Masters – A Caddie’s Day at Augusta National

Every day at Augusta is different, but they all start with a meandering walk from the parking lot behind the busy souvenir building to the caddy locker room. It feels like you are sneaking in the back door; maybe that is the plan. If you are lucky, have a house in the neighborhood, you can walk in off Berckman Road and avoid all the traffic. Augusta traffic is some of the worst on tour; paying an extra $500 a week for a house close by is definitely worth it.

The Masters Souvenir shop does a pretty good business every morning before each round. Our locker room is next door and it’s difficult getting by the crowd milling around comparing mementos plus making their plans for the day. Once they’ve bought their gifts their off to the UPS shipping area, which does a better business than the North Pole at Christmas; our walk takes us through all the activity. You can’t wait to get inside the ropes.

The Masters Caddy locker room is the finest facility provided for us at any tour stop. It’s for working caddies only; I’ve seen players, press, and transient caddies escorted out. I usually arrive at a course about two hours before tee time but at Augusta I’m there four hours prior soaking up the atmosphere. Our locker room staff provides all the amenities, cleans our bibs every evening, and has them hanging neatly in the morning.

The bibs and green hat are mandatory; no advertising on the caddies at Augusta, but clothing is optional underneath. My locker has an assortment of undergarments for all weather conditions. Luckily it’s not Pebble Beach and fairly easy to prepare for your work day. There have been cool, wet days when a rain suit was stuffed under the white coverall and hot, humid days when only a dusting of cornstarch baby powder was necessary. The zipper down the front of a caddy’s bib indicates the weather conditions. Zipped all the way up with jacket collar protruding the weather is miserable; unzipped to the waist and chest hairs blowing in the wind means it is a very nice day, a dusting of powder is all I have underneath.

Once I’ve consumed my breakfast from the grill, gathered all the gossip from the night before, and figured out what to wear, it’s time to get to work. The pin placement sheet, weather report, and superintendant’s fact page are all available in the locker room. A few of us gather around the table compare a few notes and then head for the clubhouse front porch. The old timers shun these gatherings; the new breed transfers the information into their PDA’s and color code yardage books.

The day’s most important information is on the top of the clubhouse. Walking up the hill you take a long studious look at the flags, they give you the wind’s true direction above the trees. I carry a map of the course and pencil arrows across the layout for later reference during the round. “Big Brian”, a veteran English caddy, taught me the trick years ago and Raymond reinforced the idea. Reading greens and judging the wind are the most important factors for a low round at Augusta National.

The gathering on the front porch is always smattered with caddies, reporters, trainers, swing coaches, and a few celebrities. I met Tiger for the first time here and have listened to a lot of great stories. Forget about those folks under the old oak tree, I’d rather spend my time right here; these are my kind of people. The only problem is the autograph hounds and collectors, this is where they gather, hunting for that special signature they can sell on EBay. I hear Augusta has shooed them away; I hope that is true, they ruin it for the real golf fan and kids.

Bag storage is off to the side and Johnny has the place spotless, the clubs are in good hands. I’m on the porch before my player parks his car, and when he arrives I get the “thumbs up be out in a minute” sign. I slip John a five pick up the clubs and sit patiently on the porch with the bag between my legs. You don’t want that baby falling over in front of all these professionals. That be out in a minute turns in to a half hour; I don’t mind a bit.

Augusta National’s practice is cozy, manicured like the course, and there is a high net on the far end to protect the Washington Road traffic. I believe it was erected after J.D’s first trip; he got a kick out of launching balls over the trees. The patrons enjoyed it also but the Green Jackets were slightly annoyed. Between here and the Par Three course you can’t find a more serene facility, I think they wanted to keep it that way. No roars from the practice tee, please.

Once the session is over it’s a quick walk through the portico and into nirvana. The putting green sits behind eighteen and between the first and tenth tees. While your man is putting there is plenty of time to discreetly check out the scenery walking by and spread out around the veranda. There are no autographs allowed behind the clubhouse, but you may have to chase Doug Sanders away, he’s always taking advantage of the rule and trying to make a quick buck. He has caught the ire of many pros as they were preparing for their round.

One year, we were one of the first groups off and I watched the honorary starters, Snead, Lord Byron, and Sarazen launch their tee shots. Jim Nance was quietly watching and told me it was one of his favorite moments every year; he never misses the occasion. The true fans gather early every morning behind the clubhouse. Off to the first tee with veteran security volunteers leading the way; it’s only a short walk but you couldn’t get there without the escort service.

