This is one of those weeks where we forget that golf is a game. This is one of those weeks where 160 golfers and 160 caddies have no fun while on the golf course. Even if you found yourself in the lead of this tournament by 30 strokes with one hole to play, standing on the 18th tee would not be a particular time of joy. It would feel more like relief. Last week we gave thanks; this week we give everything else. Welcome to the final stage of Q-school.
The final stage of Q-school is being played just outside Orlando this year. Every year it flips coasts, the past few years its flipped between Palm Springs and Orlando. Ive been unfortunate enough to experience both coasts. Im going to tell you about my good experience.
I start caddying for my friend halfway through the year. Hes struggling a bit, not having fun on the golf course, and for a grinder that is a BAD combination. But we start having fun and (shocker) making cuts, even get a top 10 in there. Sounds great, right? Not on TOUR anymore, nowadays if you make half a million dollars playing for a year you are not guaranteed a job next year. So we have a nice year by pay standards, but not nice enough to keep the card.
My player tells me were exempt till final stage, and that hes NEVER made it through from the west coast site where WE are going in a few weeks. Those who know me know that I am the optimist of all optimists. And having never been to Q, I boldly and brashly tell him, well youre making it through this year! He looks at me like I was going to try and smoke the 30-foot tree I was leaning against. Final stage was almost a month away so I went to the Bahamas to relax and promptly almost broke my ankle/leg jet skiing with my best friend Jose three days before practice rounds were to start.
Now for a caddy, being able to walk is, how should I say this a job requirement?! Being a tough, hardheaded, knucklehead I had not gone to a doctor to examine my ankle/leg, but I had two good reasons. If I didnt go to a doctor he/she couldnt tell me it was broke and at the time caddies had no health insurance (we still dont have a plan, but the TOUR does offer a stipend towards health insurance if you buy it yourself). My player insisted I get an x-ray, so off I went to the clinic. The doctor examined me, and before the x-ray tried to bet me the cost of the exam I had broken the little bone in my leg. I didnt take the bet. But low and behold no break, just a bone bruise.
SHOULDA TAKEN THE BET!!! Doc says if I wear an ankle brace, made for a pro football player, and can stand the pain, I can caddy. Well now I REALLY feel like going into battle. Even writing this I get those feelings again. Hang on, I gotta go spit and rub some dirt on myself.
Selfishly through all thats going on with my leg I am not noticing how abnormally people around me are acting. My player has rented a house on the property the two golf courses are and Im staying with him, his wife, and their little boy. I say I didnt notice until the night before the first round, then at dinner his wife asks me if Id carry the tour bag for the tournament.
My player was so nervous and superstitious he was having a tough time concentrating because the stand bag didnt look right. But being the guy he is, he didnt want me to be in any more pain so he was trying to keep my load light. Two things youve just learned; one, the difference in weight between a tour bag and a stand bag is about 15lbs with everything in it and over 6 miles it makes a huge difference to a guy doing his impression of a yak. And two, and more importantly, something as seemingly insignificant as THE BAG the clubs are in can throw off the top golfers in the world! Now this is my boss, but also my friend and as my friend, if he wouldve asked me to wear a thong on my head because it made him relax shows me where the nearest Victorias Secret is.
I noticed something REALLY eerie when we got to the course for the first round. NO ONE was talking. I am serious when I say this, the hair on the back of my neck stood up when I set the bag down and went to wet the towel to clean the grips. Why, you ask? Because the driving range, even before a major, is a fun place. Yes there is tension but it is UNDER the surface. Not here. Caddies speak to each other about their players, a lot of them come up to me and tell me the latest joke theyve heard or been emailed, but for the next 6 days each caddy and player were ghost teams not visible to other ghost teams. I thought to myself, I have to find a way to make this normal for us.
Aaaaahhhh the power of flatulence. Some people just will never realize how in an extremely tension filled moment, someone releasing air from an orifice can make said tension vanish! Thats right, a caddy/comedian started his first Q-school finals with a fart joke (literally). And you know what it worked. For the first three days in extremely tough conditions we shot three consecutive 69s. But alas, at the end of the third day my player says to me, It just doesnt feel right. WHAT?!?!?!?! Well then wrong feel it around for three more 69s! Were in 7th place and comfortable we should mess this up.
And for the next two days we did. 75-71. And I sat back and watched in horror from a front row seat as cool and confident went right out the window. Doubt and self pity happily strolled thru the door, got comfy on the sofa and turned on the TV.
We step on the first tee for the final round and its already over. You see it in their eyes, they havent quit, but they have accepted the fate. The magic number is -7 to keep our card, all we need is even par. But look in those eyes! What do you do as a caddy? What do you do as a friend? DAMNIT! I promised this wouldnt happen! 3-over after four holes, a bladed tee shot at the short par-4 fifth barely makes it over the water hazard and finds the fairway.
His chin on his chest, shoulders at the belly button, bottom lip on the ground, we get to the golf ball and I walk off the yardage. One hundred and fifteen yards to the pin, little PW. He hits it to 12 feet.
