The 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass you've seen on TV. Maybe even in a picture somewhere in your house or office. What youven probably never see or heard of is the caddie competition.
That's right one shot, for all the glory. A caddie gets to hit a shot at the par-3 17th Hole, one of the most famous holes in all of golf. Its 130 yards this year, and ask any player in the tournament and they'll tell you it's the only real fun they get to have preparing for this event.
The PGA TOUR actually tried to stop it few years ago when they put a notice in the locker room the week before informing players that caddies were not to hit shots during practice rounds and fines would be levied if caddies were caught doing so. The players revolted by putting a jar on the tee and putting money in the jar for a winner-take-all pot for the winning caddie and a tradition was born. The PGA TOUR finally got the 'if you can't beat 'em...' (correct) attitude and this year the money in said jar goes to a foundation named for Tom Watson's long time caddie Bruce Edwards.
With the high profile caddies (and friends of mine) Greg Rita and Pete Bender both with terminal illnesses, the jar had a lot of 'extra' cash from players in it. And this year the TOUR and CDW donated a very nice laptop to the caddie who hits it closest to the pin. All the more reason to be terrified ' now throw in cameras (a new thing this year), 5,000 spectators, and a giant scoreboard with your name next to your players name and LET THE SHAKES BEGIN!
I stood on the 17th Wednesday and watched caddie after caddie struggle to get the ball on a tee cause their hands were shaking so bad. I saw player after player vouch $100-$500 on there caddie (some bet more on their caddie NOT hitting the green) and then put the money in the jar regardless of the outcome.
The funniest moment may have been the least understood by the crowd. Jose' Coceres, Andres Romero, and Angel Cabrera playing together all stepped up to the tee giggling and speaking Spanish so fast the only words I caught (and I understand Spanish pretty well) were, '9-iron?' Loud laughter... Spanish, Spanish , Spanish, 'Ocho (eight) pero(but)...' Spanish, Spanish, Spanish, 'y (pronounced long e) pitching wedge...', Spanish, Spanish, Spanish, MORE loud laughter. I don't even remember who missed the green ' and two of them did ' but hearing the crowd, laugh when the players laughed was entertainment enough for me cause I knew they had no idea what was being said.
Any pressure being Vijay's caddie, Chad? He didn't hit it 60 yards and Vijay almost fell down laughing.
I've hit this shot under these conditions twice. Let me tell you what it's like.
I'm a lefty. So I brought four of mine own clubs to the course with me and put them in the bag. That makes the bag even heavier than normal, which in your mind was already a thousand pounds cause you know today's the day you're gonna hit 'the shot.' You try and act like it's just another practice round until you get to the caddie area and hear all the other caddies talk about what the winds doing today and what they might hit on the hole. THEN you start hearing that other caddies don't have a practice round today or their players are only playing nine holes so they are gonna go out later and hit their shot after they have a chance to relax a bit! WHAT THE....??!!!
I go to the first tee, players not talking about the shot to me. Hmmmm, is he trying to relax me or just like a guy throwing a no-hitter, he doesn't wanna jinx me. Either way, he'd suck as a caddie! Asks me for the yardage... 'Man, I don't know! Hit the 8 at the flag and see what happens.' I can't focus even a little bit. And it just keeps getting worse as we walk around the course. Finally get to the 16th tee, a par 5. He pipes his tee shot down the fairway, walks to the second shot (we aren't going for the green) and as we get to our ball the 17th green comes into view and I realize I need a bathroom, NOW.
Too late for that, we're already 300 yards away from them. Goodness, I can't feel my hands, and we're still two shots away finishing the 16th. I made it to the green, never even saw the lay-up or the third shots; I'm too busy watching other caddies hit shots in the water. Good swing thoughts, good swing thoughts, good swing thoughts!
Then for fun, my knucklehead says, 'Throw me a couple so I can hit some chips.'
I'm going to stab you with the broken shaft of your 4-iron.' Well, that's what I thought at least, as I tossed three nuggets to the man I thought was my friend. OK, he is my friend but I AM NOT IN A GOOD PLACE RIGHT NOW! Can I just tell you, walking from 16 green to 17 tee must be like the walk down death row. It starts off like you're hoping the governor is call and slowly realizing that... it ain't gonna happen. Then as you step on the tee a strange calm comes over you like you're resigned to the fact of what's gonna happen and you're OK with it. The first needle is inserted, no wait, that IS death row.
Of course, there's a wait on the tee, and the players have to hit first (insert your own bad word here). Now at the time I stepped to the tee I was doing a bit on a show called PGA TOUR Sunday (no longer on the air) but their camera guys were behind me AND in front of the tee box laying o the ground with his camera.(Man I hope you've got good insurance cause if I blade this, you may have a third eye in the middle of your forehead with a Titleist logo on it!)
It was 137 yards into the wind off the right and into just a little. Pin on the top shelf in the middle of the green. I like to hit a draw (left to right for a lefty remember!). An 8-iron would be great if it was straight in and blowing a little harder but it may be too much and I know the adrenaline is PUMPING. Its a 9-iron. That is the right one and think smoooooth, cause you're gonna want to jump on it.
'Wanna know what closest to the pin is so far?' says a marshal standing close by.
Just wanna hit the green, I say in my head looking at this thing that I know is big, but looks SOOOOO small right now. Here come the butterflies again, wait no, these are UFO's and there's a war going on between them. Just glad my hands aren't shaking like the other guys did. Practice swing. Hey that felt good. UFO's declare cease fire! Settle in over it. Weird, I don't remember taking it back. I remember impact, because I never felt it really just heard it and that's a good sign. The ball hangs in the air forever, seriously it felt like you could've played the long version of 'Stairway to Heaven'... twice.
It started out over the water and left of the green and it looked like it wasn't coming back. Then about 100 yards from it, it starts turning back towards the green, and the angels started singing with trumpets... OK, maybe that's a little too much but you get what I'm saying. The ball lands on the green 25 feet left of the hole and I don't care cause it's dry and on the green! Tip of the cap to the crowd who applauded (boy are they easy to please on a Wednesday) and cheered.
Hey, I can feel my hands again! That was awesome.
Congrats to Jeff Willett, aka 'Skillet,' caddie for Brian Bateman, this year hitting it closer than any other caddie in the history of the competition! 17 inches!!!!!! Yep, 1-foot, 5-inches for a caddie. My boys continue to make me proud.
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