Caddie Life Hurry Up and Wait
Damon Green is the caddie for Scott Hoch. Terry Holt is the caddie for Hank Kuehne. They were perched on golf carts at the Franklin Templeton Shootout, fighting the enforced boredom outside the clubhouse at Tiburon Golf Club in Naples, just passing the time of day.
Green is 43 now, himself a former player on just about every minor-league tour imaginable. He even played Bay Hill a couple of times on sponsors exemptions before he decided to take a spin carrying Hochs bag. Hes been doing the gig three or four years now, and he admits he makes more money doing this than he did as a golfer.
Holt is a native of England who lives now in Jacksonville, Fla., and hes been caddying for many years. Billy Casper was one of his first bags. He carried for Andy Bean. Paul Azinger was another. He has been around the tour for awhile.
Holt is still slender ' thin as a toothpick, actually ' and he looks like he could pass for 15 years younger than his true age. I eat like a horse, actually, said Holt with a grin. The doctors say its a good thing Im very athletic. My blood pressure is very low, something around 100 over 60.
Another caddie pulls up in the walkway outside the locker room. Teddy Two-Stroke, roars Green. Where you been, Teddy Two-Stroke?
Teddy Two-Stroke is the looper for Azinger. His real name is Ted Scott, and Green was having a good laugh at Scotts expense. Scott picked up the nickname because of a two-stroke penalty he cost Azinger at the Canadian Open ' a penalty Azinger didnt realize he had incurred until he had after the fact.
The culprit was a television viewer who made another one of the infamous after-the-fact telephone calls. Scott had removed the flagstick from the 13th hole while Zingers playing partner, Fred Funk, was chipping toward the hole. The ball was barely moving, having traveled two feet past the cup, when Scott grabbed the pin. That, as it developed is a violation of Rule 17-2b.
Did you know about that rule, Terry? asked Green.
Holt, the old veteran, hesitated for a moment. No, I didnt, he admitted.
Ill bet everyone out here has broken that one some time in his life ' everyone. Its just that poor Ted got the penalty put on him.
Ill tell you, said Green, its getting so that you have to carry a complete set of rules around with you at all times. And you dont do ANYTHING until you see if its going to violate a rule.
Scott, a former mini-tour player himself, just grinned. He has taken so much ribbing for the gaffe, but both caddies admitted they didnt know the rule, either.
The topic then changed to the importance of being a good caddie. Green shuddered ' he realizes what a hugely important job it can be. He realizes what the player is thinking ' remember, hes pretty good at this himself. And he realizes that so much is wrapped up in a caddies decision.
Ill be the first to admit it - Im a choking dog out there sometime, said Green. Really.
I caddied for Garrett Willis the last three weeks of the season when Scott (Hoch) wasnt playing. He (Willis) was 124th on the money list when I started. When the season ended, he was, like, 130th. Boy ' every time you pull a 6-iron, you have to think about what a tremendous difference it might be making to a guys career.
Really ' I dont think people realize what an awesome responsibility you have. You can break a man in an instant.
Thats a caddies life ' a lot of down time, a lot of busy time, but always its on someone elses time. The good ones earn a lot. But they are responsible for a lot.
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McIlroy gets back on track
There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:
He is well ahead of schedule.
Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.
“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”
To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”
And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.
After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out.
Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.
“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”
The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.
The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)
But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.
Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.
Everything in his life is lined up.
Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.
Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore
Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.
Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.
There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.
Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.
The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.
Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again
Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.
Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.
It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.
Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.
While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.
McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call
Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.
Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.
The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.
McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.
McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.