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.

American Junior Golf Association

Junior golfer's amazing run: ace, albatross, birdie

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 11:03 pm

While most of the golf world had its attention focused on Scotland and The Open Championship at Carnoustie on Thursday, the REALLY remarkable performance of the day was taking place in Halifax, Mass.

There, in an American Junior Golf Association tournament, a 16-year-old Thai player made a hole-in-one and an albatross on consecutive holes.

According to the AJGA, Conor Kelly holed a 5-iron shot on the 198-yard, par-3 eighth hole. It was his first hole-in-one. He then holed a 4-iron second shot from 220 yards on the 480-yard ninth holer for the albatross. (We're gonna go out on a limb and say it was his first albatross.)

Certainly a nice way to make the turn - but Kelly wasn't finished. He birdied the par-4 10th for a 1-2-3 sequence on his scorecard. For the day, he shot a 5-under 67 in the AJGA Junior Golf Hub Championship at the Country Club of Halifax.

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McIlroy, Rahm betting co-favorites after Open Round 1

By Will GrayJuly 19, 2018, 10:10 pm

They're both three shots off the lead, but after starting The Open with rounds in the 60s Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm are now betting co-favorites to lift the claret jug at Carnoustie.

McIlroy is four years removed from his Open triumph at Royal Liverpool, while Rahm remains in search of his first major title. Both carded rounds of 2-under 69 in Scotland to sit three shots off the lead of Kevin Kisner. While McIlroy started the tournament at 16/1 and Rahm at 20/1, they're now dead even at 10/1 in updated odds at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook.

Kisner started the week at 200/1, but after an opening-round 66 he's quickly been trimmed to 25/1. Tony Finau sits one shot behind Kisner and is now listed behind only McIlroy and Rahm at 12/1 after starting the tournament at 60/1.

On the other side of the coin, consensus pre-tournament betting favorite Dustin Johnson fell from 12/1 to 100/1 following an opening 76 while Masters champ Patrick Reed shot a 4-over 75 to plummet from 30/1 to 200/1. Trailing by five shots following an opening-round 71, Tiger Woods' odds remained unchanged at 25/1 as he seeks a 15th career major title.

Here's a look at the revised betting odds heading into the second round at Carnoustie:

10/1: Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm

12/1: Tony Finau

14/1: Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler

20/1: Francesco Molinari

25/1: Tiger Woods, Alex Noren, Henrik Stenson, Kevin Kisner

30/1: Jordan Spieth, Zach Johnson, Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka

40/1: Ryan Moore, Jason Day

50/1: Erik Van Rooyen, Brandon Stone, Matt Kuchar

60/1: Danny Willett, Thomas Pieters, Marc Leishman, Thorbjorn Olesen, Russell Henley, Matthew Southgate

80/1: Webb Simpson, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Brendan Steele, Kevin Na

100/1: Dustin Johnson, Zander Lombard, Sung Kang, Paul Casey, Louis Oosthuizen, Xander Schauffele, Chris Wood, Pat Perez, Luke List, Charley Hoffman

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Despite 78, Lincicome savors PGA Tour experience

By Randall MellJuly 19, 2018, 9:41 pm

Two bad holes derailed Brittany Lincicome in her historic start Thursday at the Barbasol Championship, but they couldn’t wipe the smile off her face afterward.

It might have been the most fun she ever had shooting a 78.

Lincicome joined Babe Zaharias, Shirley Spork, Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley and Michelle Wie as the only women to tee it up in a PGA Tour event when she striped her opening tee shot down the middle Thursday at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Ky.

A double bogey at her ninth hole and a triple at her 16th might have spoiled her chances at joining Zaharias as the only women to make a 36-hole cut in a PGA Tour event, but it didn’t spoil her experience.

“I did what I wanted to do, with having fun,” Lincicome said. “I think I nailed that part pretty well.

“I love playing with the guys. It's so much fun, being inside the ropes with them. Hopefully, I can get a good one tomorrow.”

