A learning loop


PALM HARBOR, Fla. – By the fifth hole my towel was dry and my feet were wet and the thought quickly occured that caddying, like the NFL, whose greed and ego threatens to derail another season, is not a game for scrubs.

You know the ones, those grizzled types who know just the right amount of pressure to apply to a rake to properly manicure a sand bunker, not to mention the correct amount of pressure to apply to a jittery pro with a bunker mentality.

Your scribe is adept at neither, yet somehow landed a gig looping for Gavin Coles at Monday’s open qualifying for this week’s Transitions Championship near Tampa.

“The range finder, really?” I asked incredulously on the first tee, flummoxed by the addition of unnecessary weight yet feeling the pressure of already lowering expectations. I’d already violated two-thirds of the caddie creed – show up and shut up – and the added weight only magnified my anxiety.

Starting on the back nine of Innisbrook Resort’s Island Course, a rolling and tree-lined 7,300 yards, Coles was 1 under through four holes when I made the first of many moonlighting miscues, suggesting he play a safe shot to the middle of the 14th green.

“We’re attacking,” Coles, a longtime friend and genuinely nice fellow who is plying his trade on the Nationwide Tour this year, calmly explained. “We’re trying to take it on on every hole.”

With that the Australian roped a hybrid to 3 feet for birdie and I resigned myself to the role of pack mule for the day. Nothing says “shud it” like a tap in from 220 yards.

There was a measure of redemption at the 16th hole when Coles asked me the “number” for his approach shot – 227 yards. “No . . .,” he said before recalculating, “You’re right . . . but I got you on the par 3 (13th hole, where my math resembled the World Golf Ranking arithmetic and was off by some 20 yards).

But then on the par-5 15th hole we mindlessly forgot to give Coles back his golf ball after he’d putted to 1 foot. “They don’t do ‘gimmes’ at Monday qualifiers,” I smiled.

Just past the turn another often-uttered Tour cliché came to mind: what doesn’t last long? Dogs that chase cars and pros that putt for pars. Despite a 6-footer at the 18th and a 5-footer at the first to save par, we were 2 under and the sprint that is Monday qualifying was starting to feel like the dog days of a marathon.

Through 14 holes we remained 2 under, including three pars on the par 5s, when Coles announced, “We have four (more holes) to make our number.” Six under, he reasoned, may be good enough for a playoff for one of the four qualifying spots.

He was right, when we completed our round a group of three players was tied at 67 and one player was at 66 (Travis Hampshire 66; Russell Knox 67; Jason Kokrak 67; Will Claxton 67). We were not among that group, but Coles came close with a birdie at the par-5 seventh from 12 feet and another at the ninth after hitting his approach to 4 feet.

“I knew it,” he said. “Six (under) was the number.”

For the day Coles hit 11 fairways, 13 greens in regulation and 27 putts; while your scribe didn’t lose any clubs or fall down. A victory of form, if not function.

“Come on, I’ll buy you lunch,” he smiled, “it’s the least I can do.'

It didn’t seem like the right time to tell him he may also want to look into buying a new range finder to replace his old one which I left lying on the 12th tee. In this game every stroke, and ounce, counts.