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Wednesday
Aug092006

"Wanted: caddie. Pay: great. Thick skin a must. Eventual termination: certain."

p1_wiecaddie.jpgSI's E.M. Swift files a web-exclusive on the Michelle Wie caddie cavalcade, starting off with this from Juli Inkster (who used to employ pro jock Greg Johnston):
 "It would have been nice to get a phone call from the [Wie] family, saying this is what we're thinking of doing," Inkster told me after she took the first-round lead at the Women's British Open last week with a 66. "I'd had Greg for 11 years. It's not like I was some rookie.

"But that's not the way they [the Wies] do things. Instead they gave him a take-it-or-leave-it in the middle of my season, right before the Solheim Cup. I don't blame him. He's got kids to think about. But that didn't sit well."

Johnston was looking after his future, and there wasn't a caddie on the LPGA tour who wouldn't have done exactly the same thing. This despite the fact that the Wies had already gone through nine caddies between 2003 and '05, when Michelle was an amateur, and that "every time she misses a green, it's the caddie's fault -- except when Dad's on the bag," as one experienced caddie told me at last year's Women's British.

Wow, nine caddies, plus Johnson makes 10. Only two more to catch Spinal Tap's rumored dozen!

Here's the part about where Johnston lost his gig.
I was outside the scorer's trailer at Royal Lytham and St. Anne's last week when Wie got word that she'd been penalized two strokes for grounding her club in a sand trap during the second round. She had accidentally brushed away a clump of moss that was resting behind her ball during her backswing, a transgression that TV cameras clearly showed.

Johnston had told her she couldn't move the impediment, but Wie's parents, father B.J. and mother Bo, were visibly angry as they pulled their 16-year-old daughter aside to get her version of what had happened.

It was a tense scene. Wie's two bodyguards, dressed in Nike golf shirts, were rude and aggressive while keeping photographers and TV cameramen from filming the meeting -- never mind that it was taking place in a mixed zone where interviews routinely were conducted. Michelle was near tears. She hadn't known the rule. She thought if she just continued her swing, there was no violation.

Johnston should have known then and there that his days were numbered.

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Reader Comments (9)

Wasn't Johnston only the 2nd caddie "fired"?
Other than B.J. (who Michelle did fire) I think the other caddies were otherwise employed and only helped Wie temporarily (e.g., Fluff Cowan and Fanny Suneson).
08.9.2006 | Unregistered CommenterGeorgeM
Still, quite a roll-around.

Another thing I wonder is how long the Wies imagine they can keep treating people and the game like this. Sooner or later, this is all going to come back at them real hard.

That, or produce a generation of really pain-in-the-rear kids who think this is how you treat people and the game.
08.9.2006 | Unregistered CommenterScott S
At some point, Michelle (and the Wies) will have to take responsibility for what happens on the course. You can only blame bad breaks and bad luck for so long. Also, if don't give the caddie the credit for the win because he clubbed you correctly all day, don't blame the caddie for the loss, especially since a pro golfer is supposed to know the rules of the game.
08.10.2006 | Unregistered CommenterC. Freeman
"But she's only 16."

Sooner or later the golf pundits on The Golf Channel and elsewhere will be required not to use this phrase. Wie and her family chose to take the money and turn pro. Being a pro means more than having a great swing and a lot of potential.
08.10.2006 | Unregistered CommenterSteven T.
They should have fired his sorry ass after the Dinah Shore debacle on 18. He's supposed to be the experienced one. Allowing her to chip that 3rd shot was a [insert name of Van De Velde's caddy]-esque exhibition of caddying "expertise." It was at that time that Mr. Johnson should have known that his days were numbered.

Swift's article is yet another misleading cheap shot. "Gone through" nine caddies? Does Fluff think he got fired by Michelle Wie? He was on the bag at a time when Furyk didn't need him. He's certainly not going to give that bag up for a player who's only permitted to play 7 events on her tour, especially with the amounts of money available there.

When a certain young man left a Pac-10 school some ten years ago, the doubters were there. The Curtis Stranges of the world said we'll see how he does when he doesn't get his card and has to go to Q School. Keep it up doubters. This one's going to turn out the same way. . .
08.10.2006 | Unregistered CommenterSmolmania
Have to agree with Smolmania, he probably should have got the axe after the Dinah Shore, and in a couple of years no one will remember this anyway. Everyone seems to be over analyzing her problems and forgetting about the positives. Sooner or later, even the haters will have to come to the realization that she really is special.

