watch the drama unfold to pass the time.

At first, there were only two caddies sitting at the table talking about their fantasy football teams.  Now, I’m a man, so I understand the concepts involved with creating a fantasy football team and how the points are determined, but I could barely keep up.  The names, stats, and strategies they were throwing back and forth made my head spin.  So I just sat there and kept my mouth shut for most of it.

Unbeknownst to me, another caddie was in the process of recruiting poker players.  When this “recruiter” walked back in the room and looked at me, he smiled.

“You play cards?”

“You know, I do, but I had to swear it off for a while because I lost too much money.  I know that’s probably music to your ears, but I’ll just hang back for now if that’s alright.”

He laughed and grabbed a seat.  Two more caddies came in with breakfast and sat down at the poker table, sipping their coffee and bitching in unison: “Hey, are we playing cards or what? We may have to loop soon.”

Then three more caddies came in, and the table was full.  The game could begin.  Twenty minutes later, Big Bear waltzed in and started commentating on the action.  “What the hell is that guy doing? This is the caddie room.  Ignore all logic, thought, and instinct…and just push in all your chips.  Don’t think, dude.  Act.”

The game went on for a while, until Big Bear heard some static over the radio and told a few guys to cash in and head up top.  Yet instead of going up top with them, Big Bear took a seat at the table and started playing.  Call me crazy, but that fascinated me.  I have managed a few caddie programs (or assisted, anyway) in my heyday, and I would’ve never dreamed of sitting down to play cards.  There were always people to meet and things to do, and it would’ve been impossible to pull myself away.  But I guess after five years at the helm, Big Bear knew the routine cold and could take 20-30 minutes to enjoy himself without causing a hiccup in the first tee procession.

Between hands, Big Bear conveyed a story about one of the caddies in the yard who had been arrested the night before.  For those of you who have never worked in a caddie yard, this story may seem outrageous—but this is pretty much par for the course when it comes to caddies.

“So did you guys hear about Miller? We’ve got another arrest to add to the list.  What’s he up to now—five for the season? I think that’s a record.  Anyway, the guy gets a booty call at 1 am.  He lives in like…the worst part of Newark.  So Miller puts on a black jacket and a black hat, and there just so happens to be a robbery in the area.  Well of COURSE the cops are going to pull him over because he looks like a freaking hoodlum.  So they arrest him and take him in for questioning.  When he finally convinces them that they’ve got the wrong guy, they run his record and find an unpaid $90 ticket on his file for urinating on the Light Rail (public transportation).  So, long story short, he’s not here today.  Good old Miller.”

Around 10, the phone rang.  One of the caddies yelled my name, and it was time for me to get my ass to the podium.  As an aside: there’s a sign on the exit door next to the poker room that specifically tells everyone NOT to use that door to go up to the first tee.  On my first day, Big Bear told me to go all the way up the stairs and out ANOTHER door, so I’d end up by the putting green.  Yet each day so far, EVERYONE goes out the door their not supposed to for a loop.  So I just said screw it, I’m doing that too.  Walking all the way around the building isn’t really any fun when NOBODY ELSE is back there.

When I arrived at the podium, it didn’t look like anyone knew what was going on.  I mean sure, caddies and outside staff members were being proactive, going out to meet members pulling up in cars or carts to take their bags and say hello.  Aside from that, 10 caddies (including me) seemed to be just standing around on the front porch in the wind—just waiting.  On Saturday, I gave a caddie a lift to the Light Rail (different guy, not Mr. Pee) and he mentioned that most of the loops out here are “pot luck.”  I didn’t really understand what that meant until today.

After about 15 minutes of interacting with members, guests, and caddies, I finally figured out that I would be working with another caddie named Brandon, and that we’d be splitting a threesome.  By now it was about 10:30, and the porch was mobbed.  Everyone wanted to tee off at once.  The order of operations at this club is as follows: when a crap-load of golfers are chomping at the bit and you can’t send people off of 10 or 14, the first tee order requires that singles go first, then twosomes, then threesomes, then foursomes.  As a threesome in the midst of foursomes, we were given the green light.  I guess tee-times are more like guidelines here than rules.

Our group consisted of two members and a guest.  I would start by carrying one of the members—a thin, 6’7’’ behemoth named Mr. B.  The other member was Mr. V, and after watching a few practice swings, I dubbed the guest Mr. All-Wristy.  Brandon asked the group what tees they wanted to play.  Mr. V said blue, which meant 6,700 yards in 30+ mph winds.  I thought to myself: “Self, these must be decent golfers.  Nobody in their right mind would play that yardage and punish themselves if they knew they couldn’t handle it.”


Mr. V topped his tee shot into the Sasquatch weeds in front of the tee.  What added to the fun was that when I turned around, 30 people stared down at us.  All those players and caddies waiting on the porch? Yeah, they had stadium seating for this show.  The first tee is on a much lower level, blocked from the wind between two huge mounds of grass.  I turned back to my players, and crossed my fingers under my towel.

Mr. V striped his second tee-ball, which made me feel better.  Then Mr. All-Wristy stepped up to the plate, and snap-hooked his ball into the tall grass. 

“I’ll just drop in the fairway.”

At least he’s easy-going about it.  Then my man, Mr. B, grabbed a 5 iron and drilled it 215 yards into the wind, right in the center of the fairway.  The first hole is only 340 yards on the card, and without wind you only have about 230 yards of runway before the nasty stuff—so Mr. B’s play was understandable.  I just couldn’t believe he hit a 5-iron that far.  Holy leverage.

