How did LG’s professional golf debut begin?  As with most things, it all started with a phone call:

LG answers: “Marty! What’s up?”

MT: “LG!! I just got a call – I got an exemption into the Web Event at Stonebrae!!  You free to caddie???”

LG: “Let’s gooooo!!!!”

Specifically, the gig was to caddie for one of my good friends and a rising star on the Web.com Tour, Martin Trainer.  For anyone who doesn’t follow professional golf reading this article, the Web.com Tour is the feeder tour to the PGA TOUR that is televised every week on major networks, ESPN, and the Golf Channel.

The event was the Ellie Mae Classic held at scenic TPC Stonebrae in Hayward, California.  Since I’ve been lucky enough to play this track a few times before the event, the experience was all the more eye-opening for me.  By a fortunate turn of events, I was also invited to play in the Wednesday Pro-Am with Martin, so I managed to get involved in nearly every activity associated with the event.  (I suppose that’s two interesting/unique golf experiences!)  I can’t say enough good things about the event or the course.  Both are phenomenal and I highly recommend that everyone in the Bay Area try to make it out to play the course and watch the event next year.

The week began with caddying on Monday in the Junior pro am (which we won!) and the first sponsors pro-am.  On Wednesday, events included the pro-am I played in, followed by the competitive rounds Thursday-Sunday.  To answer the most pressing question: Martin did well to put himself at -9 and in contention through two rounds, and shooting an incredible back nine six under 29 on Sunday to finish T-16, and get himself into the Web.com Tour event the following week in Missouri.  It is further notable that this was his first Web.com made cut!

What Does A Caddie Do, Exactly?

TL;DR version: a lot.  If you saw a description Craigslist, it might read: get to the course early, know the course backward and forward, carry the bag, keep up with or in front of your player without disturbing other players, know when to talk and when not to talk, get yardages, pull clubs, rake bunkers for your player and others to keep the group moving, make sure there’s water and food in the bag, tend the pin, clean clubs and balls, and remove as many distractions as possible, shove a snickers in the player’s mouth when they’re irritable, and make sure the player isn’t going to lose any shots due to stupid mistakes like having too many clubs in the bag, teeing the ball in the wrong spot, or taking a bad drop.  If rain is involved, there’s a whole other element involving an umbrella that just looks annoying.  Amateur golfers are familiar with all of these, except for the particular Tour quirk of managing a book/pin sheet and getting yardages.  Most folks that play the game frequently make use of either a rangefinder or GPS device, but these are not allowed on the professional tours.  Instead, we’re relegated to the arcane days of black and white topological drawings and drainage heads.  Believe it or not, saying “drainage head says it’s about 150 to the middle” doesn’t cut it.

Once the basics are mastered, then the role can evolve based on the needs of the individual player.  Some guys need to talk through every single detail of every shot; some guys only want you to carry the bag and not say a word.  Without exception when a player asks a question and says “…right?” at the end, they want you to say “yeah, definitely.”

My particular role this week, as I saw it, was to make this tournament feel as much like a home game as possible for Martin.  Mostly, I just tried to stay out of his way, but I took it as my personal mission to give him as much crap as possible about his game while also bringing extra Trader Joe’s snacks that he and I both love to eat on the golf course.  I also lost several lunches to him per our standing side bet on the course.  (Bonchon fried chicken for days).  I’m happy you did well, Marty, but we need to renegotiate this bet.

The Experience of Caddying on a Professional Tour

The experience was very different from playing golf.  It felt like much more work than actually playing golf.  There was no personal enjoyment to be realized because I wasn’t hitting shots, but I took an enormous amount of pleasure in watching my friend realize a career goal he has worked very hard to achieve.  When someone in the group was playing badly, the mood seemed to hang over the entire group – certainly more so than in a regular weekend game.  Nerves seemed to get frayed more easily and little things like the sound of bugs buzzing nearby or someone talking on the tee behind us that would normally not annoy me on the golf course seemed exaggerated.  At other times, the quiet was deafening.

The biggest difference from what you see on TV is that (unless you’re one of a select number of people) there are rarely people following your group, and a lot of professional golf is just a horribly boring wait with people who are not very interesting to talk with.  I’ve never spoken so little with people during 6 hour rounds of golf.  It isn’t a very glamorous job, or constantly hobnobbing with Tour stars.  Even in this slow environment, if a caddie is doing the job right, he or she will almost forget that there are other players in the group…almost.

Finally, the experience of watching a player shoot 29 live was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen in golf.  It honestly felt like the bag got lighter as we sprinted around the back nine on Sunday.  The moment was made even more spectacular because several of Martin’s buddies from high school were around to watch this feat and cheer him on for every birdie.  11 putts, one chip in, and three 2s on the scorecard in 9 holes!  how do you not get excited about that?