Lincicome, 32, held her own for 16 holes, playing them in 1 over par, but those two big numbers left her tied for last place when she signed her scorecard, though other players remained on the course.

At 6 over, Lincicome is 13 shots behind the leader, probably seven or eight shots off the projected cut line, but she savored the experience. She arrived wanting to inspire young girls to dream big, and to bring some extra attention to a title sponsor who means so much to her. She represents Pure Silk, part of the Barbasol family.

Sam Ryder, who joined Conrad Shindler playing alongside Lincicome, was impressed with the way Lincicome carried herself.

“I would play with her every day if she wanted to,” said Ryder, who opened with a 68. “She's just a great person.

“Even though I know she's probably a little disappointed with her final score, she had a smile on her face all day.”

Lincicome, an eight-time LPGA winner, made her first birdie at her 12th hole, dropping a 30-foot putt, but she wasn’t happy with her putter much of the day. She missed three other good birdie chances, a 4-footer at her eighth hole, an 8-footer at her 10th and a 12-footer at the last.

“Pretty happy with my game overall,” Lincicome said. “I had two bad holes, but I drove it well. I did all the things I said I needed to do, but my putter let me down today.”

After piping her first drive, Lincicome opened with three consecutive pars.

“I was actually calmer than I thought I was going to be,” she said. “I thought I was going to be a nervous wreck. After the first tee shot, I was pretty happy that I found the fairway.”

Lincicome said Ryder and Shindler made her feel welcome. So did the crowds.

“It was great,” she said. “I could feel the energy of the crowd support me. Every time I hit a good driver or good shot, they would cheer for me, which was great.

“Conrad and Sam were so nice. I couldn't have asked for a better pairing. They were very welcoming, and we were interacting, they were asking me questions, and it was great.”

On Tuesday, Lincicome said a key to her play would be hitting fairways. She did that, hitting 10 of 14, but she was taking in longer clubs than she does in LPGA events, with Keene Trace set up at 7,168 yards. That’s 600 yards longer than she played last week at the LPGA’s Marathon Classic, where she finished second. She hit just 8 greens in regulation in this PGA Tour start.

Lincicome is nicknamed “Bam Bam.” She is one of the LPGA’s longest drivers, but she was typically 30 to 40 yards behind Ryder and Shindler after hitting her driver. She averaged 259 yards per drive, Ryder 289 yards.

“She had a couple birdie putts that she could have made,” Ryder said. “If she made a couple of those, might've been a little bit different, just to get a little bit of momentum. Who knows?”

Lincicome’s biggest challenges were the par 3s.

At the 18th, playing 195 yards, she mis-hit her tee shot, knocking it in the water, short of the green. She took a penalty, moved up to a forward tee, dropped and hit into a right greenside bunker. She got up and down from there for a 5.

At the seventh, playing 198 yards, she missed wild right and deep. From a tough spot in the rough, she left her pitch short of the green. She chipped her third past the hole and to the fringe, where she took three putts from 20 feet.

Afterward, Lincicome wasn’t dwelling on the bad shots. She was focused on going to sign autographs for all the fans waiting for her, including all the little girls who came out to see her.

“I need to go back over there and sign,” she said. “Any time I can influence a child, especially a girl, obviously I want to get them involved with the LPGA, as much as possible.”

Her overall assessment of her day?

“It was a great experience,” she said.

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Watch: Full replays of The Open coverage

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 8:55 pm

NBC Sports and Golf Channel are showcasing nearly 50 hours of live coverage of the 147th Open. Missed anything? Well, you can catch up right here. Click on the links below for replays from Carnoustie, broken down into daily segments:

Thursday, Day 1 (Times ET)

Noon-4PM (Watch): Tiger Woods was up and down in the afternoon, as winds picked up a little and no one could catch Kevin Kisner. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Woods, Russell Knox and Hideki Matsuyama.

1:30-8:25AM (Watch): Defending champion Jordan Spieth got off to a good start, while Kevin Kisner (66) set the early pace. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm and Chris Wood.