Old Course and the Caddie

By Mercer BaggsJuly 11, 2010, 11:50 pm

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – “Mercer,” Frank says, “caddying for you is like searching for oil: I know it’s there; I just have to extract it.”

The simile draws a laugh from the rest of the group and even a smile from me. It’s certainly a new assessment of my game.

Frank Carter has been caddying at the Old Course in St. Andrews for over 30 years. His height is average, his build solid; his hair full and gray; his accent English, his age over 50 and his skin toughened from spending work days in the sun, wind and rain.

He lives in Stratham-von-Avon, rents an apartment in St. Andrews during the golf season, and works six days a week, 36 holes a day. He tried “proper jobs,” but found them restrictive and banal; though, he characterized them in more colorful language.

This is Frank Carter. The man who says he worked the 1978 Open Championship. The man who says he's caddied for the likes of Ian Woosnam and Sandy Lyle. And the man who now has the considerable misfortune of carrying a bag for me.

It’s a few minutes past noon on May 22, when Frank and I are formally introduced on the first tee of the Old Course. On assignment to get some pre-Open Championship material, I elected to employ a local caddie, in part to help me play the course, but mainly to enhance the experience.

“You must play fairly regularly,” Frank says upon learning about my profession and reason for visiting Scotland.

“First round this year,” I reply.

That comment, combined with the fact that I’m wearing tennis shoes, leaves Frank likely expecting to see 18 clubs, a dwarf and a range finder in my bag.

It couldn’t have helped his confidence in me when I skirted my tee shot on the first hole about 8 inches above the grass down the center of the fairway.

But there had to be some level of forgiveness for that. Playing for the first time in nearly a year, on the world’s most famous golf course, my right hand was shaking like Joe Cocker just trying to put a tee in the ground.

At least I hit it straight. Looking over the landscape it was difficult to believe that Ian Baker-Finch actually hit a tee shot out of bounds left. Evil Knievel couldn’t jump that far in his skycycle.

“Ever see people hit it OB left on this hole?” I ask Frank while walking down the first fairway.

“All the time,” he replies and then proceeds to tell me a story about Baker-Finch playing here three years ago and shooting 67 “without breaking a sweat.”

Frank has plenty of stories. After seeing my Ben Hogan clubs, he points out that Hogan never played the Old Course, just Carnoustie, where he won his only Open title in 1953. He adds that his parents were among the crowd in tow with Hogan, which included Frank Sinatra.

Frank – Carter – has plenty of opinions as well.

When asked if he has a favorite for the Open, he responds: “No favorite. But I can tell you one person I don’t want to win.”

That one person would be Tiger Woods, who Frank finds rather boorish.

“It’s not so much what he has done off the course,” he explains. “It’s his behavior (on the course) – the spitting and the cussing and the throwing of clubs. He’s no gentleman.

“Tom Watson, now there’s a gentleman.”

Proper behavior is important in these parts. After all, it is their game.

Regarding the Open Championship – to which Frank is impressed that I never refer to it as the British Open – Frank believes that the back nine will play so difficult that “only one in 10 will beat their score through nine holes.”

“Mark my words, with the new tee, the Open will be won or lost on the 17th hole. Someone in contention Sunday will make six trying to make three,” he adds.

One of the first things I learn about the Old Course from Frank is:  “Left is your life. Right is your death.”

One of the first things Frank learns about me: I tend to make people doubt the veracity of my summa cum laude diploma.

On the par-4 sixth, Frank says, “St. Andrews is about where NOT to hit it. Do not go right here.”

I go right.

On the par-4 eighth, Frank says, “Do not go left here.”

I go left. At which point Frank looks at me and says … nothing.

“When a caddie is quiet,” Frank later tells me, “that’s not a good thing.”

Earlier in the round, when we were on speaking terms, Frank said, “You’ll never forget your first par at St. Andrews.”

I shot 10-over 46 on the front side. With no pars.

