August 29, 2016

"HEY, WILLIE, I NEED A LOOP" (profanity alert):

SECRET LIFE OF A COUNTRY CLUB CADDY (Andrew Kahn, MAY 27, 2014, Narratively)

Country club caddying is much different than working for a professional golfer. You are not asked for distances on every shot or to read the green on every putt, nor do you have to be as concerned with the emotional state of your golfer. It has just one requirement: an ability to walk five miles with up to fifty pounds on your shoulders. Patience certainly helps. Even as a veteran, there were times I'd wait for a loop from seven a.m. until noon. There was an internal struggle between wanting to get on the course and knowing that's just the start of your work. "Gotta make a day's pay," Billy, who was also a full-time firefighter, would always say when you asked if he was sticking around.

Leaving was not easy, anyway. Communicating with the caddy master was like deciphering code. I'd ask whether it was worth staying and get a shrug in return. He'd catch me trying to leave and say, "Hey, where do you think you're going?" and I'd slink back to the bench like a dog who knows he's misbehaved. Two hours later he'd see me sitting there and say, "You're still here?" My friend and I were terrified of him and would play rock-paper-scissors to decide who'd talk to him. But he was fair. If he made you wait around one day he'd get you out early the next, often with a high-paying group.

Once on the course, I learned to zone out while still paying attention so I could get from the first tee to the eighteenth green in what seemed like less time than it really was. Splitting the round into smaller benchmarks was key. I'd tell myself, Just get to the fourth tee, then get through seven. I'd get a free Gatorade at the turn (after nine holes) and a hot dog for a dollar if I wanted. After I climbed the big hill on thirteen, I felt like I was heading home.

Sometimes I'd lose both my focus and sight of the ball. It was never good when I turned my head as if the ball was passing, only to hear it land twenty yards behind me. But even worse was when I didn't hear or see it at all. This warranted one of several stall tactics. The key was to let the golfer lead me to his ball, presuming he saw it. I've untied and retied my shoes, gone to the nearest water fountain to wet my towel, cleaned every club in the bag, stretched -- anything to kill the time until the golfer walked towards his ball. Of course, if neither of us saw it, I was screwed.

When the round was done, I'd put the money from each golfer in separate pockets. Once they were out of sight I counted it. A veteran looper told me the rate was $37.50 a bag when he started in 1996. It was $40 to $50 when I started and $60 to $70 by the time I stopped in 2008. Now it's up to $80 a bag, minimum. The super loopers doing two a day are making at least $320 in cash.

After a summer of single-bag loops and occasional one-and-ones (one bag and one putter from a cart-riding golfer, for half the fee of a bag), I graduated to doubles. The difference between carrying two bags compared to one is less than you think, physically, and if you're going to spend two hours sitting and another four on the course, you'd rather get $100 than $50.

Although, working for two golfers meant twice as many complaints. There are a few I've heard more than a hundred times: "I barely touched it" -- said when a golfer hammers a putt ten feet past the hole. "That's not fair. I hit that sooo well" -- said after a shot lands in a sand trap or the rough or some other undesirable location. And my favorite: "The ball's just not travelling well today" -- said when a golfer's shots repeatedly come up short of the green. I've never heard a golfer say the conditions were making the ball travel farther than usual. One time a woman I was caddying for hit a tree -- in plain sight no more than thirty yards away -- and yelled at her husband, "Why didn't you tell me that tree was there?"

It was always amusing when a horrible player would ask how far away a hole is and I'd tell him "about 135, 140," and he'd say, "Well, which is it? 135 or 140?" as if it mattered. More often than not he was going to shank it sixty yards anyway. And when he did, he'd likely blame it on his clubs. As I heard one golfer tell his annoying partner, "It's not the arrows. It's the Indian."

I saw caddies cheat for their golfers by moving a ball from the rough to the fairway. I even heard about a "hole-in-one caddy," fired a few years before I started, who turned good shots into lifetime memories on holes where the golfer couldn't see the green's surface, in the hopes of getting better tips. It sure as hell wasn't worth losing my job over something like that and I didn't care enough about how well my golfer played.

Never saw a caddie cheat for his golfer, but I've seen plenty cheat a golfer who was a jerk and/or a bad tipper.  It's easy enough to foot wedge one into the rough or step on one and bury the lie.

Posted by at August 29, 2016 12:31 PM