Watching Tiger ,Rory McIlroy, and my favorite, John Daly, last week at the British Open on TV reminded me of all the fun times I had as a caddie at Shannopin Country Club here in Pittsburgh back in my youth. I was never much of a golfer because I was too nervous and jerky to have the patience to be a good golfer. But I enjoyed playing with my dad. But as a caddie, I learned the nuances of the game and carrying doubles twice a day during the summer when I could was a great experience and some good money as a young guy.
You learn a lot about people when you caddie. I had the good fortune of being friends with our caddie master and his assistant so when my friend and I would get to the parking lot on men’s day and on the weekend days at 3:00 AM and take a snooze until the sign up list was out, we would be the first out and have the opportunity to carry two rounds with two bags each. Eddie Weil and Joe Stavish would make sure we got some good guys. Right up the middle guys with low handicaps. Those guys were not only good golfers but real characters on the course. Between belches and farts, they loved telling us stories and when they hit the turn at 9 holes, they would go in for the obligatory shot and a beer and press their bets on the back nine. That is when the pressure mounted and being a caddie, and a good one at that, paid off for these guys. I always made sure I put the bag down so that they could select their club and not have to pick it out of their bag on my back. I was careful to not walk in anyone’s line on the green and would always wash their ball whenever I could and return it to them on the next tee. Little things like that made you a good caddie besides course knowledge to a visitor.
My claim to fame was being a caddie for Ben Crenshaw when he was a student at the University of Texas. He came to Shannopin to qualify for the U.S. Open and Ed Weil gave me his bag for the event.
Ben was two years older than me. He was a sophomore at Texas and I was a senior in high school. He was very quiet and used those extra long tees when he hit his driver. I was amazed at how long the guy hit his tee shots for someone of his stature. He is not a big guy but his timing was impeccable and he would launch these tee shots into the stratosphere. He didn’t have much to say other than ask me the occasional question about a particular hole- where to hit the tee shot, how long to the back of a particular hole, questions like that where a good caddie has the answers.
I had the good fortune of being a caddie for other good guys at Open qualifiers and West Penn and State championships as well. Mo Barr- the star basketball player at Duquesne back in the day, was an excellent golfer and I had his bag at a qualifier. He was a strong guy and leveraged his height to really hit the ball out of sight off the tee. Rick Hrip was a really good regional golfer and I had his bag at the State Open one year and when we came to the 17th hole at Shannopin, he hit his shot up to the left of the green on the hillside. He asked me if he could play a pitch and run down to the green and I told him no. If he did that, the ball would run off the green and over the hillside. I knew that from experience. I told him to cut a sand wedge up high and land it square in the middle of the green. He did that, saved his par, and went on to win the State Open. He gave me credit when he was talking to reporters at the end and I was very happy to have helped him. Nice tip too.
The good thing about being a caddie as a young guy is not only is it a good job outside, but you meet people who teach you a thing or two about class, sportsmanship, and life in general. I loved being a caddie for Knox Young who competed many times in the U.S Amateur and was a West Penn and State Amateur title holder. He was a kind, gentle guy who talked to me on the golf course about things in life and had a real interest in where I was going to school.. I met many captains of industry on the golf course who had a lot to say about business and how to approach a career as a young guy. I would also see the guys who would play golf and then stay all night playing cards in the locker room to avoid going home . Those lessons on how to treat or not treat your family were not lost on me.
I worked a lot in those teenage years at Shannopin as a caddie, a car parker and the occasional stint in the kitchen when Rico, the manager, was shorthanded. The lessons you learn at a country club as a young guy are priceless and I will never forget my times there. I knew every member and caddied for a lot of them. Recently, I saw a young guy while riding my mountain bike on a trail that is adjacent to the practice tee at Allegheny Country Club here in the burg. He was a caddie and was talking to another caddie and I pulled up and said to them, “guys- you will always remember this job. To be a caddie is the greatest summer job there is.” I meant it, but they looked at me like I had two heads. Youth is wasted on the young. Thanks for reading.