My first experience playing with a professional caddie was at Pinehurst in the late ’90s, at Pinehurst No. 2. I remember looking forward to it: me asking the caddie for the distance; discussing the wind direction and speed; receiving one last psychological boost and then hitting the shot with a stronger commitment than can be mustered by oneself.
The reality was a little different and more fun then I even imagined. My foursome met the caddies picked by the caddie master the next morning. My caddie’s name was William.
We shook hands, introduced ourselves, talked about where we were from, enjoyed a witty crack or two and went to the first tee. William handed me the driver. The first at Pinehurst is a moderate length par 4 with a slight dogleg left. William gave me a target – something like hit it at the right edge of that fairway bunker. I struck a beautiful drive, drawing perfectly onto the line he had specified.
“Well, we know you can follow direction,” he quipped. When we arrived at my ball, I asked him for the yardage. William said, “It’s an 8 iron.” I was stunned. I needed to feel some commitment to the shot and I had a process to get there. “But, I need to know the yardage,” I said. William gave me a bit of a frustrated look – one I came to know – and said, “you don’t need to know that and we could be here all day discussing it. Just believe in me – it’s an 8 iron.”
I came to realize that complete trust in William kept me from being distracted by doubts related to all the factors I usually considered. I hit a nice little draw … which landed in the middle of the green! “How did you know that?” I asked. “You only saw one shot – how could you tell how far I hit an 8 iron?”
William was a man of few words, “I’ve seen it all.”
William was never wrong and his green-reading skills were incredible. He knew No. 2 so well that most of time he didn’t even need to look at the putting line from behind the ball or the cup. He’d stand to the side, holding the flagstick or cleaning a club and say, “two cups to the right,” before I could even ask for his help. I didn’t break 80 that day, but without his help, I probably wouldn’t have broken 90. He must have saved me at least five strokes.
We had such a great time with our caddies – William wasn’t as much a character as the others, but he was by far the best caddie of the bunch. As we finished the 18th, our group got together and decided we would ask to see if they could caddie the next day at Mid-Pines.
They agreed and at the appointed time they were there, with half-wet and half-dry towels in hand and ready to roll. Now, Mid-Pines is a Ross course as well, and at that time it was still very much as Ross had left it when he died in 1948. It has a more rolling landscape than No. 2, and probably a little tighter because it’s on a smaller tract. It actually is my favorite Donald Ross course.
We milled around the first tee area and I noticed that there was some money exchanging hands between the caddies. I later found out that they often placed bets on play for the day. I didn’t want to know any more than that – I don’t think I would have liked knowing my caddie had bet against me. I could just picture us coming down to the last hole and seeing a playing partner pick up a 4-footer only to have the caddie say, “You have to putt that out, ’cause I’ve got 20 bucks on it.” Somehow it worked out though and I never had a question about William’s commitment to me.
On the fifth hole – a picturesque par 5 – I had a 50-foot putt for eagle across a hogback. My first effort wasn’t so good and I was left with about an 8-footer for birdie. William told me the putt was straight in. “Just keep a good speed.” I struck the putt and ended up short and right. William gave me that disgusted look and said, “Been watchin’ you for over 20 holes now and do you realize that you move your head forward on every putt?” From that time on – as long as I didn’t move my head – my putts were perfectly distanced – I even made a few. I shot 79 that day and we asked William and his friends to come back to Pine Needles the following morning.
There were lots of great memories from that trip, but by far my most indelibly etched memory is of my second shot on the 18th at Pine Needles. My drive had found the right rough and I was faced with a downhill approach to a green that rises up for the first two thirds of the surface and then falls off to a 15-foot collection area behind. William said, “Hit the 8.” I took the club and was visualizing a nice draw – the scene was so vivid and the green seemed so close. My mind told me to just “feather it down there.” The ball landed 10 yards short, giving me a treacherous chip to the pin just past the point where the slope started going to the back of the green. I sheepishly looked at William and he pointedly stated, “When I tell you to hit it, I mean HIT IT!” He must have had some cash riding on me. Needless to say, I wasn’t able to get up and down, but the joy of playing those three days with someone that is intimate with your game and so knowledgeable of the course was a real treat.
A golf architect in New Hampshire for more than 20 years, Armstrong brought her craft to Las Cruces in January 2010. She is the founder of Armstrong Golf Architects, which provides planning, designing, permitting and construction monitoring services for golf course projects. You can comment on her writing and view past articles at her blog: https://roadholeshorts17.wordpress.com.