This is the moment. See, for a pro from 115 yards, 12 feet is just so-so. But for some reason I saw this was the Y in the road, keep your mouth shut and accept fate or say something and risk career and friendship. I cant keep my mouth shut. I actually said nice shot and then dropped an f bomb and in so many words called him a choker. But when he saw the look on my face after I said it, he not only knew I was messing with him, he knew it was gonna be OK.
The funny thing is we missed the birdie putt, but it didnt seem to matter. Throw in three birdies and no bogeys in the next ten holes and we stand on the 16th tee at -7 and ON the number. Long par five with a little bend to the left in it. Tee shot left first cut, cant go for the green in two. MISS the fairway in the right THICK rough with the layup and barely get it on the front green from 85 yards. Now weve got 75 feet uphill for birdie and my boy almost shanks the putt. 8 feet for par and he looks at me and says, I dont see it. That means he doesnt see any break in the putt. But I do. Its almost four inches outside right edge.
Time for another moment.
Now my stomach is in knots and I am having a tough time breathing but there is NO WAY I am gonna let my boy see it. He needs me to be the calm and confident guy he trusts to have his back no matter what. And thats exactly what he sees. I confidently stride up to a spot on the green and say, here. Then walk back to him where he s crouching down looking at the spot. He takes a deep breath, puts the ball down, and says, Ok. When he stands up I put my hand on his shoulder and say, Its just me and you against Todd and Wes.
What the hell does that mean?! Well, Wes is someone we played about a million practice rounds with (and took a bunch of money from) and Todd is a childhood friend of his, he grew up playing golf with. He and I playing golf against two friends, that guarantees good thoughts. As I walked away and he went through his routine I came the closest I have ever come to throwing up on the golf course. I turned back in time to see the putter make contact with the ball and roll over the spot I had pointed at and break right in the hole. It was also at this point where my mom, watching on TV, says she started drinking. Now my boy gives a small fist pump and walks over and hands me the putter and looks me in the eyes. He gets a look of calm, cool, steel. Its nothin. I say, because he needs to stay level. Adrenaline at this point is very bad.
Seventh hole par-3, imagine TPC Sawgrass now back it up 30 more yards and ELEVATE the tee 30 feet! Thats what the hole looks like (stand on your roof and put a quarter in the driveway, good luck). Little bit of a cool breeze into us, 157 yards, front right hole location, island green. Last time we played this hole (two days ago) hit the tee shot in the water. What do you like? he asks. Perfect smooth 7, I say handing him the club. I can tell he likes it too but the look of nervousness is back. Me and you against Wes and Todd. Hell it worked before?!
Now I stand to the side and quietly take a deep breath. I feel dizzy and my stomach is having a serious argument with somebody. The swing is smooth, the ball hangs in the air forever but I like the line its on, just please God dont be too long! When it goes over the flagstick and sits ten feet behind the hole my instincts are to jump up and down, find Chad Johnson or Terrell Owens and do a touchdown dance with them but its the 17th hole we still have a putt and the 18th to play and we are still ON the number. Same as the last hole, when he turns to hand me the club, he sees his caddy and friend looking almost bored like it doesnt matter. And now so does he for the moment. PERFECT.
FAST, downhill putt, no more than left edge we both agree. I step away. This time when the ball comes off the putter I dont think he hit it hard enough, but it just keeps tricklin and tricklin (WATCH THE SPIKE MARK) and dies over the front lip of the hole! BIRDIE!!!!!!!! All 12 spectators around the green go nuts (q-school isnt a big draw) and my players fist pump this time is MUCH bigger. Now I really gotta be cool, but damn I cant help but smile. He hands me the putter and I say, Its nothing.
Eighteenth tee, LONG par-4, slight dogleg left, water left, THICK rough right. Were 8-under inside the number by one. Miss the fairway right in some bad rough close to a bunker. Oh God not now. Weve fought so hard I look at his face and see the doubt creeping back in as he takes a practice swing.
I do have some good news and its not about my car insurance. He looks at me confused. Take your stance and look down please. I ask him. A little smile now is on his lips too. Hes standing on a sprinkler head FREE DROP!!
We get a good drop on top of some dormant Bermuda grass. The hole is on the left part of the green bringing the water into play, the problem is if you bail out right the chip is straight downhill at the water. My boy hits the front of the green with a rescue club leaving us a 65-foot putt with about 8 feet of break from right to left. We go thru our routine together, he doesnt know what the number is, didnt want to know, but I do. Stay cool bro just stay cool. Putts away It finishes 8 inches behind the cup. He walks over to me and asks, Whats the number?
I actually laughed out loud. I looked at him and said, Just go tap that in and lets get the hell outta here. He looked back and said, OK.
After he tapped in for par is when the best moment of the three happened. We shook hands with are playing competitors and then we hugged and he whispered in my ear, Thanks bro. And in that thanks was all the emotion and gratitude I have ever felt from a golfer.
He walked in to the scoring trailer to sign his card; I sat on the floor of a golf cart and cried. I couldnt be cool anymore, couldnt hide my fear, couldnt hide my pride, couldnt hide my heart. The worst and best experience had just come to a close and I was crying on a golf cart. Hell, tears are streaming down my face as I write this and those emotions come back again.
So when you watch final stage of Q-School this week, and those few lucky men get their Tour cards for next year, keep an eye on those carrying their golf bags because I bet EVERY single one couldnt have made it through without their caddy.