On a side note, I have to admit that I didn't know that rule either. I had assumed she had removed it prior to her swing. I wonder how often this sort of thing happens without anyone knowing about it. Would another player under less scrutiny be penalized?
08.10.2006 | Unregistered CommenterGus
Also, as I recall there were some hard feelings when Cowan left Peter Jacobsen to go work for young Mr. Woods. Again, a business decision which was hard to criticize, tho the manner of the departure created some hard feelings (as was the case with Julie Inkster).
08.10.2006 | Unregistered CommenterSmolmania
Nike bouncers are a nice touch. The Messiah had them at Hoylake, too.
08.10.2006 | Unregistered CommenterVan
A CADDIE'S JOURNAL by Don J. Snyder For OUTSIDE Magazine

A well trained caddie working in Scotland will carry for himself and his golfer-- tees, divot tool, small coin for marker, pencil, extra scorecard, lighter, wool cap for when the wind howls off the North Sea, sun screen (seldom needed) large towel with one end kept wet to clean clubs and ball, wee towel kept dry at all costs beneath his clothing and used only for grips (often needed), sandwich for when he is sent straight from the eighteenth green back to the first tee for a second loop, small bottle of water he can refill around the course as needed, waterproofs top and bottom, a pharmacopeia of drugs for aches and ailments because it is a point of honor NEVER to call in sick in the 180 day season, pin sheet, and yardage book though he knows the ground by heart. In addition, of course, he carries his golfer's clubs, and because the game can wreak havoc inside a player's mind, there are those times when he carries his golfer as well and learns what it really means to be a caddie.

I had a 2:40 tee time one late September afternoon at Kingsbarns Links in Scotland and was talking outside the caddie shed with the three other guys going out with me, until we heard Davey Gilchrist, our caddie master call to us: “Up you go, boys.” We paused to dip our towels in the blue bucket before we made our way to the clubhouse. “Once more into the breach,” one boy said. “Off on another blind date,” I replied. That was how I had come to think of these four and a half hour excursions with a stranger. The rest of the way we were silent, distracted by the weather the way sailors are, each of us already taking note of the wind and making our silent calculations about how we would play the first hole.

My golfer was a wee bit nervous, meaning too quick at the top of his back swing and he hooked his first drive into the rough about 230 yards away.
“Is that gone?” he asked anxiously as he glared into the distance.
“I've been there before,” I told him. “We'll find it.”

His second shot disappeared in a gorse bush and after three putts he took double bogey which meant, with his four handicap, we could make only two more mistakes on the next seventeen holes.

From the next tee he over-cooked a six iron into the par three green which resulted in a ball so far lost that Lassie wouldn't find it if it was tied to a piece of bacon as the veteran Scottish caddies say. From there, a scuffed wedge into a bunker, a bladed wedge, two putts, and I could tell by his face that he wanted to go home. Or anywhere. He had planned this trip for years, a pilgrimage to the holy land of golf, and now he was in hell.

There is no other enterprise like golf. Imagine if every time you rode your bicycle to the store for a newspaper you knew for a fact that you would be thrown over the handlebars into the gutter without warning sometime before you reached home. Only romantic love can turn on you so certainly and cruelly. Golf is the girl you take to the dance, knowing she will be looking over your shoulder for someone just a little better.

I kept my instructions short on the third tee-“Just take it down the left side,” then walked away to give both of us some room to think. Him about how he needed to make his first real swing of the day, and me about how I got here.

One hundred and seventy two days before, almost half a year, I stood on the first tee of Kingsbarns wondering if I would measure up as a caddie. The last time I had carried someone's bag I was fourteen years old and went straight from the course with my five dollars to buy the Beatles first album. It had been a long road back. I had spent 32 years barricaded in rooms from Canada to Northern Ireland, writing eight books and two movies, while my wife and I raised four children and now with three of them in college I needed a second job.

