Form is temporary, class is permanent

4 06 2011

So Brian’s adventures at the 2011 Times Colonist Open have come to a premature end once again. Certainly as far as the first round was concerned, ‘adventures’ would be the right word. There are an awful lot of trees at Uplands golf course and Brian’s ball finished directly behind a large percentage of them. The fact that he was only four over par at the end of the round was down to recovery shots and putting of which Seve Ballesteros himself would have been proud. In the span of four holes mid round Brian made successive putts of twenty, fifteen, thirty and sixty feet – all for par! Needless to say, all these putts were made with absolutely no input from yours truly. My job was simply to carry the bag, confirm yardages and maintain a professional, poker faced demeanour at all times. Sadly, when the sixty footer dropped, I burst out laughing and dropped the flag. Once again, my intentions of “showing up, keeping up and shutting up” had failed at the final hurdle.

Brian has been working hard on the Swinkey project all winter and would be the first to admit that practice time has suffered as a result. No surprise, then, that his first competitive round of the season should show distinct signs of rust. I actually had Brian down for a 73, but he’d moved his marker on the 11th green while taking a practice putt and called a penalty on himself. I hadn’t noticed, neither of his playing partners had seen it, and there were no rules officials around, but Brian had immediately called one of the other players over, confirmed what had happened and added a shot to his score. That’s how a true pro acts.

Brian hit the ball much better in Round 2 but, as is so often the way, the putts wouldn’t drop and the result was another 74, T110, and five strokes the wrong side of the cut line. Brian’s off to Kamloops next week and after that he’s going to try to prequalify for the Canadian PGA event in Vancouver, but my caddying season is coming to a premature end, with family visiting and then a canal trip to Ireland coming up in the next few weeks. Brian and I part on good terms, I think. His most memorable line about caddies, said in my hearing to a fellow competitor at Edmonton last year, was “If your caddie’s not actually annoying you, he’s doing  a decent job”. For the most part I think I just about measured up, but here are some stats from the last two days at Uplands that might suggest otherwise:

# of times towel dropped in fairway: 1 (but I’m not sure it counts because a spectator picked it up and Brian didn’t notice).

# of times Brian told me I nagged him more than his mother about keeping hydrated: at least once per round (but I take that as a compliment).

# of times I gave the wrong yardage: 1 (no defence, and luckily Brian had it right).

# of times caught talking to a marshall with Brian’s four iron in my hand when he was ready to play his shot: 1 (v.embarrassing).

# of times guilty of unprofessional conduct by bursting out laughing when Brian rolled in the sixty foot putt: 1 (but honestly, it was a ridiculous putt).

# of times Brian said “Good job, Dave” at the end of the round and sounded like he meant it: every time.

So it’s been a pleasure, Brian. Not just taking the unseen penalty – all golfers should do that – but your general demeanour with spectators, marshalls, fellow competitors and even caddies, especially when things are not going so well on the course,  prove the old adage that “form is temporary but class is permanent”. You’re a classy guy, B – and man, can you putt!

All da best!

Dave B.

Brian makes his par putt at #18 in Round 2.


Live from the TCO…

3 06 2010

It’s Thursday morning, 10:00, and I’m sitting in the corner of the players’ lounge  at Uplands Golf Club trying to look as inconspicuous as possible. To my delight Tim Horton’s are one of the main sponsors of the Victoria Times Colonist Open and I’m doing my best to work through the full range of their products as I write this and basically try to kill time until Brian tees off (on #10) at 1:20. I slept at my son Joe’s appartment last night – very well as it happens, which is good as I was definitely still a bit jet lagged yesterday – and I’m ready to do battle with Brian’s bag again today. There can be no doubt that Brian’s was the biggest and brightest (think deep orange) bag on the driving range yesterday. I started lugging it towards the first tee ready for the practice round and had barely got 50 yards before Brian questioned my carrying technique. “You carry it like that, Bagger, and you’re going to do yourself some serious damage”. It’s one thing to have an iffy golf swing but I think I’m plumbing new depths when it turns out I’m a 27 handicapper bag carrier too.