Selected Items I Learned

With respect to the golf itself, I learned that professional golfers are MUCH better than we think they are with the long clubs, and make the same mistakes we do with the short clubs.  Looking at stats or watching a golf telecast doesn’t really tell the whole story because these are necessarily summaries of the round, or at best cherry-picked examples of great or awful play.  It’s not the “320 yard” 3 wood from the juicy lie in the fairway that was impressive.  Instead, watching these guys hit driving irons or fairway metals from, at best, questionable lies in the rough to within yards of their targets 260-290 yards away is what blew my mind.  At the same time, watching these guys hit chip shots 15 yards from the green that don’t hit the surface or run 10 feet by were mind blowing for other reasons.  These guys also take much less time from tee to green than most amateurs, but SIGNIFICANTLY more time around the green and on the green itself.  I’m not sure there’s a lesson in there, but it was notable.

My biggest takeaway was that amateurs make golf too hard.  We fixate on perfecting our swings to a professional ideal or making sure our clubs are exactly to the right specifications, but beyond a certain point, none of that really helps getting the ball in the hole.  Yes, these guys have any number of training aids out on the putting green/driving range and they’re taking video/trackman data, but all of that goes out the window when they step up to the tee.  On the course, I saw driver swings and putting strokes that would make most swing coaches blush.  But they worked.  They got the ball where it needed to be and they made birdies.  These guys got the most out of the swings they brought to the course that day because they’re hustlers.  It didn’t always look pretty, but somehow always had a low number next to it at the end of 18 holes.

As a footnote to this section, I must note that caddying is a thankless job.  Every bogey is the caddie’s fault, and every birdie is because the player is amazing.  It’s just that kind of job.  You occasionally see a Bones, Stevie, Fluff, or Michael Greller who get some credit, but even on the PGA Tour, for every one of them, you have at least 30 guys who might as well not bother.  It’s not a job that allows for an ego or thin skin.  This was certainly not the case with Martin and me, but it was clearly apparent from other player/caddie pairings.

Rapid Fire Questions from No Gimmes

In preparing for this post, I asked friend-of-the-blog and host of the No Gimmes Podcast Chris Derr if he had any questions regarding the experience that he thought folks would like answered.  Like the champion that he is, Derrz fired off the following questions that I have presented below in interview format:

CD: What shoes/hat did you wear?
LG: As far as shoes, I wore a pair of Nike sneakers.  They were absolutely destroyed after this tournament because Stonebrae is one of those courses that NO ONE should ever walk – much less with a bag on their back.  Also, I’d probably consider something slightly more waterproof next time for those early AM tee times.  As far as hat, clearly the bucket hat was the play for the magical back nine Sunday.  I was coerced into wearing a baseball cap the middle two days and sincerely regret caving to the pressure.

CD: How talkative where you to other players in your group?
LG: One guy, Bobby Gates, was an absolute pleasure to talk to.  We talked about everything from coffee and BBQ to generally living in SF and the South.  He also has one of the most badass wedges I’ve ever seen.  Check it out here.  Most of the other guys were not terribly talkative, or interesting to talk to.

CD: Did you ever feel like an idiot?
LG: Pretty much only the first hole of the tournament.  I put the bag down in the visual line of one of the players in the group and he asked me to move it.  I think I got the hang of it pretty quick.

CD: Best shot you saw?
LG: This one is easy – Thursday, Marty hit a 3W 289 yards into the par five 9th hole after an ENORMOUS drive to about 8″.  Kick-in eagle.  Didn’t even need to take the head cover off the putter.

CD: Worst shot you saw?
LG: The worst shot due to poor execution was probably a chip on the par four 5th hole.  The worst shot due to poor course management and being angry was a 3W on the par five 9th that ended up way short in the crap that resulted in a bogey that should have been no worse than par.

CD: Most uncomfortable you were out there?
LG: Walking the 5th hole.  Stonebrae is one of the worst walks from the perspective of caddying or playing on the professional tours, but hey, I took it in stride.  The course is great, but man those hills can be nasty on a hot day.

CD: What was the most underwhelming part of the experience?
LG: How little some players think of their caddies.  This was truly disappointing.  At one point, I offered one of the guys in our group some advice about where to eat in San Francisco (since I was the only person in the group that actually lives in San Francisco), and the player immediately turns to Martin to ask him whether that’s good advice.  Dick.

CD: What part of the experience surprised you the most?
LG: How the players dealt with the rules.  In any instance where there was even the smallest question related to a drop or possible rules issue, the players almost reflexively called for a rules official.  I get that this is reasonable in questionable situations, but at one point, a player called an official to pretty clearly just get a better lie on the apron after missing the green on a short par 3.  Come on, guy.

CD: How did you combat caddie syndrome (wanting to play golf instead of watching it)?
LG: I’m not sure one week of caddying was enough to induce the syndrome!  I felt like I learned a lot about how the professional game is played, which was fascinating.  I could see how this would develop, especially if the course was one that I’d like to play, so I think I’d probably either try to gamble on the tournament, or play a game in my head to see if could guess the shot shape/landing point of my player’s shots.