Tea Olive stares you in the face as you emerge from the crowd. There are a lot of familiar faces but it’s time to get down to business. A quick check of all the necessities; waterproofed yardage book, pin sheet, wind map, extra towel, and player’s lunch in the bag; okay I’m ready to go. Straight away with an expansive, deep bunker on the right the first hole is about a 300 yard carry to the top of the hill.

You don’t notice the trees on the left and often times end up there trying to avoid the deep trap. You have to flirt with the right side to get a good angle at this multi-tiered green, the left trees are no bargain. After giving Raymond the yardage, 156 I think, deep in the trees, he asked me, “What do you like?”
I was thinking out loud, mumbled, “Nine iron isn’t enough.” Before I could finish my thoughts he blurted out, “nine iron isn’t even in the ballgame!” The crowd bristled at our interaction and we eventually settled on a seven, made a difficult par and went on to the second tee. They switched the nines from the original design and par is all you want on this difficult starting hole.

There is usually a long wait on the second tee tucked back in the trees, and it’s a good time to double check you caddy supplies. My boss and another caddy noticed what I was doing and told me to make sure I had plenty of Altoids; the garlic and beers from the night before were oozing from my body.

Pink Dogwood is a downhill reachable par five with treacherous bunkers fronting the green. Off the tee you need to work your ball right to left, avoid the trap sitting 310 yards off the tee, and keep it out of the hazard running down the left side. You are always thinking birdie here and your second shot, about 15 yards downhill, depends entirely on the pin placement. Back pins are always accessible from just short of the green and the front pins are made for wedges or chips from over the green. Avoiding those front bunkers is the main priority. If you walk away with five or six after a good tee shot, you have made a mental mistake along the way.

Flowering Peach is a splendid short par four with many decisions off the tee. Well there used to be anyway, now the long hitters just belt it up short of the green and chip on this severely right to left sloped green. The left fairway bunkers were added in 1982 to MacKenzie’s “almost perfect hole”. Over the green is dead, and the second shot is uphill with a tricky wind. We made a quick seven here one year, and I believe Tiger and Stevie miscued also. You don’t need length to make a golf hole challenging.

 

The crowd gathers behind the fourth tee, the longest par three at Augusta, and watches the action on three, four, and the second fairway. There are so many vantage points around the course where you can watch multiple holes, another aspect which makes the Masters so appealing. All those patrons watched me tumble down the hill walking off Flowering Crab Apple my first year.

After our seven on three and poor tee shot on four, Doug Tewell tossed his four wood my direction. It was wet and slippery, he was a bit peeved so the toss wasn’t polite, but I gave it a gallant effort. The low one hopper threw me off balance and I went tumbling off the tee box with clubs flying everywhere. Doug was concerned about me first and not his clubs; that was thoughtful. Throughout the round a dozen people walked up asking how if I was okay; Augusta patrons are one of a kind.

The long dogleg left Magnolia tee is directly behind four green and tucked next to the tree. You can’t feel the wind here and avoiding the left fairway traps is very important; trusting your notes, wind map, and instincts are crucial. “Where’s the wind” is the most often asked question during the round, and you better know for sure, it is the difference between double and par on one swing of the club.

Bobby Jones didn’t like those fairway bunkers and a lot of players cuss this green. The huge false front stretching from front left to middle right has created many short game miseries. You can’t be long, there’s a deep pot bunker, and if you come up short everything rolls off the front. This is the first hole you get a lot of fan interaction, and they get to watch a lot of emotional outbursts.

Augusta opens fairway crosswalks while the players are still making their way to the green. The wave of people politely parts as we walk by and pays there genuine respects to the golfers. No other tournament allows spectators such close access during a round; it’s quite the experience and a warm feeling to be so close to the crowd. Of course no other tournament has spectators like the Masters.

If you survive number five a twenty yard downhill par three awaits. Juniper plays about ten yards, maybe more, downhill, and you are firing directly over the crowd to a severely mounded green. Depending on the wind which is always swirling it could be anywhere from a nine iron to a five iron; sometimes you have to flip a coin fire for the middle and hope you don’t three putt.

There used to be a creek below the elevated tee box, you can see the sixteenth to the right, and for Augusta it can get a bit raucous here late in the afternoon. I think I heard a “you da’ man” here once. There are a lot of green cupped beers and pimento cheese sandwiches consumed on the hillside, another great vantage point you don’t see on TV.

