Read an Excerpt
Get Your Mouth off My Ball!
Having never caddied in my
life, I needed a smallish place to start out, away from the spotlight, a podunk
kind of tournament.
Naturally, I chose The Masters.
In front of
thousands of people, in the greatest tournament in golf, I made my professional
caddying debut, looping for 64-year-old Tommy Aaron, the 1973 champion. I think
he'd tell you it went quite well, unless you count tiny, little nitpickings,
such as my dropping the towel eleven times, the headcover four, the puttercover
six, standing in the wrong place at the wrong time, standing in the right place
at the wrong time, forgetting to give him his putter, his ball, his driver,
being too close to him, being too far from him, letting the clubs clink too much
as I walked, letting myself clink too much as I walked, the infamous "mouth"
incident, and the awful, shameful thing that happened on No. 5 that none
involved shall ever forget.
This was Friday. We were paired with
"Sponge," who caddies for New Zealander Michael Campbell, and "Fanny" Sunneson,
who won six majors with Nick Faldo and now is the bagwoman for Notah Begay, who
hates me very much, despite the fact that I've never caddied for
Sponge and Fanny. Sounds like a British sex club.
Nigel, didn't I see you last night at The Sponge and Fanny?
was, Aaron hit a 3-iron at No. 5 into the left greenside bunker, then splashed
out. I handed him his putter and then nervously set about my raking duties. The
crowd was huge around that green, as they are around most Augusta greens, and
nobody was ready to putt yet, so I could feel all the eyes on me. I had dropped
my towel once already that day and had 500 people yell, "Caddy! Caddy! Towel!"
as though I were President Bush's Secret Service agent and had dropped my gun.
Caddy! Caddy! Uzi! So I knew they were watching. I raked as I have raked my own
bunkers far too many times, climbed out, then placed the rake on the grass
That's when I noticed Aaron staring at my rake job, then glancing
at Fanny. Aaron nodded at her. She nodded back. Begay nodded. Sponge nodded
back. For all I know, the huge crowd nodded. Only one of us had no idea what all
the nodding was about. Suddenly, Fanny dashed over to the rake, picked it up,
got back in the bunker, and did it again. Completely.
I was to suffer the
ultimate caddy humiliation: Re-raked.
I was left with nothing to do but
stand there and watch, humiliated. It was like a coach calling time-out in the
middle of the Super Bowl and showing a quarterback how to put his hands under
the center's butt.
And that's when I realized the horrible flaw in this
book idea: Just because somebody "lets" you do something, doesn't mean you
necessarily should go out and "do" it.
The fact that I, an absolute
novice know-nothing, could get a bag and traipse my size 12s across the hallowed
ground of Augusta National tells you how dangerously easy this whole idea
At the 2000 Masters, every past champion got a lifetime invitation,
even if they were 111 years old. The rule has changed now, but then, it meant if
Byron Nelson, then 89, felt like playing in next year's Masters, he could play.
Naturally, since 1966, he has had the good sense not to.
like 1957 champion Doug Ford (then 78) did not have good sense. He played every
year until they made him stop in 2002. In the 2000 Masters, he went out there,
threw a little 94 at them, and then withdrew. Meanwhile, a very good player sat
home and bit his putter.
Naturally, figuring Ford was not exactly
"counting" on winning and therefore might suffer an insufferable caddy and get
in a book, I called him first.
"Mr. Ford," I began, "I'm doing a book on
"Already got a caddy," Ford snapped. "Had him for 25
"Sure," I said, "but I was thinking, just this once, you might
May his bunions burst.
Finally, the agent
for Aaron called back and said Aaron would let me caddy Wednesday only, as a
tryout for the next year. Said we'd play nine holes and then the par-3 contest
and that would give him an idea of exactly how horrible I
I started researching Aaron, who, it turns out, is
famous for three things: 1) Saving the Masters from having to put up with J. C.