That was the easy explanation of what had brought me to Scotland. The more complicated part was that I was suffering. The empty rooms, the house as quiet as a cathedral, the dog looking at me all the time for some kind of explanation-- you expect that part and you brace yourself for it. And I had when my first two daughters left. But then Jack left too, flying off to Toledo Ohio, a million miles away, two days after his high school graduation. He got a job working at the fabled Inverness Club where Jack Nicklaus had played his first US Open, and he began playing in collegiate summer tournaments hoping to earn his way onto the University of Toledo golf team as a walk-on by Fall.

After walking over a thousand miles side by side on golf courses, all we had left to us were emails and text messages. He wasn't playing well at first and he was right up against it. One morning he emailed me that he was thinking about giving up his dream. All morning I fought against the urge to tell him to just come home. Finally I wrote him back. “We fight for our dreams in this life, and whether or not we reach them doesn't matter in the end. The reason we fight is because we're not in a hospital dying of cancer. We fight because we can.”

The next week he called me on his way home from a tournament to tell me he had finished third. “If I hadn't putted like an idiot, I could have won,” he said. Ten minutes after we hung up he called me back to say the University of Toledo coach had just called him and said, “What size shirt do you wear, Jack? I want you on my team.”

Before he hung up he reminded me of the pact we had made before he left home. He would make the tour some day and I would learn to be a caddie so I could carry his bag.

I was thinking about that three months later when my wife came down the stairs and found me alone watching the Dunhill Links Championship on TV from St. Andrews Scotland, wearing Jack's size thirteen golf shoes five sizes too big. “I just miss him,” I told her.
“You need to do something different,” she said in her infinite wisdom. “Go somewhere. Where would you like to go?”
I was staring at the TV screen when I answered her. “Right there.”

I don't know where a man would go at age fifty-seven to become a race car driver or a chef, but if you want to become a caddie then there is only one place. And so, on February 14, I flew to Scotland and took up residence in the village of Elie because there was a course there open through the winter where I could get back to the game and into shape. I walked two rounds a day carrying rocks in my bag for extra weight, always marching at a good clip and pacing off the yardages in my head. “I'm in training!” I yelled to a groundskeepers during the ten day gale when the wind knocked me to my knees twice. “You're MAD!” he yelled back at me.

Maybe he was right. During that gale the town had to plow four foot sand drifts off the main streets and I began wearing my headphones day and night to block out the noise of the wind. Some of those winter days I was so cold as I dressed to start my first round that I put on my three layers of clothing right over my pajamas.

It was that cold when I began working as a caddy at Kingsbarns. I started as a “Shadow,” walking each round beside a real caddie under the arrangement that I was not paid, and that I paid him two pounds for the privilege of being his apprentice. After ten rounds, I was on my own.

I had been on Oprah twice and remembered being pretty nervous, but not like I was on my early loops. I won't list all my mistakes here which began with forgetting my golfer's name three seconds after the starter introduced him to me, and then forgetting the pin position as well, and having a putter cover fall into the fairway two hundred yards behind me, but if you are wondering if it is possible for a new caddie who has walked nine and a half hours without anything to eat or drink to actually march off a green to the next tee still carrying the pin, and two holes later to hand the golfer his driver COVER rather than his driver, and to think he is playing the seventh hole when he's actually playing the eighth, the answer is, sadly, YES.

Even after a month I was still too nervous to eat breakfast before I left for work, so I carried three peanut butter sandwiches to the 5:58 bus which was a forty minute ride to village of Kingsbarns. From the stop it was about a mile walk to the course, usually in rain, sometimes in a downpour which made the waiting difficult. And for a new caddie there is always the waiting. Every day I waited behind forty veterans, often until just after noon, six hours, when Davey would call to me, “I have a job for you this afternoon. You'll work today, Don. 3:10.” I would thank him and do the math-three more hours of waiting then five hours on the course, then an hour home. So a seventeen hour day. And up the next day to do the same. Some days I waited shivering and damp, feeling like I was growing older each hour. Some days I waited all day and there was no work for me. The understanding is that you must endure this patiently as part of your training, watching the veteran caddies walk off to work and hoping you'll get your chance. You are meant to endure this seven days a week until you become one of them.

