Playing caddie for an amateur at the Masters turned out to be not only a memorable experience, but also offered a new perspective on this game of ours.
From the Golf Journal Archives - Sojourn in Augusta
Apr 01, 2011
By Cal Simmons
(Note: This article originally appeared in the March/April 1986 issue of Golf Journal.)
It was a cold day in mid-January of 1984 when I received a telephone call from David Tentis, a very good amateur golfer from Minnesota. As a member of the 1983 Walker Cup Team, he had qualified for an invitation to the Masters Tournament, and since he and I are friends, he asked if I wanted to caddie for him in Augusta.
Of course I accepted. Living in Minnesota, the thought of seeing the tournament in person never entered my mind; it’s the toughest ticket in sports. This was the dream of a lifetime, my chance to see the Masters from inside the ropes.
The commitment made, we began making preparations. The club wanted the names of the caddies two months in advance, and David took care of that. Since Augusta National asked the players not to begin practice rounds before Saturday, we agreed I would arrive on Sunday morning prepared for work.
I had my first clue that this was not an ordinary tournament when a guard stopped me at the gate and wouldn’t let me in until he searched his checklist of caddies for my name. Finding it, he waved me through.
The feeling one gets walking into the Augusta National Golf Club is like no other. For 20 years I had watched the Masters on television and read and heard stories about it, and now I was going to be part of the mystique that surrounds it.
My first objective was the caddie building, where I would be issued my milkman’s suit – white coveralls with green trim, white tennis shoes with a green stripe, and a very smart Masters cap. As I approached the building, I saw I was in for a surprise. Having caddied for more than 10 years at a number of golf courses, I feel I am qualified to judge a caddie shack. This is not a caddie shack. It is a green concrete building larger than any caddie building I’ve ever seen.
As with everything else at this club, its location has been very well planned. It stands about 25 yards from the clubhouse, adjacent to the maintenance area and not too far from the first tee, but set back from the main pedestrian path so the caddies will not obstruct spectators as they walk by.
In addition to the standard caddie-master’s room, where refreshments are sold, the building has several unusual features, including a shower room, which you don’t find everywhere. Each caddie is given a locker with a towel and a bar of soap. A new color television mounted in the corner became helpful during the rain delay the Saturday of the tournament; caddies who had come off the course for shelter could find out what was going on from the telecast.
THE BUILDING was always fun to be around. A few caddies were always standing around several long, sturdy, well-maintained tables playing cards (for some reason, caddies never sit down in card games). It was a very typical caddie scene.
I watched Herman Mitchell, Lee Trevino’s 350-pound caddie, win a few dollars from a local caddie. The local accused Mitchell of cheating, to which he replied, “You just teached me this game this morning; how’m I gonna cheat you?” End of conversation.
As with most caddie card games, I couldn’t figure out how to play. The Augusta version seemed to be a variation of bridge and old maid.
I was afraid at first the other caddies wouldn’t accept me, believing I had stolen a job from one of the locals, but I shouldn’t have worried; all the local caddies were friendly and helpful. During every practice round the local caddie would help David and me read the greens. Unfortunately, that was not always enough.
After asking me who I was working for, one of the locals asked if I knew Magnolia Lane, the long entrance drive that leads from Washington Road through an avenue of graceful old magnolia trees to the white clubhouse.
“Yes,” I replied.
“Good,” he said, “ ’cause that’s where you and your man be headed down, come Friday afternoon.”
The favorite caddie meal is two thinly sliced, deep-fried pork chops between two pieces of wheat bread flavored with a little hot sauce. It is very good, just about perfect at 8:15 a.m. before your man heads to the practice tee.
There is no security once you get in the gate the Sunday before the tournament. This makes sense because the only people getting in are members and contestants; no spectators. As a result, I was able to roam freely through the clubhouse, examining all the memorabilia hanging from the walls along with pictures of Bob Jones, Ben Hogan and all the great players. The case holding clubs donated by the Masters champions is fun. All those great shots from the greatest players ever.
The clubhouse is beautiful. It is very long and, except for the section depicted on the Masters trophy, it’s only one story high. The enormous trees in the patio area create a perfect setting for meeting your party.
I had no trouble locating David, so to the first tee we went. Many of the amateurs were friends from the Walker Cup and had not been together for a year. They played together and made games among themselves.