Snead every year by beating him by one shot in 1973; 2) Writing down an
incorrect par "4" instead of a birdie "3" on the 17th hole for Sunday playing
partner Roberto De Vicenzo in 1968. De Vicenzo signed the card anyway, causing
him to keep that one-stroke higher score, causing him to miss his rightful spot
in what would've been a two-man playoff with Bob Goalby, who was then declared
the winner. When told of it, De Vicenzo did not blame Aaron. Instead he said,
"What a 'stupid' I am." 3) Not being Hank Aaron's brother, though people ask him
all the time anyway, despite the fact that the baseball Aarons are black and
this golfing Aaron is white. ("No," Tommy tells them, "I'm taller.")
played in 37 Masters, won the par-3 tournament one year with a five-under 22,
and had missed more cuts than a drunk surgeon. However, in 2000, Aaron became
the oldest player ever to make the cut--63 years, one month--when he shot
72-74-146, three under the cut, the first two days. Of course, he wound up dead
last by five shots at 25-over, but still, on that Friday night, he was three
shots better than Ollie, seven than Daly, and nine than Ben Crenshaw.
I reached him on his cellphone. "Meet me at the bag room at 7:30
sharp tomorrow morning," he said. "We'll play a practice round and then we'll
play the par 3."
Having slept not at all, I was at the holy place by
7a.m., and by this I mean the Augusta caddyshack. It was a white brick building,
with lockers, tables, a TV playing ESPN, and a little caddyshack grill where a
huge black man cooks delicacies for the caddies, such as hamburger ($2),
cheeseburger (also $2), soup (50 cents), and fries (50 cents). Of course,
business was a little slow this week on account of--for Masters week only--a
giant cake-display case being brought in and filled with pimento-cheese
sandwiches, fruit, Gatorade, pop, and candy. Now who is going to pay a whole 50
cents for soup when you can get free pimento-cheese sandwiches?
Pete Bender, who carried Ian Baker-Finch at the 1993 British Open--which tells
you how good Bender is--and he said that Augusta is good, but the best caddy
room in the free world is the Players Championship. "Oh, man, hot breakfasts,
hot lunch, big-screen TV, couches," Bender said wistfully. Here's a guy carrying
Rocco Mediate and probably making $100,000 a year, and he's thrilled at the idea
of being able to actually eat a meal during his 10-hour workday. The worst, he
said, was Arnold Palmer's tournament, Bay Hill. "They got nothin'. Zero. Not
even a room to change in."
Shame, Arnie, shame.
I put on the
classic all-white painter overalls with the green Masters hat they give you
(free!). It's the classiest uniform in golf, with the player's number Velcroed
on the left breast (I got No. 411--the defending champ's caddy always gets "1"),
the Augusta logo on the right breast pocket, and the player's name on the back.
Beautiful. Like a fool, I forgot to steal it when I was done.
I tried to
ignore the sign that read, "Caddies are required to wear white flat-soled
sneakers." All I had were black Softspiked golf shoes. This made me stand out
like a bridesmaid in construction boots. Also, I found out later, on hot days,
guys wear nothing but boxers underneath. There have been rumors of guys going
"commando" under them, and I can only pray that: a) it isn't true and b) if it
is true, I didn't get Fluff's old overalls.
They handed me a yardage
book, which looked like Sanskrit. It made no sense, just numbers and swirls and
acronyms. It must be how The New Yorker looks to an illiterate. I was standing
there, looking like Rubik's twit brother, when Cubby, Davis Love's caddy, said,
"Don't even bother, Rook, you'll never understand it."
Cubby is one of
the great lads. When not caddying, he's always got the sports section in one
hand and an unlit cigar in the mouth. His breakup with Brad Faxon was one of the
most tragic in tour history--13 years together. But that's how it is. No
alimony, no keeping the china. Just like that, everybody notices you're not
lugging the old bag with you everywhere you go.
Cubby and Faxon used to
be quite a pair. They had a language all their own. For yardages, for instance,
Cubby would say, "OK, you got 123 plus Elway, and a little Reagan." Which meant,
"You have 123 yards to the front of the green, plus another seven yards (Elway's
jersey number) to the flagstick, with the wind throwing your ball a little to
the right (Reagan's politics)." Or Cubby would say, "You got 214 (yards to the
front) plus Michael (Jordan, which is 23 yards), and a little Clinton (wind
going left)." What, you don't speak fluent Cubby?
Cubby has a jersey
number for every conceivable yardage, but I always thought there were more they
didn't use. For instance, what about: "You got 134 plus Hal (four, for the
number of Hal Sutton's wives)," or "You got 189 plus O. J. (Simpson's two
murders)," or "It's 201 plus Anna (Kournikova, a perfect 10)."
yardages in the book were from every conceivable place you could think
of--sprinkler heads, bushes, benches. You half expected to see distances marked
to Martha Burk's offices written in. But there were also strange numbers way to
the sides of the hole drawings accompanied by strange letters--like ICYFU: 219.