Those were the hours when the loneliness for my family was brutal. I learned to pass the time playing the course inside my mind, silently picturing all the hazards and yardages. It took me forty minutes to play a full round. Then I would switch the wind direction and play it again. This way, I could pass three hours without suffering. And the memory of all that waiting vanished the moment I headed down the first fairway with a golfer beside me for whom I became a welcomed ally in his struggle to make a decent score. When I helped a bloke from Ireland break 90 for the first time in his life he gave me all the money he had in his pockets. A gentleman from Australia called me Tom, John, Bob and even Roy for fifteen holes though my name tag read DON, but when I read the break perfectly on a long putt for birdie on sixteen, he ran into my arms like I had rescued him at sea.

As May began and the land was beginning to claim me. The dramatic elevation changes, the way the fairways swept along the sea, all of it inhabited me now, so when I shaved each morning I could picture every hole in my mind.

That stunning physical beauty and the camaraderie among the caddies was what I looked forward to. Often when I was the last caddie tending a pin, I would walk off the green to discover that one of the other caddies had carried my bag along with his to the next tee.
Once in a freezing cold rain, when he saw me shivering, one of the boys peeled off his rain jacket and gave me his dry sweater. I didn't want to take it but I was too cold to turn him down. Each time something like this happened, Glen Carter, a veteran Canadian caddy, would remind me-“You're entering the fraternity now.” He understood the father-son part of what I was trying to do. He was grieving the death of his own father, his closest friend in the world.

I was thinking of Glen by the sixth hole when a storm blew in with sideways rain and thirty knot winds and my golfer and I were marching with our heads bowed like soldiers on their retreat from Leningrad. We faced three more hours with our hands numb and a half inch of rain water inside our shoes, and when he hooked his second shot on the par five twelve onto the beach and hung his head I remembered the first thing Glen had taught me. Let him give up on you, or even God, but never himself.

My eyes were riveted to the spot where the ball came down and I was already marching straight for it, when I heard him say, “What an idiot. All that fairway to the right and I put it into the ocean.”
I called to him as I walked away. “The tide's been out all morning.
If I find the ball on sand, we can play from there.”

As we made our way down over the rocks to the beach I told him that my son and I had played a round in weather like this at Carnoustie one winter. “We were the only two people on the course,” I recounted. “And Jack ran up fourteen straight pars and shot a 73.”
“In weather like this?” he asked.
“Worse,” I said, and then I told him the rest of the story. It was the winter of Jack's senior year in high school and I wanted us to do something together that would mark the closeness we had shared along the arc of our lives. I decided that we would go to Scotland and play the Championship Course at Carnoustie in the dead of winter, the toughest challenge in all of golf, the Mount Everest of the game, so that as I grew into an old man, whenever Jack came to see me from wherever he had ventured in this world, I would ask him as he stepped through the door, "Well, Jack, have you met anyone yet who ever played Carnoustie in the dead of winter?" And he would always say, "Nobody but us, Daddy."

“That's a great story,” he said just before we found his ball sitting on the wet sand. He hit his wedge forty-eight yards, high over the dune grass and a bunker to a soft landing forty feet short of the hole. From there he made parr.

The rest of the way in it was just me handing him the club I knew he needed, and him making the shots. Like a small motor purring along on trust. We shook hands on eighteen and as I watched him walk into the clubhouse I felt like even though I still had a long way to go to measure up to the veteran caddies I had worked with all season, I just might get there.

The real test came for me the week I returned home after driving through the night to see my son play in his first college tournament, in Greensboro, North Carolina. There was Jack parring the first five holes, playing like a champ against all the big Division 1 universities who had never been interested in him. I really couldn't believe what I was seeing. And then he took a triple bogey on a harmless par three when his ball was buried in Bermuda rough. That led to two double bogeys and a missed ten inch putt on eighteen. The second round began immediately on the next hole. By now the skies had darkened and the rain had turned to hail. When he walked past me he said, “I can't make a shot, Daddy.” I saw it all in his eyes; his sudden belief that his dream had never been anything but a lie.

“Don't give up,” was all I said to him, and somehow he ran off fifteen pars and two birdies to make one of the great comebacks of all time, and to shoot one of the best rounds of the tournament at one under par.

We only had a few minutes together before we said goodbye and I watched him walk away with his teammates. What happened next is one of the things we live for-- he turned back, threw me his ball and said, “Thanks Daddy.”
10.4.2009 | Unregistered Commenterdon j. snyder

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