We do a lot of things out here, but when it comes to nut crunch time, nothing is more important. All the preparation, yardages, wind charts, elevation change readings, diagrams and scribbled notes in the yardage book mean absolutely nothing unless you can turn to your pro in a crucial situation and calmly, confidently say, “I like smooth seven iron”. Then, you better be able to back up your answer if he questions you again. You can’t waffle, you have to stick to your call. Hesitation signals uncertainty, and when you’re coming down the stretch, or really any time during a round, there is no room for indecision. It could be the perfect club but if your pro’s not sure he’s not pulling the shot off.

Some pros want your input on every shot; others want the basic information so they can make the decision, but at some point every pro is going to turn to his caddy and say, “what do like, or what are you thinking?” You have to be ready. There’s no day dreaming or girl watching when both of you are leaning on the bag, discussing the shot. All your facts, figures, and hunches better be spot on. Is he hitting the little fader best today, or the that soft draw? Are we better off long or short of the pin? Did that left to right wind just sneak in behind us? Is the grain into us, will the ball check up or release? There’s so much shit going through my feeble mind, I have to be careful. You can’t stutter, hesitate, or use any negative concepts when disseminating the information. You can’t even use the words: maybe, might be, or I’m not sure, during an important club selection discussion.

A pro doesn’t want to hear, “you don’t want to be long and right”. A seasoned vet will say something like, “your best putt is short and left of the hole”. Our phrases can never express a negative thought, only accentuate the positve. A skiddish pro in a tense situation might explode if something less than positive comes from his sidekick. They are always looking for an excuse why the shot wasn’t perfect, and often times we are the scapegoat, so we have to be very careful.

Early in my career, 1989, I worked for Tom Purtzer off and on for a few months. He had the sweetest swing in golf - ask any pro during his era - but for whatever reason he couldn’t pull his own club. His caddy had to make every decision for him (I had to tell him how many Advil to take once, that’s another story), and a club discussion may take awhile. I had to wrestle with him often, and nothing was more difficult than windy days.

It was a blustery Saturday in Ft. Worth, we were playing Colonial CC with Dr. Gil Morgan his caddy Mike “Shitty” Boyce, and things were a bit tense. Purtz didn’t own a knock down shot so a lot of those pretty high draws were floating in the wind and coming up short. In the caddy shack we call’em upshooters, but on the course that terminolgy should never be heard. “Shitty” was having a good time listening to our arguements and I was worn out trying to be professional during every discussion. I finally snapped on the twelveth tee box, and Mike has never let me liv it down.

The par three 160 to 170 yard hole stretches across water and the wind was gusting left to right into us, making club selection difficult. Dr. Gil hit a touch six iron past the hole so we decided it was a perfect seven. Purtzer was at least a club longer than Doc, there was really no other choice, and Tom pulled the seven from the bag as he headed between the tee markers. There was really no conversation, he just pointed to the seven and I said perfect. Case closed, step up and hit it, no reason to discuss it further……I thought.

As Tom was going through his routine the wind picked up a touch and he started mumbling about having enough club. He was tossing grass in the air, still mumbling, and asking me if I thought it was enough club. After the third time I bristled up, stepped toward him and blurted, “it’s perfect as long as it doesn’t upshoot”. Oh shit, what did I just say? The tee got quiet, Purtzer fumed a bit and did a 720 around the tee box. He was yelling, “it’s not gonna upshoot, it’s not gonna upshoot” while he was spinning circles. I calmly walked over, tried to hide my embarrassment and take control of my enraged player, and said quietly, “well, Tom it’s the perfect club then”.

He hit it about 12 to 15 feet and lipped out for par. I heard Doc turn to “Shitty”, “did he say what I thought he said”. Yep, I had committed the supreme caddy gaff but pulled myself out of the mess. Forecaddying into the next fairway “Shitty” kept repeating, “keep it under the wind Purtz, keep it under the wind”. Every windy day, if Mike is around, he’ll yell out that mantra. Even if he’s not around, I hear it whistling in the wind and use it verbatim during a similar situation.

What goes around comes around. The next year at Hilton Head we were paired together again, and making the turn from eighteen to number one. Mikey had to pee real bad, or maybe take a dump I’m not sure, and slipped over to the port-o-jons right of the fairway. It took him awhile, he was late getting to the ball, and some how got the wrong sprinkler head. I heard them discussing clubs, thought to myself that’s a lot of club for the distance, and turned towards Tewell as Doc was going through his routine.