And ICYRFU: 174. Cubby explained it to me. "ICYFU means 'In Case You Fuck Up.'
And ICYRFU means 'In Case You Really Fuck Up.' "
Then somebody came up to
him and said, "Cubby, did you get those bad numbers on 11?"
numbers?" Cubby said.
And the guy said, "Where it says 64 and 56, it's
really 60 and 51." I made a secretive note of it in my book, which Cubby slyly
noticed. Then Cubby said to the guy, "And did you get the one on 16? It's 144
from the front tee there, not 164." And his buddy goes, "Yeah, I got it. But did
you get the one on 18? That first bush isn't there anymore, so that 128 is
really 182." And I'm flipping frantically through the pages, trying to find the
stupid 16th hole when I hear them both suddenly break up into hysterics. Great
fun to con The Rook.
As God is my witness, I will get them
I jammed the yardage book in the overall pockets, plus some
sandwiches and apples, plus I had my wallet in there, my notepad, four pens, and
a cellphone, which I forgot to leave in the car and is strictly forbidden at
Augusta. I walked out of there looking like a man shoplifting
I checked my watch. It was 7:29. I started sprinting for the
bag room. Then I was reminded of one of Augusta's big rules: No running. I
sprint-walked. People suddenly started parting seas for me. People jabbed each
other. I was wondering what was going on when I heard: "There's Aaron's caddy."
The overalls were, it turns out, a big deal. I was Augusta royalty. I was
wearing the white, the green, the logo. I was the real deal. You know, if a guy
were single . . .
I made it by 7:30. Luckily, Aaron wasn't there
And he wasn't there by 7:45 either. Or 8. Or 8:30, 9, or
"Welcome to the Pro Gap," Joe LaCava, caddy for Fred Couples, told
"What's the Pro Gap?" I asked.
"The difference between when
the pro says he'll meet you and when he actually shows up."
caddies accept the Pro Gap as part of caddy life. But, as they pointed out, let
"you" be late and you're as fired as Anna Nicole Smith's
Still, it was sort of caddy Star Wars outside that bag room.
Fluff was there (for Jim Furyk). LaCava was there. Jim Mackay, the
world-renowned "Bones," my personal caddy hero who had hauled Phil Mickelson for
10 years by then. And, of course, the Joe Namath of caddies, Bruce Edwards, Tom
Watson's longtime Sancho Panza. Edwards happened to be the person Tom Watson
told, "I'm going to chip this in," on the 17th hole at Pebble Beach at the 1982
U.S. Open, which he did, to beat J. W. Nicklaus himself.
11:30, four hours late, Aaron showed up. He was much taller than I thought he'd
be. Maybe 6-1, still slender, elegantly dressed, curly gray hair, glasses, and a
"I'm just going to go into the Champion's Room (the locker room at
Augusta reserved for past champions) and then we'll go. Meet me on the range in,
what, 45 minutes?"
"Sure," I said, cheerfully. Sure! What's another 45
minutes!?! No problem! Perhaps I'll knit another sweater!
The bag was
simple and blue, with no sponsor on it, and heavier than Meatloaf. What's this
guy got in there, anvils? I remembered the time British golf writer Bill Elliott
spent a day caddying for Faldo for a story. Elliott struggled under its weight
all day, until he discovered, afterward, that Faldo had snuck a brick and three
dozen extra balls into the bottom of the bag for a laugh. There is nobody that
will crack you up like that madcap Nick Faldo.
I made my way past the
ropes, into forbidden territory--the range--the place where no writer is allowed
to go at the Masters, nor fan, nor photographer. Self-conscious and thrilled, I
tried to think of what to do so as not to appear self-conscious and thrilled.
So, naturally, I decided to eat.
I sat on the bench and pulled a
pimento-cheese sandwich out, and an apple and a Gatorade. I was about to take my
first bite when I noticed, for the first time, approximately 1,000 people
watching me. The bleachers behind the range were full of fans and, at that
moment, nobody was actually hitting balls, so they were watching me. I tried not