CD: How much different was caddying in the Ellie Mae for Martin than caddying for me in the U.S. Open Qualifier at Yocha De He this year?
LG: Both were actually pretty intense!  I definitely read fewer putts and had fewer conversations with Martin than with you, but had a great time doing both!  Despite Stonebrae being the tougher track to walk, I think I was the most exhausted after our round because it was my first experience doing it.  In any event, getting to play meaningful rounds of golf with good players is always a good time.

Be sure to also check out LG’s interview on No Gimmes!

End Notes

First, I would be remiss in failing to mention that the Ellie Mae Classic was also the professional golf debut of Golden State Warriors Guard Stephen Curry.  Curry’s presence at the tournament turned the event into a spectacle that drew thousands of fans who had likely never set foot on a golf course.  The feeling was electric around every tee box, and as only Steph Curry can do, he delivered.  Back-to-back rounds of +4 74 on a 7,100 yard layout to beat 3 touring professionals is no joke.  I followed Curry for his Friday round and was shocked by his composure and how well his game held up in TOUR conditions.  Not only was he keeping up with his playing partners Stephan Jaeger and Sam Ryder, he was actually hitting it PAST them.  Ironically, it was his iron play and putting that seemed to keep him from making more birdies.  Based on my interviews of our playing partners, folks on the range, and the tournament staff, the overwhelming consensus is that Curry’s involvement in the event was positive.  For myself, I sincerely hope he continues to play in the event and draw crowds to this spectacular event.

 

For more Curry-related golf content, check out the coverage on the Web.com Tour Official Site.

Second, no piece about caddying is complete without citing to THE original story about caddying:

Note the bucket hat.  Essential caddie garb.

Any questions I didn’t answer?  Please comment below and I’ll answer them all!

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We’re about to embark on Glory’s Last Shot, the redheaded stepchild of majors. Nonetheless, this one should be interesting thanks to the location (Quail Hollow) and the man who is on top of golf at the moment, Jordan Spieth. The dovetail is that the course, known for its tricky greens, should prove a masterful test for Spieth, who many consider the best putter in the game right now (and maybe ever). Will he complete the grand slam? We’ll know in a week. Until then, here are our predictions:

JK:

Winner: Jordan Spieth
Winning Score: -11
Runner Up: Rory McIlroy
Low PGA Professional: Mike Small
“Unknown” in the Top 10: Rafa Cabrera-Bello
Last Year’s Winner (Jimmy Walker) Will … (Win, Top10, Make the Cut, or Miss the Cut): Make the cut
The Master’s Winner (Sergio) Will: Top 10
The US Open Winner (Koepka) Will: Miss the Cut
The Open Champion (Spieth) Will: Win
Dustin Johnson (world #1) will: Top 10
Hideki Matsuyama (#3) will: Top 10
Rory McIlroy (#4) will: Top 10
Jon Rahm (#6) will: MC
Jason Day (#7) will: MC
Rickie Fowler (#11) will: Make the cut
How many prior major winners will be in the Top 10: 6
Will someone win it, or will everyone else lose it? Spieth hangs on after a few masterful rounds early
What will be the biggest story of the tournament? Grand Slam Spieth

LG:

Winner: Hideki Matsuyama
Winning Score: -16
Runner Up: Dustin Johnson
Low PGA Professional: Brian Smock!  Let’s goooo!!!
“Unknown” in the Top 10: Tommy Fleetwood (If Rafa is an unknown, so is Tommy)
Last Year’s Winner (Jimmy Walker) Will … (Win, Top10, Make the Cut, or Miss the Cut): Make Cut
The Master’s Winner (Sergio) Will: Make Cut
The US Open Winner (Koepka) Will: Make Cut
The Open Champion (Spieth) Will: Top 10
Dustin Johnson (world #1) will: See Above
Hideki Matsuyama (#3) will: Make Cut/Top 10
Rory McIlroy (#4) will: Make Cut
Jon Rahm (#6) will: Miss Cut
Jason Day (#7) will: Miss Cut
Rickie Fowler (#11) will: Miss cut
How many prior major winners will be in the Top 10: 3
Will someone win it, or will everyone else lose it? Hideki fires 62 one day to take the lead and hangs on.  Looks like every shot is a shank in the process.
What will be the biggest story of the tournament? Spieth doesn’t Grand Slam.  Golf press instantly forgets that Japanese Phenom wins major and goes back to talking about how Speith will win the grand slam next year.

Play of the Week: AMTP

August 6, 2017

The PF solutes the Anonymous Mini-Tour Pro on his stellar performance at the Web.com Tour’s Ellie Mae Classic event. Although we can’t tell you just who (since he’s anonymous), we wanted to make sure you knew–he’s out there and he’s doing well. Great job AMTP!