The next thing I heard was balata striking wood but not sure where. I looked towards Doc and Shitty. Doc was checking the bottom of his club, making sure it was the right one, and Mike was gazing at his yardage book. Doug told me the ball hit an oak tree behind the green and bounced back onto the putting surface. It didn’t hit the base of the tree; the ball struck bark about 20 feet up the trunk. Behind the first green is O.B. and Doc calmly two-putted for par.

When “Shitty” yells at me about the wind, I yell back “double check your numbers”. There’s a whole other chapter about wrong numbers, and if you ever run into a caddy who says he’s never pulled a bad club or given a wrong number, he’s lying or hasn’t been around long enough.

There are all sorts of club pulling situations. The most ticklish may be first guy up on a difficult par three. Usually the crowd is close, your peers are gathered around, and you are center stage. TPC at Sawgrass’s seventeenth is the most difficult club-pulling hole on tour, sorry Augusta’s twelveth. You start thinking about seventeen before the round starts. I always gathered information before we stepped on the tee box.

Arriving at the course, I grabbed a pin sheet, asked around about the tee markers, and sometimes walked to seventeen so I could watch a few groups. I wanted to know the yardage before I stepped on the tee; that way I only had to deal with the wind and emotions while we were trying to pull a club. The wind on seventeen swirls unmercifully, and the most difficult wind isn’t the howling gale, but the zephyr lurking above the trees you can’t feel. Grass tossing and Spanish moss watching are necessary before every shot.

Seventeen always started creeping into my mind walking down fifteen fairway. The holes layed the same direction and you could detect the wind easier on fifteen, but you had to trust your judgement once you stepped on seventeen tee box. You knew where the wind was, you just couldn’t feel it sometimes. From the fifteenth fairway on you were thinking about seventeen but trying to concentrate on the shot.

Pete Dye’s wife Alice had a lot to do with the seventeenth’s visual intimidation. When you approach your second shot on sixteen, the ampitheater opens on your right, and you can feel seventeen creeping up on you. Player and caddy try to ignore the spectacle; blinders would be nice so we could concentrate on our approach shot. There’s nothing worse than screwing up the short par five, making bogey or worse, and then taking the long walk to seventeen.

I was looping for Tom Byrum and we were the guinea pigs Friday morning. We were barely inside the cut line, needed to finish par-par, maybe par-bogey to play the weekend, but had to navigate carefully. We stood between the tee markers, discussed the yardage, analyzed the wind, and decided on an eight iron. As I walked away Tom quietly asked, “I can’t knock this over, can I?”. All I said was no. There was a slight breeze behind us and the hole measured 148 yards, no way it could go over.

Standing next to our playing partners, Jay Haas and Buddy Gardner, I peered into their bags and noticed the eight iron was missing. I looked at them and they both nodded slightly. This was a confidence booster and only now did I feel completely comfortable with our choice. The ball left the comfortable eight iron, landed just over the middle ridge, and bounced over the green into the water. Jay and Buddy scrambled back to their bags, reloaded with nine irons, and landed their shots safely below the ridge.

It’s a long walk around the water, especially when you have to stop at the drop area. Your buddies leave you and you’re alone. There are no bags to look at and no conversation. Hopefully, you’ve done your homework and charted the drop area, because if you haven’t this is no time to fake it. You still have to pull another club and keep your head in the ball game.

Eighteen years later Tom and I still discuss that day, and still can’t figure out how that ball bounced over the green. My buddies in the caddy wagon that day heard the news while we were packing up. When I stopped in for lunch they gave me the old, “nice club on seventeen”. Friends only pick on friends, it’s a special relationship we have out here - those assholes.

There are many pleasant club-pulling memories, we just never get credit for the good stuff. Rule number one is caddies take the blame for everything that goes wrong. I can’t take full credit for this one; Gary McCord was the quiet voice in my ear.

Murph was tied for the lead at the Nationwide Cahmpionship in Atlanta. On the par three seventeenth hole, he liked five iron and I felt four iron was the safe play behind the front left pin. We haggled for quite awhile and I finally conceded, leaving Murph on the tee with his five iron. I sidled up next to McCord and he peered into our bag. The wind was swirling on the downhill three par, and Gary whispered into my ear, “it’s a four iron. Get him to hit the four iron.”

I drug the bag to Murph’s side and told him the wind was working into us, it was better off behind the pin, and all sorts of happy horseshit trying to make a case for the four iron. He finally put away the five, pulled out the four, and I walked back over by McCord. He lightly pinched my ass and said, “good job.”

Murph’s four iron landed about 30-40 feet behind the hole. He two putted and as we walked off the green I told him there’s nothing like a birdie on the last hole to win a tournament. He did and we won, with quite a bit of thanks to Mr. McCord. I’m not sure if the officials would have approved of that little exchange on the tee box, but who cares now the statute of limitations has run out.

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