Caddie Tales: The Final Putt
Over the weekend, Shane Bacon was out at the J Golf Phoenix LPGA International caddying for one of the pros on the LPGA Tour, Erica Blasberg. He documents his journey with his Caddie Tales.
I stood, holding the bag, on the sixth hole Sunday. We had just reeled off two birdies and were staring deeply into a third one on the par-5. It was a short tee and it was inviting us to go for it. We decided on the smaller of the two hybrid clubs. The ball, as cruel as the little bastard can be at times, snuck up on the front of the green for only a second before pausing, only to trickle back in the bunker and lead to a disappointing par.
The rest of the day was for naught. Erica Blasberg was frustrated, as she should be, and we spent the rest of the day climbing Everest without any gloves. The course didn't want us. We didn't want it.
That is the life of a professional golfer. One goes week in and week out either making it with a smile, or leaving it with a snarl. We walked away from Papago Golf Course not so happy with our performance in relation to par, but glad we teamed up and did what we did.
Saturday was daunting. For 18 holes in the third round, we never heard a birdie putt hit rock bottom. They hit lips, they stopped short, but they never dropped in and that was our day. Sometimes you get pocket aces ... sometimes the dealer tosses you 9-3.
I observed a lot as a golf fan this weekend. I exchanged pleasantries with David Leadbetter. I bulls*****d with numerous caddies in the tent reserved for loopers. I even became confident enough to raise my hands as police were walking in the back line of my player (Sure, they didn't stop, but I tried!) It was a week that I'll never forget and a week that I learned a lot about golf, even though I thought I knew it all.
Erica deserves a lot of the credit. She hits her driver like a machine -- high and drawing and near the middle sprinkler head just about every time. I never once told her the line off the tee because, honestly, it would be a waste of breath. At one point in the third round the stat guy for our group approached me on the 13th tee asking if Erica had hit the 12th fairway. I answered "yes" nonchalantly, more because I knew that if there was a dust-up, the answer with Erica and fairway is always yes. It's like Tiger and clutch, or George Clooney and "that girl thinks he's really cute."
I am not a professional caddie, and that was apparent. With the poker reference still at hand, imagine dealing a couple of cards to your buddies on the occasional Sunday and one day you show up and you're the dealer at the World Series of Poker. It isn't the same. You won't be the same.
Erica was a trooper. She's a great golfer and an amazing person, and maybe the best part about her is she isn't fake. She doesn't smile when she makes bogeys just so people think everything is fine. She waves birdie applause shyly because she doesn't want all that attention. It's her livelihood and she's as serious about it as any of us are about our jobs, but does it with the attitude we should all carry to our respective 9-to-5s.
I would like to conclude with this, and it's a simple thing that changed a lot of my outlook on sports. Sunday morning, I was groggily pulling myself out of the car, heading to the cart barn to get Erica's bag so we could start the pre-round procedure that is the same everyday. I got there a few minutes early because I was planning on grabbing a banana and a Diet Pepsi. As I walked from the Papago parking lot, I noticed a pink shirt and a rimmed hat, and immediately knew it was Michelle Wie and Leadbetter. I stood for a moment watching teacher and student, with a few dozen fans witnessing the LPGA's own version of Tiger Woods hit some shots.
It was at that moment that I realized something. I live in an objectionable situation with the golf world. It is easy to knock Wie or Anthony Kim or Ryo Ishikawa. The bottom line is Michelle is 19. She is 19 and has the LPGA firmly on her back. This is a tour that is quietly dying. On 16 in the final round, Erica told me of another tournament that was lost this year because a sponsor pulled out. The ladies are playing all the tournaments because they don't know how much longer they will be around.
I'm a blogger. I write snippets because I'm asked to write them. They may or may not have a purpose and they are published so quickly you don't have time to pull them. The bottom line is, Michelle Wie is a 19-year-old girl that still smiles, and laughs and tries to make 10-footers just like we all do. She didn't choose this life, talent did, and she is saddled with fans, expectations and a big, leather Sony bag. Maybe I learned a simple thing this week that I haven't ever grasped -- they might be professionals, but they are just normal people doing a trade they were gifted enough to do. Being hard on them for no reason is ridiculous. It's golf. Birdies, bogeys, pars and handshakes. Hopefully the knowledge I gained this week will remain with me as I spend the next few months writing about this lovely game.
When it comes down to it, they go about it just like we do -- put the peg in the ground, take a few practice swings and try not to screw up. Who can't relate to that?