Frank now has a mission. For as much as he enjoys watching great players play great golf, nothing thrills him more than shepherding the lost.

Right now, I’m Moses without a map.

While my playing companions, the very affable Dougie Harvie and Bill Leech, a pair of neighbors from Glasgow, take a snack break at the turn, I ponder the thought of not making a par on the Old Course, knowing I’ll likely never play here again. That thought sucks.

My play is no reflection on Frank’s caddying. He proved his prowess just a few holes in when he said, “A good caddie gets to know his player quickly. I can tell you just need to know what club to hit.”

He was dead on. I don’t need a yardage. I can’t hit the ball exactly 158 any more than I can play a fiddle.

He picked good clubs. I hit poor shots.

But my score is secondary to the occasion. And Frank has heightened that with his knowledge of the course, its history and his stories.

“One of my favorite experiences,” he says, “came when I caddied for a kid playing with his father, grandfather and great grandfather. From 10 to 81, four generations. An absolute joy. The son was a credit to his father.”

The son probably made a par that day.

On the par-4 10th, I managed to hit the green in two. Forty-five feet away, I sent a ball screaming like Janet Leigh toward the hole. It hit the back of the cup, popped up and plopped in for a birdie.

“That thing would have gone right off the green if it hadn’t hit the hole,” I said to Frank, to which he replied, “I’m not interested in where it might have gone.”

I bogeyed 11, 12 and 13, but did manage to avoid Hell Bunker at the par-5 14th. Frank encouraged me to take my tee shot down the adjacent fifth fairway to which I obliged – for once. A nice lay-up put me back on the proper hole. Walking past the bunker Jack Nicklaus took four shots to get out of in 1995, Frank added to the moment by saying, “You pay for a round here, you buy a part of history.”

Jack made a 10 that day on the 14th. I have a chance to make a 5. All I need to do is convert a 2-footer for par, which, for anyone who knows my putting stroke is as much of a certainty as a Brett Favre commitment.

“I want you to make this more than you do,” Frank says, which only adds to the pressure, but is better than, “Don’t pull a Doug Sanders.”

I made the putt. I then parred 15 and 16. A perfect drive on the Road Hole 17th gave me a chance at four in a row, but a lip-out led to bogey. Three more putts on the 18th green closed out my back-nine 40.

Not an impressive number by most standards, certainly not the overall 86, but I played the same course as Old Tom Morris, did something Ben Hogan never did, birdied the hole named for Bobby Jones, beat Jack Nicklaus by five at 14, and crossed the same Swilken Bridge as Arnold, Seve, Tiger and every other golfer famous enough to be known by one name.

“Mercer,” Frank says on the 18th green, “It’s been a pleasure.”

My one name won’t live in Old Course lore. It’s long forgotten me by now. Perhaps Frank has, too.

But I won’t forget the course or the caddie or the experience. At least not until senility sets in. Which is why I took pictures.

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Cook leads by one entering final round at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:51 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Austin Cook played a six-hole stretch in 6 under and shot an 8-under 64 in breezy conditions Saturday to take the lead at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook began the run at La Quinta Country Club with birdies on Nos. 4-5, eagled the sixth and added birdies on No. 7 and 9 to make the turn in 6-under 30.

After a bogey on the 10th, he birdied Nos. 11, 12 and 15 and saved par on the 18th with a 20-footer to take a 19-under 197 total into the final round on PGA West's Stadium Course. The 26-year-old former Arkansas player is making his first start in the event. He won at Sea Island in November for his first PGA Tour title.

Fellow former Razorbacks star Andrew Landry and Martin Piller were a stroke back. Landry, the second-round leader, had a 70 on the Stadium Course. Piller, the husband of LPGA tour player Gerina Piller, shot a 67 at La Quinta. They are both winless on the PGA Tour.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

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Jon Rahm had a 70 at the Stadium Course to reach 17 under. The top-ranked player in the field at No. 3, Rahm beat up the par 5s again, but had four bogeys – three on par 3s. He has played the 12 par 5s in 13 under with an eagle and 11 birdies.