Number seven, Pampas, used to be a driver or three wood and a short iron but it’s been lengthened. Another “where’s the wind” tee box because you need the proper angle to attack the pins on this bunker guarded, subtly sloping green. Horton Smith, 1934 and 1936 champion, recommended bunkers be added, and Perry Maxwell did the honors in 1938. Attacking the pins is really not advised, it’s more about placing your second shot in the middle, long and short are both dead.

Yellow Jasmine is our first forecaddie hole. The players walk back to the tee and we get a chance for a leak, a smoke, a chat with friends, or a time to vent about misfortunes. You never brag during a round, the golfing gods are always listening and will make you pay later. The eighth is a double dogleg 570 yard par five, and if you can get it by the right fairway trap, it is reachable. The mantra here is stay right, stay right, stay right; there is nothing good lurking to the left of this green or fairway. The uphill hole, especially the second shot, creates blind shots and you need to know the background landmarks for a properly placed second shot. It doesn’t matter if you are laying up or going for the green; you need to know the proper angles, and long is better than short around the green most of the time. Five is a good score but you like to sneak away with a four once in awhile.

The pros grab their drivers, maybe three woods downwind these days, and walk back to the ninth tee, Carolina Cherry. Ideally, my bag is sitting in the peninsula of trees between eight and nine fairway, and I walked to the eighth green with only a towel, driver, and putter. It’s another forecaddie hole and a two hundred yard respite from toting the bag. That grove of trees used to be a place to smoke something besides a cigarette, but we are older and wiser these days. Oh yes, the money has something to do with it also.

The dogleg left ninth forces you to keep the ball right, avoid the trees, so you can create the aggressive angle to this multi-tiered green, guarded on the left by a deep bunker and sloping from back to front. The green angles front right to back left and forces you to hit a dead hand shot to keep the ball from sucking off the green. Too much spin on your egg brings it fifty yards off the front of the green. It’s the easiest place on the course to judge the wind; the clubhouse flags are perched majestically behind the green.

The crowds are tremendous around here, without the Pinkerton escorts we wouldn’t make it to the tenth tee. The real fans are out on the course by now; the socialites are sipping cocktails around the clubhouse, hoping to be seen.

Perched on the other side of the putting green and just below the cabins is the tenth hole, Camellia. All the fun starts on this drastic downhill dogleg left par four, usually the most difficult hole during the tournament. On this hole a caddy must be aware of so many factors on each shot. The elevation change, wind, contour of the fairway, carry numbers, and club selection are all relevant on the tee shot. You have to favor the right side, but not too far; it destroys your approach angle and adds a club or two to the hole.

Spectators (sorry, patrons) can enjoy the view, and Amen Corner peaking through the trees behind the green, we’ve to concentrate or double is eminent. My buddy Chuck Anger during his first visit to Augusta walked down the tenth fairway, took a deep breath, contemplated for a moment, and said, “I’m going to have a hard-on all day.” My job is to keep my man from getting one. Outside the green ropes you can enjoy the surroundings; they just became my enemy for the next two hours.

The tee shot is tough; the downhill second shot to a right to left sloping green guarded by a severe front right bunker is treacherous. The fairway bunker, sixty yards from the front of the green, confuses your depth perception and it’s hard to make yourself hit enough club. Player’s seconds shots continually come up short. If you are successful then try to two putt this two tiered green. My first boss Bob Murphy was stationed in the CBS tower behind the green for years. After a round we would sit below the booth, watch the remainder of the telecast, and polish off his beverage cooler. There were always horror stories from the day. Murph told me, “The Masters has probably been lost more times on this hole than any other.” You don’t play the tenth you survive it.

Thank God there’s another forecaddie hole ahead. My man walks back into the trees off the left side of the green, I shout something motivating like, “keep it down the right side, I’ll meet you in the middle.” It’s nice to have a little break from your man, but you can’t lose your concentration. White Dogwood is the start of Amen Corner; where threes or sevens can happen in a hurry. You can relax briefly, but not when your man’s ball hits your wife walking along the fairway.

Before the trees were planted on the right side, the play was a slinging driver down the right. Well, that slinging driver bounced off my wife’s back, and instead of an eight or nine iron to the front left pin we had to lean on a four iron. When Raymond asked me what happened to his drive I couldn’t muster up the courage; I just shrugged my shoulders and pleaded innocent. Thinking back I should have fessed up; a golfer should know the true reason for his predicament.

Walking down the eleventh fairway over that last mound if you look to the right the rest of Amen Corner opens up and the patrons are lined dozens deep along the ropes. “Come on now you have to keep your concentration, pay attention to the wind,” I’m saying to myself. Once your man is on the eleventh green and the bag is dropped as close to the twelfth tee as possible you start contemplating the toughest short shot in a major. Even if there is no wind you’re looking for it in the trees.