I’d arranged to meet Brian at 9:30 yesterday morning for his practice round, so that meant I was off and running at 6:00. The rain was coming down hard in Comox when I left home, still dodgy at Duncan and only brightened up as I got south of the Malahat. By 10:30, when Brian teed off with fellow pros Alex, Liam and Oliver, it was warm and sunny. Once I’d got my balance with the bag sorted out I was able to keep up and, for the most part, stick to my plan of speaking only when spoken to. All four players were very friendly and I think my divot retrieving, flag attending and new improved bag toting technique passed muster. Liam picked up the bag at one point and wondered aloud if Brian had maybe put a half a dozen bricks in it as some kind of caddie initiation thing. (I checked surreptitiously a bit later but there was no evidence of any malpractice). The guys were playing a skins game and Brian more than held his own. He did miss a shortish birdie putt at one point so when on the next hole he had another chance, I said I’d buy him a beer if he made it. He promptly drained it, from 30 feet. Excellent motivation technique from the caddie, I would say, if a bit costly. Probably didn’t sound too professional either, yelling ‘No’ as the ball fell in the hole. Brian probably shot around even par (nobody was keeping track, other than how the skins game was going) and seemed reasonably happy with his game. There was no post round putting or driving session as  Brian’s just been elected to the players’ board and had a meeting scheduled with the tour director. I think his honest, down to earth personality will make him a good representative of his fellow professionals.  Anyway, that meant that I went back to Joe’s instead of going to the driving range, which was fine by me. Now I’m back, fully rested, Ibuprofin in hand, ready to do battle with the bag once again. I’m hoping Brian does the business on the course, so I can keep complaining all the way through to Sunday.

I’ll try to do an update tomorrow after Round 2. In the meantime, keep your fingers crossed…for both of us.

All da best.

Dave B.

Bits n bobs

6 05 2010

It occurred to me this morning that for a blog that is supposed to be about my embryonic career as a caddie, caddying stories have been a bit thin on the ground recently. There is, of course, a good reason for that: I haven’t actually done any caddying since my visit to California back in early March. Things nearly changed this week when Brian Benedictson got a late entry into a Vancouver Golf Tour event on Monday at Royalwood golf course, Chilliwack. It seemed a good idea for me to get some practice in on the bag (to be honest, I wanted to be sure I could lift the bloody thing up – it looks like it weighs a ton), so it was decided that I would catch the 6:30 ferry to Horseshoe Bay and then hoof  it to the course. Then we learned that BB had been drawn in the first group to tee off and that by the time I reached Royalwood he was likely to be half way down the second fairway. Not worth it, we decided. As things transpired, I caught a break – Chilliwack was hit by a hailstorm on Monday morning and the tournament was cancelled. All part of the rich tapestry of life for Brian, though – think of the expenses he incurred getting there and then didn’t even get the chance to play. Just goes to show that the life of a pro athlete in the Minors is not always as glamorous as it might seem to be. My Canadian debut is therefore delayed until the first week in June when Brian plays in the Times Colonist Open at Uplands, Victoria. His first practice round starts less than 36 hours after I return from my pilgrimage to Ireland and Scotland. Anybody got any sure fire cures for jetlag?

In other news, you will no doubt be pleased to learn that Mr. Dobbs and I have managed to resolve our differences without having to hire lawyers. Matters have been resolved as they should be – on the golf course. Peter and I played an amicable round at Comox last Friday (neutral ground, you see). Things were a little tense on the first tee when the tricky issue of handicaps came up, but it was eventually decided that Peter would receive 10 shots. My negotiating skills were looking pretty pitiful when I went three down after three holes, but I managed to stage a comeback and we were all square after nine. As usual, however, Peter had the last word: I mentioned that he looked a little green around the gills and he revealed that he’d only come out of hospital a few days earlier following minor surgery. We decided that the match would be declared halved and that honour was satisfied on both sides. No doubt the Dobbs/Brooker rivalry is a saga that is destined to continue for some time, but I have to confess that Peter’s behaviour on this occasion was exemplary (probably because he felt too ill to misbehave).

In the past week I’ve also had the pleasure of playing in my first MISGA event (at Fairwinds) and an Interclub at Crown Isle. My play on each occasion was decidedly sketchy, but the company was great and the events really well run. As an ex teacher, it also gladdened my heart that they were also great value for money (no comments necessary, Len Doyle). There are definitely one or two plusses to being retired, and being able to play midweek tournaments – slap up meal included –  is certainly one of them.

Only fourteen sleeps until Glenny, Robin, the Chief and I set off on our odyssey to the home of golf. The info package arrived in the mail yesterday, so I’ve been perusing that pretty carefully. Flight tickets are ready for pick up and new golfing attire has been purchased (courtesy of Scottish wife, it has to be admitted). The only thing I’m missing right now is a decent golf swing, but realistically that may have to wait. As I may have mentioned before, Bandito Juan has pointed out more than once that if they ever introduce style points in golf my handicap is going to go from a 10 to a 28. Much as it hurts to admit it, on recent evidence he may have a valid point…

All da best.

Dave B.

Practice makes perfect…or not

2 04 2010

I’m supposed to be camping this weekend on Malcolm Island which, as far as I can tell from my map of Canada, is located somewhere just south of the Arctic Circle. But when Scottish Wife said on Monday that we were going, even though it meant no golf for me this weekend, I didn’t put up much of a fight. That’s what happens when your golf game is really really bad – you sort of lose the will to live.