David played an enjoyable practice round with Bob Lewis. Although he would make five birdies in a row and make the cut on Friday afternoon, Lewis did not play well that day. He complained of the snow back in Warren, Ohio, and he lacked confidence in his swing.
THE FIRST TIME around Augusta is like reading the best book ever written: You can’t wait to get to the next page and you hope it never ends.
The round over, we had a bite of lunch with Jay Sigel, whom I have known for several years. Jay asked my impressions of the course, and I replied that it was manageable and insinuated that it was overrated. I ate my words. With each succeeding round I developed more respect for it. Having played probably 100 rounds and seven Masters, Jay must have thought I had walked around with my eyes closed. By the time I left on Sunday evening, I was convinced the course is eminently fair, requiring the most precise iron play and having the most difficult of greens.
Television doesn’t do the course justice. For one thing, Augusta offers very few level lies. The player is forever hitting from some side-hill position, and the greens are much more severe than I imagined. The 14th is the most difficult green I have seen. The course is not particularly long – only the fifth, 10th, and 11th play long in virtually all circumstances, and the player generally has a short iron into the first hole, the third, the seventh, and all the par-5s – but it requires precise shots to make a par or a birdie.
Single amateurs stay in a wonderful spot called the Crow’s Nest, located at the very top of the main clubhouse, beneath the cupola. Accessible only by a flight of stairs, giving one the feeling of going into an attic, it contains four sleeping rooms around a small living area. It will sleep eight comfortably, but the bath facilities would be taxed with that many.
The walls are full of pictures and memorabilia from Jones, President Eisenhower, and early Masters Tournaments. I often wondered what famous people inscribed to other famous people on pictures. I found out – just the same things they write to not-so-famous people. The club produces a movie of the tournament each year and shows it through a closed-circuit TV arrangement. We watched the 1967 tournament, when Ben Hogan shot 66 on Saturday. David told me they watched several more throughout the week.
With all of the history and tradition built into that room, it’s a wonder the amateurs can play as well as they do.
THE AMATEURS are given very special treatment in the Crow’s Nest. (By the way, to conform with the Rules of Amateur Status, they pay $5 per night.) The Augusta National staff helps turn back the beds each night, cleans everything and, in general, treats the amateurs as special people.
But then, Masters Week is special for all of the contestants. Wives and parents attend, and many players invite friends. The players generally rent a house from a local Augusta resident and simply move themselves and their families in for the week.
It’s not difficult to understand why it is special. The beauty of the course, the quality of the field, and the tremendous respect from the gallery make it enjoyable for both the players and their friends.
As the week passed, I learned that I was not unusual; I estimated 20 players had friends carrying their bags. George Archer had a friend who owned a small business in Flint, Mich., and Jay Sigel had the club champion of Aronimink, his home course. It was a great thrill for each of us.
I estimated that 25 players used Augusta caddies, usually the older players who have had the same caddie each year. Art Wall, with whom David played in the first round, has used J.B. for 13 years. This was J.B.’s 30th Masters. In addition, several of the amateurs used the local caddies. Rick Fehr had Simon for the second year in a row, even though Simon’s advice, while well-intended, wasn’t always accurate.
Probably 40 Tour caddies have regular bags. Obviously nomadic, they tend to be in their mid-20s, and they speak of their players as “we” after they make a birdie, and “he” after a bogey.
Most of the Tour caddies go about their business. For instance, most are like Dan Pohl’s caddie, Don, a nice guy trying to do the best he can at his job. However, Creamy Carolan, Arnold Palmer’s former caddie, and Mitchell are definitely out of the mold. Whenever Creamy is around, he is holding court, talking a mile a minute, giving the needle to the other caddies. Mitchell is part of the Lee Trevino road show, and he’s perfect for his part, with incredible gold jewelry hanging all over him. He made a daily trip down the line of players on the practice tee, dishing out humorous abuse – or being the brunt of it.
At his weight, Mitchell has some problems keeping up with play. Trevino hit his approach to the 18th into the right greenside bunker in the second round, and as you might imagine, Mitchell was not too quick climbing the steep 18th fairway. Trevino stood in the bunker with his feet planted as if he were ready to play his shot and holding out his hand for probably one minute, waiting for Mitchell to hand him the club. The crowd loved it. Then Trevino hit the ball to 3 feet and made his par.
THE INTERNATIONAL players generally have caddies from their homes. Bernhard Langer had a German working for him, and Nick Faldo had an Englishman.