When you walk past Larry Mize’s spot the appreciative crowd often rises and applauds. The gathering behind twelve tee and along thirteen fairway, over the years, may have witnessed more crucial Major moments than any other gallery in golf. There haven’t been any critical twos on thirteen but there have been many “others” collected on these holes. The loneliest spot on the course is between the green and tee on twelve after dumping your short iron in Rae’s Creek. Watching your group walk across the Hogan Bridge while you’re creating a yardage is not fun; only Freddie avoided that spot with the help of some divine intervention.

Everybody has a theory about the wind wafting through Amen Corner, but the flag on eleven green catches a lot of eyes. Hogan always said, “Don’t do anything till you that flag move, and then do it quickly.” Fast players come to a standstill here sometimes. Middle of the green and just over the front bunker is the only yardage a caddy needs on the tee box.

Golden Bell has left many a great golfer shaking his head; I can’t get off the twelfth green quick enough; I’ve been waiting for this moment all day. Hopefully, there is a wait on the tee box, because behind the tee and to the golfer’s right is a secluded nature spot. Many a great man has relieved himself in the woods beside Azalea’s tee box; it’s nice to be a small part of history.

Azalea is the greatest risk reward par five ever created, my opinion and maybe that of a few others. Mackenzie created a masterpiece and the thirteenth requires every shot in the bag for a good score. A power draw is imperative off the tee for a chance at eagle. Your second shot calls for a fade over Rae’s Creek off a left sloping fairway with a few subtle ridges. You first check the lie before considering anything else, and the layup is no bargain either. The contours in the fairway can make a professional look like a hacker; everything looks rather docile from the gallery but the intricacies of the design have created a great challenge.

The slopes on the green are friendly, but sometimes foe; and the expansive sand traps behind the green distort the contours of the green. There are so many architectural designs waiting for a slight miscue that is why the difference between three and six isn’t that great; and why this is one of the greatest spectator holes in golf. The 1,600 Azaleas are beautiful but the risk reward golf is the key.

A short walk across Rae’s Creek you step onto Chinese Fir, the only hole without a bunker, and according to Ben Crenshaw one of the finest greens ever designed. A caddy has to make sure his player gets lined up down the right side; the tee box tries to point you into the left trees. The rather simple design lulls you to sleep and a caddy has to keep his man focused in between reachable par fives. This is a great spot for a mental lapse and a stupid bogey or worse.

The second shot usually calls for a mid iron and if you are not careful this large gently sloping green can bite you. Player and caddy must focus on that pin and the proper portion of the green. Any ball landing outside the proper quadrant is a possible three putt. Physical bogies are few; mental bogies are many and disastrous. You can’t let your guard down on this rather innocent par four.

The Firethorn tee box sits back left of fourteen green and the fifteenth runs away from the clubhouse which means you are heading downhill. There’s usually a pretty good wait for the fairway to clear and there is always a large crowd milling around, it’s the main thorough fare between eighteen, ten green, and eleven fairway. It’s one of the few places a caddy has difficult time controllin the patrons.

The tee box lines you up left center, you have to force yourself down the right side, avoiding the trees on the left. Once in the fairway there is another wait for the green to clear so you don’t want to get in a hurry. The longer you sit over the shot and discuss it, the more thoughts creep into your head, plus the wind the wind changes about six times while you are standing there. We always liked to get the numbers then walk away from the ball; enjoy a little scenic break for a moment. Once the green clears then you can start your serious discussion.

 If the number is in the go range the discussion goes something like this.

Raymond: “What we got front right?”

Me: “218 and another ten to carry the left side.”

Raymond: “Four iron doesn’t seem like enough.”

Me: “Four iron isn’t even the ball game, I was thinking five wood.”

Remembering our spat on the first hole he smiles and we settle on the three iron for this downhill second shot. Players go for this green so often because the layup shot is no bargain and it leaves you with a downhill third shot from a very tight lie. If you’re laying up it has to be down the right side also, unless the pin is back right. There have been a lot of skinny wedges over the green and fat shots in that pond. This green is no bargain with a wedge in your hand unless you have a perfect number. Any number leaving you between clubs creates a lot of indesicion. There are a lot of poor shots hit off those downhill lies in the fifteen fairway.