Under my “old school” caddie training, I was taught to never lose a players ball.  Out here? If you lose less than 5, you’ve either done a great job or you have a plus-6 handicap for a player.  Even if you have a perfect line on the ball and see where it stops, there’s still a good chance you’ll lose it.  To add to the fun, many shots carry over large mounds of grass—of which there are many between you and the green—and you may not be able to see or figure out which mound of grass holds your ball.  The only silver lining here is that you’re bound to find 5-6 balls a round that AREN’T yours, but that will be enough to quell the players’ frustration because then you can say: “Hey, sorry about losing your ball again.  But here’s a brand new ball for you to use.”  In a sense, the balls you lose and the balls you find tend to wash each other out.

Brandon and I talked a bit, and I could tell he had a good work ethic.  He said he’s been caddying since he was a kid, and that this course is “night and day” from where he used to work.  I had to agree with him—I’ve worked at some clubs where you have to kill yourself just to get a smile out of the members.  But here, you can relax a bit and just be yourself.  The course is walking only, and so the membership tends to be younger than your average private club.

Brandon forced reads on the players on the greens.  That annoyed me at first.  Again, it’s just my upbringing, but normally you’re just supposed to read the putt and wait to see if the player asks you about it.  You don’t just read the putt and tell him where to hit it.  As Brandon proved, however, this was actually acceptable and useful, because the greens here have so many undulations and considerations that the only way to keep up the pace of play would be to take Brandon’s approach. 

I also noticed that I should have complete confidence in my yardages.  It’s easy to come to a course like this with 30-40 mph gusts and insane elevation changes and feel nervous about distance recommendations.  But I found that despite my rookie appearance, I’m a golfer first and a caddie second, and so I still have what it takes to gauge appropriate yardages.  On one of the par-5s, Mr. B had—without wind—205 to the flag for his second shot from the fairway.  Water and marsh ran all the way up to the green on the left side.  Now, Mr. B is a behemoth, so I knew he could get there.  But the wind was gusting at 30-40 mph BEHIND us, and the pin location meant that he would have very little room before or after the flag to stop this ball.  In other words, the yardage had to be perfect.

After visualizing the shot myself, I felt that he’d need at least 180 to clear the water, but not too much after that.

“I’d say your 185 club.  If you hit it high, though, you could almost go 175 with this wind.”

“How about my 190 stick?”

“Sounds good.  Go with what you’re comfortable with.  There’s a backstop after the green if you go long.  I like it.”

It’s such a fine balance when it comes to giving a golfer information.  In the past, I’ve found that if you coach a player too much before a shot, 99% of the time they screw it up.  It just adds tension.  But if you give too little, then they’re not comfortable with the club selection or target, and they’re usually not happy with the result.  As a caddie, you need to find a balance.  As an aside, I’ve also found that the truly amazing golfers—scratch or better—can talk with you all day about strategy and not screw up.  So I guess my theory only holds up until you start talking about tour quality play.

With a mighty swing, Mr. B drilled a 7-iron high into the air.  The ball landed pin-high about 10 yards left, and bounced over the back of the green into the rough.  Considering the crazy wind and the shot he had before him, that was a great swing.  I also ended up reading his birdie putt correctly—ahem, dead straight—and he thanked me as he walked to the next tee.

At that point, the other caddie was already in forecaddie position on the next hole, so I ran to get out to the other side of the fairway with him before our players teed off.  After the tee-shots, Brandon came over to talk.

“Dude, you need to smoke some weed or something.  Why are you running around like that?”

“What, just then? I was just trying to catch up to you.”

“No, I mean like…all day so far.  Just relax.  I told you: this is different than other clubs.  Calm the hell down.”

I had to laugh.  Seems nothing has changed.  I’m still getting crap from caddies about how I work.  What was even more surprising to me was that I don’t consider myself to be in shape yet.  I’m sure I’m going to be feeling all this tomorrow.  Brandon had one more important tidbit to add:

“Oh, and when you carry two on the back, I’m going to stick with Mr. All-Wristy.  I think that’s the only way we can speed this group up.  Right now I feel like we’re holding up the course.”

Good point.  I remember in the past that if you’re caddying in a group that’s holding up play, you’re going to catch hell from the other caddies after the round is through.  Then again, in order to help speed up play, shouldn’t I maintain my current caddying speed, Mr. Brandon?

The back 9 was much smoother than the front.  With Brandon helping out Mr. All-Wristy, we sped up our pace of play and the round was over with before we knew it.  It also felt great to give out yardages to the other players, seeing on their faces that at that point, they really trusted my judgment.

The 18th was satisfying—now I know what Jay meant on Saturday.  This course is a HIKE, and finishing your trek just feels good.  Then again, that means that working a double will probably make me cry. 

The longstanding tradition of taking off your cap and shaking hands with players after the round is through is still one of my favorite parts of the day. All cheesiness aside, you really do feel as though you’ve been through a lot with someone at that point, and it’s just a satisfying conclusion to a 4-5 hour relationship.

When I started changing back in the bag room, I noticed I was drenched in sweat.  Yeah, I’m certainly going to be feeling that tomorrow.  Brandon came down with an empty carry bag from Mr. All-Wristy, and then walked into the TV room to talk with Big Bear.  I don’t think Brandon knew I was on the other side of the cage when he started talking.

“Big Bear, you need say something to your friend.  Tell him to take some freaking muscle relaxers or something.  He’s running around like a kid out there.  It’s ridiculous.”

“You know something Brandon? Back in the day we called that ‘hustling.’  I can’t teach you that.”

Sitting here now, a day later, I’m REALLY feeling it.  My schedule for caddying will be Thursday through Sunday until mid-November, so at least I have a few days to stretch and pump Advil.  It’s really been a treat to don the bib again, but I do have to figure out a better schedule for studying.  Unfortunately, I can’t recover from late nights like I used to.  If I keep this up I might need a walker the next time I work.

Take care all.

Saturday, October 15, 2011


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.”


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.