On Tuesday, while I watched the players practice putting, I noticed Seve Ballesteros, Langer, Isao Aoki, and Nick Faldo head for the 10th tee. I was curious to know what language they would speak, so I went over to listen. They spoke English, of course.
The Masters always would go one better than other tournaments, and the practice tee was no exception. At many tournaments players practice with new Titleists. At the Masters, they have a choice of Titleists or Pro Staffs. I never did find out how long it took to separate them.
The practice tee is a fascinating place at any tournament, and particularly the Masters. Like everything else, the pros seem to practice a little harder and work a little longer before a big tournament.
I was amused when I would see one of the finest players in the world hit a bad shot and then turn to his caddie, who may not even play golf, and ask what he did wrong. It reinforced my theory that every player, good or bad, deals with a delicate swing. When it breaks, he will listen to anyone willing to talk about it. On Tuesday I watched for 45 minutes while Palmer and Tom Watson gave a lesson to the long-hitting and long-hooking amateur Jim Holtgrieve. Jim shot 78-74 and missed the cut. Maybe he should have asked his caddie.
The practice range has a screen at the far end probably 25 feet high and 280 yards away. It became a contest to see who could hit over it. Fred Couples, Greg Norman, and Mark McCumber all did it while I was there.
The Masters yardage book, which is given to each contestant, is also better than any other. It has all of the secrets – how far it is from everywhere on each hole to everywhere else. In addition to being accurate, it is the finest and most complete book I have ever seen, with all of the following information:
1) Distance from each sprinkler head in a double-row system to the front right and front left of the green;
2) Distance from the tee to certain key areas on each hole;
3) Topographical layout of each hole;
4) A green drawing showing depth in all areas;
5) The general contours of the green.
I did not see any player use anything else.
In addition, the book was understandable. So many times when I have a distance book, I can’t figure out where I am or where the distance is measured from.
THE TOURNAMENT itself was just as exciting as I imagined. The first tee the first day was particularly tense; there is always the fear of embarrassing oneself. David felt he got to the first tee too early. Stand around. Stand around. Wait for your name to be called. First Art Wall. Good shot. Now David. A perfect swing, right down the middle.
This left him 105 yards to the flagstick, which was in the back left corner of the green. He hit a good wedge that was just a bit thin. The ball hit about 20 feet short of the hole, then spun back 60 feet on the severely sloped green. After a good putt to 6 feet, he knocked it right in for his par. Fantastic. He was elated.
David went on to play just fine, shooting 74 on Thursday. The score was no indication of the quality of golf that he actually played; time after time he would hit it to 15 or 20 feet, then with both of us working to read the putt, have it break the other way. After four practice rounds, putts still went the opposite direction from what we expected. The experienced players could handle the greens much better than we could.
As I walked along I always felt I had plenty of room and never felt crowded. I didn’t have to push my way through the crowd to get to the next tee or back to the fairway. Both the gallery and gallery control people, all of whom have many years experience, are very good, I spoke to a young man who said his father was working his 25th Masters on the scoreboard near the 15th hole. He had taken over the job from his father. The young man would get the job when his father retired. Everyone working there has that kind of tradition behind him.
The players are paired by their scores for the Friday round. David was paired with long-hitting Dan Pohl, who was beaten in a playoff by Craig Stadler in the 1982 Masters. One of the most enjoyable people I have met in a competitive situation, Dan did not hit the ball particularly well for a good portion of the day, but he hung on, never got mad, and just kept on trying. He typified the type of experience necessary to survive. By the time he got to the 15th tee, at five over par for the tournament, he was, as they say, “down the road,” but all of a sudden, in goes a 20-foot eagle at No. 15 and a 30-foot birdie at 16, and he is in for the weekend. Dan has played Augusta enough to know.
David had not, and I was no help. After playing eight flawless holes, including a missed 3-foot eagle chance at the second, he took three putts at the ninth, his first of the tournament, and again at the severely sloped 10th, hit a ball in the water at the 13th, then took three putts again at the 14th and 16th.
His 78 gave him 152, and he missed the cut by six strokes. Later that night, as the caddie had warned me, we were going down Magnolia Lane.
Cal Simmons owns an insurance agency in Minneapolis, Minn., and when he is not playing (or caddieing), he is a member of the USGA Mid-Amateur Committee and a director for the Minnesota Golf Association.