That green, which looks so flat on TV, slopes severely from back right to front left. Your approach shot from a downhill lie calls for high fade into this green, not the easiest in golf. Any shot with bit of top spin goes bounding over the green; any ball with too much backspin heads for the pond. The margin for error is slight with the ridge running through the middle of the green from the front right. There’s water staring you in the face and an innocent iron shot creates quite a bit of turmoil.

It’s your last birdie opportunity; if you come across the Sarazen bridge with five or six in the picture, the last three holes become insurmountable. You have to get your four on this short five par.

The players and caddies have lot of fun during practice rounds on Redbud. The players enjoy skipping shots across the water and the caddies sometimes get a shot or two off if the officials aren’t watching. A lot of wagers are pressed on this redesigned hole. The original design was a bit easy and in the late 40’s the pond was added and the green shifted to the right. This hole is all about the wind and the pin placements, imagine that.

Yardage is necessary but inconsequential, you are only aiming for specific spot on this green. The right pins are tucked on top of shelves and anyhting next to them is a mistake, and the front left pin is the most accessible off the right to left sloping green. A caddies job is to keep your man short of the hole and out of the back bunker, nothing more. If the club can get to the pin it is too much. Ask Jelly, he’s the old black caddy you see every year gathering information on the tee box for CBS, he has seen it all.

The wind on the tee box may not be the same wind at the green, it comes swirling down the hill from the sixth tee box. You have to pay attention to the wind while you are on fifteen green, like we didn’t already have enough to do over there. If you’re not reading greens this is one of the best people, I mean girl, watching areas on the course. Many a dress has been hiked a touch high while sitting on the hill; whether it is on purpose or not, only that Southern Belle knows. The well wishers gather around as you walk to the seventeenth; it’s a tight walkway and it gets pretty cozy back there.

Seventeen, Nandina, is a lot like fourteen, innocuous but deadly. When it was shorter the Eisenhower tree really wasn’t in play, but now with the slight dogleg and added length this easy looking hole can cause all sorts of problems. The crowd’s a bit rowdy back here so we have get them to settle quickly; the tee shot is very demanding, our boys need their quiet. You have to catch it good to get a look at the green or else the second shot is partially blind, the top of the flag may be the only thing visible over the high faced front right bunker. For some reason, and I’ve never really figured it out, the yardages here don’t appear accurate.

The second shot is uphill and that’s always factored in, but you will hear more discussion on club selection here than almost any other par four. I’ve heard the boys in the caddy locker room double check and re-check the sprinklers; some say it plays short, others say long. It’s quite confusing; a hole you want your par and move on, but don’t get ahead of yurself because a six is lurking. Fourteen and seventeen are the most forgotten about holes at Augusta, and both have caused a lot of heartache. Dwight D. isn’t the only one cussing this hole.

We made it to the finest landlocked finishing hole in golf; we still have a pretty good uphill climb to the clubhouse and a cold beer. Holly is the only dogleg right hole on the course, and it looks menacing peering through the chute of trees. Wasn’t Jack a left to right player? How did he win so many Green Jackets on course desined for hookers? A true sign of his brilliance.

There are used to be a lot of club selection decisions on this tee box, the length has limited it to driver or three wood these days. Front pins you have to keep it our of the traps, and back pins you have to challenge that corner a bit more with a cut driver. Your man always wants those bunker numbers off the tee and an idea what it is to get past the corner.

Walking off the front of the tee you have to be careful, it’s steep and pine-needly slippery sometimes, and you don’t need a somersault here. Your man really needs you for this next shot; it plays at least a club and a half uphill and there are a lot of numbers needed on the green. Those slopes and green edges are very important and there is usually a swirling wind also. I’ve tossed a lot of grass in this fairway and scratched my head a bunch. You’re tired, it’s a tough but gorgeous walk, when you get to the last fairway and nerves may be a bit frayed.

Walking up eighteen, no matter what day of the week, or time of day is a memory, especially the first time. My first was with Ben Crenshaw and Carl Jackson, and when they retraced those steps during Ben’s emotional win, I felt like I was strolling alonside them. Everyone remembers those moments from TV but when you have had a chance to walk the fairways you can almost touch those memories.

You can’t just play Augusta National, you have to think your way around the course, and take advantage of the good numbers and play away from those sucker pins. You can make par if you miss greens in the right spots and doubles or worse if you short side yourself. The eighteenth is the poster child for all Augusta greens, it quides you where and where not to be. It rewards the great shot, severely punishes the poor strike, and gives you many alteranative to create a shot if you happen to be in trouble or between clubs.

It’s time to head for the locker room, get into my jeans and tee shirt, and head for the Post Office. A cold beer or two and some story telling is always required after a day at Augusta National.

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