Even so, when I got a phone call from Brian Benedictson on Wednesday inviting me to join him for a practice round at Sunnydale the following afternoon, I jumped at the chance.  Maybe it was just Glacier Greens that I am hopeless at playing – after all, the greens are way too fast there right now – and I would find newfound form at Sunny D? Maybe Brian’s skill would rub off on me, or he’d spot some tiny flaw in my set up that would magically turn me into a decent golfer? Maybe Anne Newman, Brian’s coach and legendary pro at Sunnydale, wouldn’t laugh at me? “OK, I’m clutching at straws here”, I thought to myself as I drove towards Sunnydale in the wind, rain and sub zero temperatures, ” but maybe I’ll play just fine”.

Well those particular straws quickly disappeared in the wind, along with a succession of slices from yours truly. Brian and his buddy Josh (who claimed to be a 10 handicap but hit the ball alarmingly long and straight and was also a wizard with the short stick) quickly went five up even though my partner Anne played just fine and despite the fact that I was in charge of the scorecard – there’s only so much manicuring of scores you can get away with on any given hole. After nine holes, in the midst of yet another downpour, Anne disappeared into the pro shop, citing paperwork that suddenly needed doing, although to be fair nobody had mentioned the state of the match after the first four holes – a sure sign that things were a bit one sided.

The conversation had been great throughout. Nobody paid much attention to my miserable efforts, thank goodness, and Anne talked instead about technical stuff concerning Brian’s swing – all Greek to me, obviously –  as well as his mental approach. I’d sum it up as follows: “Expect to succeed or expect to fail – you’ll be right either way.” Josh and Brian chatted about the good old days of junior golf and what mutual acquaintances were doing these days, and Brian and I discussed his schedule for the season. Things are going really well with the Swinkey project right now and he’s decided – wisely, I think – to opt out of the Mexican swing of the Canadian Tour and concentrate on getting his fledgling business off the ground. He’s playing some events on the Vancouver Golf Tour to stay sharp and I plan to go over and caddie for him at least once before we meet up at Uplands in Victoria at the start of June, when the Canadian Tour reaches home soil.

Brian’s game looked pretty solid to me – he shot around even par in foul conditions – and I think the success of the Swinkey will only add to the sense of confidence that is so vital for success on tour. Anne is a great person to be around – as long as you can cope with a constant barrage of good natured abuse, that is – and is obviously doing a good job with the mental as well as the technical side of things. As long as Brian’s caddie does his stuff on the bag – and by the way, B B, that thing’s massive, a guy could get a hernia just lifting it off the ground – this could be a good season!

Birdiewatch – Brian: 3 or 4. Nothing to it apparently.

Birdiewatch – me:  0. In fact, since my birdie barrage at members’ morning two weeks ago I’ve played seven rounds of golf without a single birdie (that’s 126 holes, folks, but who’s counting? Well me, obviously).  Can someone please tell the golf gods that I’ve suffered enough now? Oh, don’t bother. I’ve just seen the forecast for Malcolm Island this weekend: rain, possibly turning to snow. The suffering continues…

All da best.

Dave B.

The art of caddying (theory and practice)

17 03 2010

I played 18 holes at Glacier this morning with Robin, el Bandito Juan and The Chief. My game was – to put it mildly – slightly off, but somehow I didn’t seem to mind as much as usual. I found myself thinking about what I would be doing if I was caddying this round instead of playing. As a matter of fact, Robin and John had pointed out early on in the round that I had been behaving rather oddly, when I had refused to give John a yardage on #3 or tend the flagstick for Robin on #4. My point was that, now that I’m a professional caddie (gross earnings to date in 2010, after four rounds: $100 US, 4 pints of Guinness and a ticket to the Champions Tour event in Newport Beach, California), they shouldn’t expect me to work for free. Their point was that if I’m as crappy a caddie as I am a golfer I shouldn’t be charging at all. The debate continues…

However, it does bring up an interesting point: just how good or bad a caddie am I? After my very first day as a looper I emailed my future employer, Brian Benedictson, to tell him that I’d found work and gave him a brief summary of how I thought it had gone. Ever the pro, Brian replied with a list of helpful caddie tips which I thought I would share with you, and attempt to analyse my strong and weak points:

1. Show up. Definite success, seeing as I’d travelled all the way from Comox to San Diego, walked the course the day before the tournament and waited five hours until I was finally taken on as a caddie.  Score: 10/10

2. Keep up. Not as easy as you might think. I’m pretty fit for my age (honest) but cleaning a club before putting it back in the bag, scurrying down the fairway after your player and having the next club to hand without making him wait is surprisingly tricky to do. Score: 6/10

