Caddie Jackson has rich Masters memories

By Damon HackApril 9, 2013, 12:18 pm

Carl Jackson does not worry about the weight of the bag, even after all these years.

The Masters is too important to miss, even with the gray sprinkled in his light mustache, even if Augusta National’s humps and hollows seem to shout for a younger man.

“I go to feel the spirit,” the 66-year-old said last week from Roland, Ark., in anticipation of his yearly loop with two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw. “The tournament has a spirit about it and it doesn’t matter if it’s raining or the sun is shining. I see why the older players hate to let it go.”

Jackson first caddied in the Masters in 1961, at age 14, wearing “a caddie diaper,” he jokes.

As a regular in the caddie yard, Jackson was once approached by President Dwight Eisenhower and asked why he wasn’t in school.

Jackson had dropped out in ninth grade because his family needed the money. He’s missed only one Masters since.

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Though he now lives and works in Roland as the caddie manager at Alotian Golf Club, Jackson returns to his native Augusta this week for the same reason we go home for the holidays.

The memories are thick, whether rich or painful: the wins with Crenshaw in 1984 and 1995, of course, but also the losses; the knowledge that the club employed five of his brothers; the opportunity, once more, to lose himself amid loblolly pines and flowers of springtime.

He lived through the racial tensions of the times – the membership issues, the demise of the black caddie when the club allowed the use of PGA Tour caddies – and has emerged with his optimism intact.

He chronicles much of his life in the upcoming book “Two Roads to Augusta,” written with Crenshaw. It traces the backgrounds of both men and how each, with the help of the other, has left an indelible mark on the year’s first major.

Jackson’s mind is a treasure trove of Masters stories.

He remembers, in 1996, carrying Crenshaw's bag during a practice round that included Tiger Woods, fresh off back-to-back U.S. Amateur titles.

Jackson kept a pack of Marlboro Lights in his caddie bib.

“I would always throw down the pack to suggest where a certain pin would be,” Jackson said. “I’d suggest that Ben try certain putts, and then Tiger would follow. Tiger followed Ben on every one of those greens.”

Woods missed the cut, but he tracked down Jackson before he left.

“I could tell he was in a hurry, but he found me just to say thank you,” Jackson said. Woods then told Jackson, “Those pins were exactly where you said they were going to be.” Woods won by 12 shots the following year.

Jackson more famously rode shotgun to Crenshaw’s titles, the second coming days after Crenshaw’s mentor, Harvey Penick, died in 1995.

Crenshaw arrived at Augusta with his game in tatters. After a practice round, Jackson pulled Crenshaw aside and directed him to the practice area.

“You have to be careful when you interfere with a pro’s swing thoughts, but what I’ve always respected about Ben is if I’ve got something to say I found a way to say it,” Jackson said.

The caddie told his player to put the ball farther back in his stance and to turn his shoulders more.

“After about three balls, he had it,” Jackson said. “It held.”

With players such as Greg Norman and Davis Love III on the leaderboard, Crenshaw was somehow able to keep his swing and emotions intact.

He arrived at the 18th hole with a two-shot lead. Jackson could already see the moment was weighing on Crenshaw.

“I was watching and being protective of Ben the whole week,” Jackson said. “People in the gallery kept reminding him of Mr. Penick. He lost it on 18 fairway, really. Hit a great drive and had an 8-iron to the green and some of the gallery started congratulating him and offering condolences. I had to say, ‘Ben, we have more golf to play here.’ And sure enough he hit a bad 8-iron into a dangerous position.”

Crenshaw’s ball landed short of the right bunker.

“If he hits it a little short or soft, it will come back down the fairway,” Jackson said. “I suggested to Ben to play it way over to the right and let the slope bring it back toward the hole and he agreed to that. Some reporter said it was a terrible chip, but he didn’t know we were going where we could make bogey.”

Crenshaw did just that, rolling in a short putt and dissolving into tears as Jackson tried to hold him up.

Crenshaw through the years has repeated a refrain about Jackson he said that Sunday: “I can’t say enough about that man.”

Jackson and Crenshaw will team again this week, and they know their time at the Masters is short. They’ve stood side by side at every tournament since 1976, the only exception the 2000 Masters when Jackson missed the tournament while fighting colon cancer.

Crenshaw is 61 and the course is long and the chances for a third green jacket seem less than remote.

“Ben's fire’s still burning,” Jackson protested.  “That champion’s fight, it has to subside before you can quit. I watch good putters, but they can’t do it like Ben. His putting stroke was made for fast greens, period. That man knows something about feel that nobody else knows.”