Scott Piercy also was two strokes back after a 66 at the Stadium.

Adam Hadwin had a 67 at La Quinta a year after shooting a third-round 59 on the course. The Canadian was 16 under along with Grayson Murray and Brandon Harkins. Murray had a 67 on PGA West's Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course, and Harkins shot 68 on the Stadium Course.

Phil Mickelson missed the cut in his first tournament of the year for the second time in his career, shooting a 74 on the Stadium Course to finish at 4 under – four strokes from a Sunday tee time.

The 47-year-old Hall of Famer was playing for the first time since late October. He also missed the cut in the Phoenix Open in his 2009 opener.

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on the first sponsor exemption the event has given to an amateur, also missed the cut. The Southern California recruit had three early straight double bogeys in a 77 on the Stadium that left him 1 over for the week.

John Daly had an 80 at La Quinta. He opened with a triple bogey and had six bogeys – four in a row to start his second nine – and only one birdie. The 51-year-old Daly opened with a 69 on the Nicklaus layout and had a 71 on Friday at the Stadium.

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Mickelson misses CareerBuilder cut for first time in 24 years

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 am

Phil Mickelson missed the cut Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge. It’s a rare occurrence in his Hall of Fame career.

He has played the event 15 times, going back to when it was known as the Bob Hope Classic. He has won it twice.

How rare is his missing the cut there?

The last time he did so, there was no such thing as a DVD, Wi-Fi, iPods, Xbox, DVR capability or YouTube.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The PGA Tour’s Jon Rahm didn’t exist, either.

The last time Mickelson missed a cut in this event was 1994, nine months before Rahm was born.

Mickelson struggled to a 2-over-par 74 in the heavy winds Saturday on the PGA West Stadium Course, missing the 54-hole cut by four shots. He hit just four of 14 fairways, just nine of 18 greens. He took a double bogey at the 15th after requiring two shots to escape the steep-walled bunker on the left side of the green.

Mickelson won’t have to wait long to try to get back in the hunt. He’s scheduled to play the Farmers Insurance Open next week at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif.

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Defending champ Gana co-leads Latin America Amateur

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 11:20 pm

Toto Gana moved into early position to try to win a return trip to the Masters Saturday by grabbing a share of the first-round lead at the Latin America Amateur Championship.

The defending champ posted a 3-under-par 68 at Prince of Wales Country Club in his native Chile, equaling the rounds of Argentina’s Mark Montenegro and Colombia’s Pablo Torres.

They are one shot ahead of Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz and Mario Carmona, Argentina’s Horacio Carbonetti and Jaime Lopez Rivarola and the Dominican Republic’s Rhadames Pena.

It’s a bunched leaderboard, with 19 players within three shots of each at the top of the board in the 72-hole event.

“I think I have my game under control,” said Gana, 20, a freshman at Lynn University. “I hit the ball very well, and I also putted very well. So, I am confident about tomorrow.”

The LAAC’s champion will get more than a Masters invitation. He also will be exempt into the The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event he is eligible to play this year. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

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LAAC returning to Casa de Campo in 2019

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 8:23 pm

The Latin America Amateur Championship will return to Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic in 2019 (Jan. 17-20), event organizers announced Saturday in Chile, where this year’s championship is underway.

The LAAC champion receives an invitation to play the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club every spring.

The champion is also exempt into The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event for which he is eligible to compete. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

The championship got its start in 2015 with Chile’s Matias Dominguez winning at Pilar Golf in Argentina. In 2016, Casa de Campo hosted, with Costa Rica’s Paul Chaplet winning. At 16, he became the first player from Central America to compete in the Masters. In 2017, Chile’s Toto Gana won the title at  Club de Golf de Panama.