During last week’s Bob Hope Chrysler Classic I was thinking about some memorable pro am experiences. Every week we have a scheduled pro am on Wednesday (Wednesday and Thursday Champions Tour), and there are three or four week long celebrity pro ams each year. I’ve been on the tee box with Presidents, movie stars, Hall of Fame sports legends, corporate CEO’s from every industry, and “Joe Hacker”. To be honest, I’m not sure where the best stories come from. I’m going to tell a few, you let me know your favorites.

First Tee with President Ford

My first year out, 1988, we were at the Byron Nelson Classic in Dallas. I was partially employed that week and had been hanging around the caddy yard trying to drum up future business. Tuesday, Lord Byron himself spent most of the morning talking with us, telling old stories, and asking about our families and lives. I was mesmerized. Byron Nelson chatting with us, like he was one of the guys. The older caddies said Mr. Nelson did this every year, and I think he enjoyed it as much as we did.

Anyway, Wednesday, I was doing the same, hanging around looking for a good pro am loop. Not just any hacker, I wanted a “hundy bag” ($100 pay for the day) or a celebrity. I’d been out here about three months, I was moving up in the pro am caddy scale. The morning wave provided nothing, and I was ready to head out, when someone shouted, “a bigwig needs a caddy on the first tee, you better hurry.”

There was a large crowd surrounding the first tee. I charged through the spectators–not wanting to miss my opportunity–climbed under the gallery ropes and was immediately subdued, almost tackled, by three or four suits. President Gerald Ford was on the tee with Fred Couples, defending champion, and three CEO’s with their caddies. The Secret Service never let me hit the ground, they were actually quite gentle, and I started mumbling something about being a caddy…..I was told someone needed a caddy, I’m not quite sure.

I just wanted to get the hell out of there in a hurry. Everyone was staring, the President was escorted off to the side, and “Squeaky”, Fred’s caddy, finally vouched for me so the suits let me go. I slithered under the ropes and back to the caddy yard looking for the culprits who had purposely misinformed me. They were a couple of local caddies putting a cocky “tour caddy” in his place. I never saw them again, but a lot of the boys got a good laugh on my behalf. I learned that show up and shut up lesson that day from the caddy perspective. Nobody wants to listen to a cocky caddy especially other caddies.

Clint Eastwood and his Caddy 

Our first few years on the Senior Tour Raymond Floyd and his wife Maria helped host the Lexus Challenge. They would invite twelve to fifteen friends to Palm Springs for a pro am event with the top Senior Tour players. I mean top notch friends like: Sean Connery, Roger Clemens, Ken Griffey Jr., Matthew Maconneaghy, Kevin Costner, etc. Murph was paired with Clint Eastwood during the four days, and we  experienced Dirty Harry au natural. His wit was dry, his pace slow, and his humor borderline crude. We loved it all except his pace of play.

Day one in the first fairway, Murph had just hit his five iron into the green. We were waiting for Clint to hit his shot. They were taking forever, agonizing over club selection, so Murph walked over with some advice. Clint’s caddy, John Purcel, Clint’s business associate and restarauteur was a nervous sort and he saw Murph coming. There was a bit of a stutter, you could tell they were discussing something, so Murph offered, “we just hit five iron, what are you guys thinking, four?”

Clint swaggered back a bit, scratched his chin, and in his best Dirty Harry said, “well Murph….Purcel and I were thinking about a little pussy. But, if you want me to hit the four iron, I’ll hit the four iron.”

I’ve never seen the Irishman laugh so hard on the golf course, and from then on we knew the ground rules, basically staying out of Clint’s way and enjoying the banter. He carried on an irreverant commentary about everything in sight the next two days, and we just walked along laughing.

Sunday afternoon we were surveying Clint’s long putt on the seventeenth green. TV cameras surrounded the green, their red lights were on, and the boom mikes were close by. Murph yelled across the green, “Clint what are you thinking?” Purcel and I both froze, looked at the wry smile developing on Clint’s, and knew what was coming. Before Clint could answer, Murph through up his hands, chuckled, and said, “okay, I know what your really thinking, I just want to know what you see in this putt.”

If a man’s mind isn’t thinking about sex 95% of the time, it’s wandering. You’ve got to concentrate in this game.

Brett Favre, NFL Classic, and my daughter Cassie

Brett is every one’s hero, or at least well-respected by any decent human being, even Viking fans. We were first paired with Brett at the NFL Classic during the mid-90’s. When I found out the pairing chills gathered, and I called my ex-wife to check on Cassie’s schedule the next day. My eight year old daughter was the biggest Packer fan imaginable. She knew who the potential draft choices were; could recite the depth charts; and idolized Brett. What if I could get the two of them together on the phone before she went to school the next day?

We teed off early the next morning at Upper Montclair CC in Clifton, NJ and the plan was a call to Cassie about 8:30 a.m. A lot of professional athletes say and do the right stuff when the camera is rolling, I was wondering what Brett was really like. I’d been to a few games, admired his talents, but I was still a Bears fan. Walking down the first fairway, Brett, with his greasy baseball cap tipped on his forehead, wandered over and struck up a conversation.