The same can be said of his caddie.

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Recovering Thomas thinks Match Play could help cause

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 10:07 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – It’s been a tough couple of days for Justin Thomas, and he hasn’t played an event in three weeks.

The world’s second-ranked player had his wisdom teeth removed on March 7 following the WGC-Mexico Championship and has been recovering ever since.

“I'm feeling OK. As funny as it is, as soon as I got over my wisdom teeth, I got a little strep throat,” Thomas said on Tuesday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. “I was pretty worried yesterday, to be honest, how I was going to be doing, but I feel a lot better today and just keep taking medicine and hopefully it will be good.”

Thomas, who is listed in the Tour media guide as 5-foot-10, 145 pounds, said he lost about 6 pounds when he had his wisdom teeth removed and has struggled to put that weight back on because of his bout with strep throat.

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As a result, his energy levels are low, which is a particular concern considering the marathon nature of the Match Play, which could include as many as seven rounds if he were to advance to Sunday’s championship match. Thomas, however, said the format could actually make things easier this week.

“I told my dad, I only have to beat one person each day. I don't have to beat the whole field,” said Thomas, who has won just one match in two starts at the Match Play. “If it was stroke play then I may have a little harder time. But hopefully each day I'll get better and better. Who knows, maybe that will help me win a match in this golf tournament, because I've had a pretty hard time in the past.”

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Spieth thought Mickelson blew him off as a kid

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 7:50 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Phil Mickelson is widely recognized as one of the PGA Tour’s most accommodating players when it comes to the fans and signing autographs.

Lefty will famously spend hours after rounds signing autographs, but sometimes perception can deviate from reality, as evidenced by Jordan Spieth’s encounter with Mickelson years ago when he was a junior golfer.

“I think I was at the [AT&T] Byron Nelson with my dad and Phil Mickelson and Davis Love were on the putting green. I was yelling at them, as I now get annoyed while I'm practicing when I'm getting yelled at, and they were talking,” Spieth recalled. “When they finished, Phil was pulled off in a different direction and Davis came and signed for me. And I thought for the longest time that Phil just blew me off. And Davis was like the nicest guy. And Phil, I didn't care for as much for a little while because of that.”

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Entering his sixth full season on Tour, Spieth now has a drastically different perspective on that day.

“[Mickelson] could have been late for media. He could have been having a sponsor obligation. He could have been going over to sign for a kid’s area where there was a hundred of them,” Spieth said. “There's certainly been kids that probably think I've blown them off, too, which was never my intention. It would have never been Phil's intention either.”

Spieth said he has spoken with Mickelson about the incident since joining the Tour.

“He probably responded with a Phil-like, ‘Yeah, I knew who you were, and I didn't want to go over there and sign it,’ something like that,” Spieth laughed. “I’ve gotten to see him in person and really see how genuine he is with everybody he comes in contact with. Doesn't matter who it is. And he's a tremendous role model and I just wasn't aware back then.”

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This week, let the games(manship) begin

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 7:47 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – The gentleman’s game is almost entirely devoid of anything even approaching trash talk or gamesmanship.

What’s considered the norm in other sports is strictly taboo in golf - at least that’s the standard for 51 weeks out of the year. That anomaly, however, can be wildly entertaining.

During Monday’s blind draw to determine this week’s 16 pods, Pat Perez was the first to suggest that this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play is the exception to the stoic rule on the PGA Tour.

“Me and Branden [Grace] played a nine-hole match today and were chirping at each other the entire time,” Perez laughed. “Stuff like, ‘go in the trees.’ We were laughing about it, I didn’t get mad, I hit it in the trees.”

Although Perez and Grace may have been on the extreme end of the trash-talk spectrum, it’s widely understood that unlike the steady diet of stroke-play stops in professional golf, the Match Play and the Ryder Cup are both chances to test some of the game’s boundaries.

“There’s been a couple of different instances, both in the Ryder Cup. I can't share them with you, I'm sorry,” laughed Jordan Spieth, before adding. “I think they [the comments] were indifferent to me and helped [U.S. partner Patrick Reed].

Often the gamesmanship is subtle, so much so an opponent probably doesn’t even realize what’s happening.

Jason Day, for example, is a two-time winner of this event and although he was reluctant to go into details about all of his “tricks,” he did explain his mindset if he finds himself trailing in a match.

“Always walk forward in front of the person that you're playing against, just so you're letting them know that you're pushing forward and you're also letting them know that you're still hanging around,” Day explained. “People feed off body language. If I'm looking across and the guy's got his shoulders slumped and his head is down, you can tell he's getting frustrated, that's when you push a little bit harder.”

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Some moments are not so innocent, as evidenced by a story from Paul Casey from a match during his junior days growing up in England.

“I remember a player’s ball was very close to my line, as his coin was very close to my line and we were still both about 10 feet away and he kind of looked at me,” Casey recalled. “I assumed he looked at me to confirm whether his marker was in my line and it needed to be moved. I said, ‘That's OK there.’ So he picked [his coin] up. And then of course he lost his ability to understand English all of a sudden.”

While the exploits this week won’t be nearly as egregious, there have been a handful of heated encounters at the Match Play. In 2015 when this event was played at Harding Park in San Francisco, Keegan Bradley and Miguel Angel Jimenez went nose to nose when the Spaniard attempted to intervene in a ruling that Bradley was taking and the incident even spilled over into the locker room after the match.

But if those types of encounters are rare, there’s no shortage of mind games that will take place over the next few days at Austin Country Club.

“It's part of it. It should be fun,” Spieth said. “There should be some gamesmanship. That's the way it is in every other sport, we just never play one-on-one or team versus team like other sports do. That's why at times it might seem way out of the ordinary. If every tournament were match play, I don't think that would be unusual.”

It also helps heat things up if opponents have some history together. On Tuesday, Rory McIlroy was asked if he’s run across any gamesmanship at the Match Play. While the Northern Irishman didn’t think there would be much trash talking going on this week, he did add with a wry smile, “Patrick Reed isn’t in my bracket.”

McIlroy and Reed went head-to-head in an epic singles duel at the 2016 Ryder Cup, which the American won 1 up. The duo traded plenty of clutch shots during the match, with Reed wagging his finger at McIlroy following a particularly lengthy birdie putt and McIlroy spurring the crowd with roars of, “I can’t hear you.”

It was an example of how chippy things can get at the Match Play that when McIlroy was asked if he had any advice for Spieth, who drew Reed in his pod this week, his answer had a bit of a sharp edge.

“Don't ask for any drops,” laughed McIlroy, a not-so-subtle reference to Reed’s comment last week at Bay Hill after being denied free relief by a rules official, “I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth, guys,” Reed said on Sunday.

Put another way, this is not your grandfather’s game. This is the Match Play where trash talking and gamesmanship are not only acceptable, but can also be extremely entertaining.

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Romo set to make PGA Tour debut at Punta Cana

By Will GrayMarch 20, 2018, 6:43 pm

While much of the attention in golf this week will be focused on the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, Tony Romo may send a few eyeballs toward the Caribbean.

The former quarterback and current CBS NFL analyst will make his PGA Tour debut this week, playing on a sponsor invite at the Corales Punta Cana Resort & Club Championship in the Dominican Republic. The exemption was announced last month when Romo played as an amateur at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and he's apparently been hard at work ever since.

"I'll be treating it very serious," Romo told reporters Tuesday. "My wife will tell you she hasn't seen me much over the last month. But if you know me at all, I think you know if I care about something I'm going to commit to it 100 percent. So like I said. you'll get the best I've got this week."

Romo retired from the NFL last year and plays to a plus-0.3 handicap. In addition to his participation in the Pebble Beach event, he has tried to qualify for the U.S. Open multiple times and last month played a North Texas PGA mini-tour event as an amateur.

According to Romo, one of the key differences between pro football and golf is the fact that his former position is entirely about reactive decisions, while in golf "you're trying to commit wholeheartedly before you ever pull the club out of your bag."

"I'm not worried about getting hit before I hit the ball," Romo said. "It's at my own tempo, my own speed, in this sport. Sometimes that's difficult, and sometimes that's easier depending on the situation."

Romo admitted that he would have preferred to have a couple extra weeks to prepare, but recently has made great strides in his wedge game which "was not up to any Tour standard." The first-tee jitters can't be avoided, but Romo hopes to settle in after battling nerves for the first three or four holes Thursday.

Romo hopes to derive an added comfort factor from his golf in the Dallas area, where he frequently plays with a group of Tour pros. While Steph Curry traded texts with a few pros before his tournament debut last summer on the Tour, Romo expects his phone to remain silent until he puts a score on the board.

"I think they're waiting to either tell me 'Congrats' or 'I knew it, terrible,'" Romo said. "Something along those lines. They're probably going to wait to see which way the wind's blowing before they send them."

Romo will tee off at 8:10 a.m. ET Thursday alongside Dru Love and Denny McCarthy.