By the third hole it seemed we were old friends. We talked about hunting, fishing, gigging frogs, shooting turtle’s with 22’s, and everything else except football. I finally asked him if he would mind talking to my daughter. “No problem, how old is she?” he said. “Get her on the phone”. I called walking down the fourth fairway, and told Cass there was someone who wanted talk with her. They talked for about five minutes and the conversation went like this.

“Hi Cassie, this is Brett.” …….. “No, this is Brett Favre.” (Cassie has a cousin named Brett) ……..”No, really this is Brett Favre.” …………..  “I’m here with your Dad and Murph playing golf.” From there it drifted off to what she was wearing to school, how many boyfriends, and Brett looked like he was having a blast. He’s got a daughter a few years younger than Cass, he knew the drill. I was in hog heaven, knew Cass was getting a special treat, and felt like the best Papa in the world.

I grabbed the phone after the conversation, talked with Cass briefly, and all she could say was, “that was cool, Dad.” That night she begged for pictures because none of her classmates believed her. Brett didn’t have to do it, he enjoyed doing it, and never made any fuss whatsoever. Over the years we kept in touch, he got us tickets to a Bear-Packer game, another story; and we played with him a few more times. That first round together he was a legit bogey golfer. Five or six years later during a pro am in Birmingham, AL with Raymond, Vince Gill, and Al Del Greco, Brett was sporting a four handicap and played to it.

He’d been through his rehabilitation, taken up golf seriously to avoid the beers and pain killers, but hadn’t changed a bit. That greasy cap was still on his head, a bit frayed, but still the same old country boy. I’m a Packer fan these days, and lost touch with Brett - he forgot to leave me his new cell number - but he’s still a very special person. He made an eight year old very happy one day, didn’t have too, he wanted too.

Jordan thinks he can play

When I was working for Raymond we teed it up with Michael a few times. He was always showing up at Chicago area pro ams, wanted to play from the tips, and we had to tell him he was good but not that good. There was a friendly ego behind that big smile, and man, was he competitive on the links. You could tell there were Champions Tour aspirations drumming his brain, but he had a long way way to go, and it was tough to make him realize that.

He’d show up jogging out in front of the autograph hounds heading for the first tee. Security actually had to set up diversions, juking the crowd, so Jordan could get around the course unscathed. He couldn’t walk from green to tee without being accosted, and spent a lot of his time smack dab in the middle of the fairway, tee, or green so spectators couldn’t get close. It wasn’t an antisocial thing, mostly for his own safety.

His grips were the size of a baseball bat handle, and his hands engulfed anything in their grasp. He just couldn’t grasp the fact that his golf game wasn’t as good as his court skills. “I’m going to draw this one or cut that one” he’d say, always trying to create a shot he’d seen on TV or maybe pulled off at least once. Those athletic skills don’t quite carry over to golf, but we had fun watching him try the impossible, fail, and then meekly shrug his shoulders. There was always a smile between shots, a lot of verbal abuse thrown around, and that tongue was continually hanging out over an important putt or testy chip.

My daughter collects bucket hats and has a Michael Jordan autographed fuzzy one hanging in her dorm room. I stole it from him after a hot summer round at Kemper Lakes north of Chicago. Raymond didn’t like my move, but Michael said no problem, doffed the terry-cloth cap, and signed it before he went jogging off towards the clubhouse avoiding the crowds. It was pretty sweaty and his shaved head glistened but it was definitely a cherished memento.

“Joe Hacker couldn’t see, only one arm, but they enjoyed playing

I’m going to tell you about two inspirational “Joe Hackers” we played with during a pro-am.

I don’t recall his name, but I sure remember his smiling face after we finished the Atlanta pro-am. The old boy could barely walk, and his eyesight was so poor he couldn’t follow any shots, good or bad. Most of them were bad, but none of us cared, we were having so much fun watching him enjoy the round probably like enjoyed life. A round of golf with someone reflects their personality, and if this image was accurate, there was very special person inside that crippled body.

Coming down the last few holes the golfing Gods showed up and created a very special finish. Joe (I call all my nameless pro-am partners Joe) hadn’t finished a hole all day, and he’d probably lost six or seven balls, but he was stilling smiling and jabbering with every one.

The last three holes were a challenge, and it was getting dark, but there was a special glow around Joe. I’m not sure how he did it, but he finished four-four-four, and had a stroke on each hole. Every shot was straight and true, unlike the hacks he’d been launching all day. Golf has a way of creating special moments. Joe had told us about all his physical ailments, and his only wish was to play a few holes reasonably well before he passed on.

Hopefully, those three were enough because the next year we didn’t see “Joe” at the pro-am. We asked around but nobody knew for sure how he was doing. Of all the finishing holes during my caddy career, I remember these most vividly. “Joe” completed the round probably as he finished his life - with much gusto and a big old smile. These individuals leave a larger imprint than the celebrities, and Murph would talk about ol’ Joe often over the years. I’m sure he’s hitting every shot pure these days. Thanks for that round of golf and your brief friendship, it meant a lot to us.

Another “Joe” graced our pro-am foursome in San Diego while I was working for Greg Twiggs in 1991. It was early morning, the fog was hanging overhead, and it was quite chilly. We surveyed our group, noticed one of our players was missing an arm, and Twiggy immediately went into his handicap checking routine. Most pros verify all amateur handicaps are accurate before the round starts.

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