3. Shut up. Anyone who knows me would have guessed that this would not be easy for me. Stan birdied the very first hole he played with me as his caddie, draining a 30 foot putt. I must have been nervous, because I found myself saying: “A birdie. Is that the best you can do?” The look on Stan’s face, not to mention his playing partners, was a strong reminder that it was best to keep my funny comments to myself if I wanted to keep my job. It definitely helped two holes later, when Stan hooked his tee shot out of bounds. I handed him a new ball, tried not to make eye contact, and walked up the other side of the fairway for a couple of hundred yards. Score (by my standards): 5/10. By anyone else’s standards: 2/10

4. Don’t let clubs rattle while walking: successful for the most part, except when I dropped my towel (aka club quietener) half way down the 5th fairway but didn’t notice until we’d arrived at the green and I was supposed to clean the ball. Oops. Score: 6/10

5. Be relaxed. I was amazed to see how nervous I was the first day, absolutely dreading that Stan might ask me what club to use for an approach shot, or how much break there was in a putt. I used the ploy of asking what he thought and then agreeing with whatever he said – maybe not that useful, but at least I avoided putting doubt in his mind. By the second round I felt a lot better. Score: 5/10

6. Build my player’s confidence up quietly. I think I was pretty good in this area, in that although I honestly thought just about every shot Stan played was well struck I kept my comments low key. The idea was to act as if I expected all his shots to be good. I think it worked, but you’d have to ask Stan what he thought. Score: 8/10

7. Stand in the same spot every time he’s hitting (i.e. 10 – 12 feet to one side). I did ok with this, mostly by standing wherever the other players stood. They were scrupulous about not standing in eachothers’ line of sight. Score: 8/10

8. Wear flat sole runners rather than golf shoes. Luckily I’d read about this in the Canadian Tour caddies’ manual, so it wasn’t an issue. Score: 10/10

9. Be helpful to all players, but remember my first loyalty is to my player. I tried to help out by raking bunkers for all the players and offering to attend the flag whenever anyone was about to putt. I think my gestures were appreciated, but I also think the players were used to having to do it for themselves usually, so we sometimes got our lines crossed. I might get bonus points here for bringing some fruit, granola bars and water for Stan and reminding him to rehydrate every few holes. Of course, I might have just sounded like his Mum nagging him, but my intentions were certainly good. Score: 9/10

10. Finally, concentrate for the entire duration of the round. I was determined to really concentrate hard for all 18 holes (just as I try to do when playing), but it’s easy to let your guard drop. My low point was walking off the 15th green, congratulating one of Stan’s partners, who’d just made a good par saving putt. We’d got half way to the next tee, when he looked at me kind of funnily and said ” How far are you gonna carry that thing?” I still had the flagstick in my hands! Score: 5/10  Must try harder…

So I make my total 72%, which is a C+/B grade. What do you guys think? Any comments, either on my self assessment or on what you think a good caddie would do?

BTW: many thanks to Brian Benedictson for taking the trouble to send me his caddie tips. With any luck it will make me slightly less of a liability at the Times Colonist Open in Victoria, the first week of June, when I get my first chance to caddie on the Canadian Tour. I can’t wait!

All da best!

Dave B.

The Links at Summerly

5 03 2010

On Wednesday morning I met Stan at the driving range at 9:30, thirty minutes before his tee time, as arranged. Like everyone else on the range, he was booming a succession of impressive drives towards the dusty hills overlooking The Links at Summerly, as the two year old course at Lake Elsinore (southern California) is called. I wasn’t quite sure what my job was (saying ‘shot’ every time he hit the ball didn’t seem too helpful), so I busied myself wetting his towel and cleaning the grooves of his irons. Every now and then he’d stop and chat to a passing player – everyone seemed to know everyone else and I definitely felt like the new kid in class. Ten minutes before tee off time we went over to the putting green, where Stan showed a nice relaxed stroke. Then it was on to the first tee, for introductions to our playing partners – Brett, a red headed veteran of the Nationwide tour, originally from Red Deer, Alberta, and Ajay, a delightful Kenyan Asian, who had once gone to school near my home in England.

Stan and I had briefly discussed my role: carry the bag, keep up and stay out of the way as much as possible. He’d ask if he needed help, which was fine by me, as I was surprisingly nervous and scared stiff that he would ask me the line of his first putt.

Stan was first on the tee, hit a great drive, a second to within 25 feet – and three putted. The rest of the round was equally tough: a birdie would immediately be followed by bogey or worse. To Stan’s credit, he remained positive throughout, never blamed outside factors, such as unlucky bounces – of which there were a few – and took my rookie mistakes (leaving his rangefinder in the middle of the fourth fairway was the classic) in his stride. Net result, a 76 which left him way down the field and the cut (top 30% of the field and ties) looking next to impossible.

On Thursday, things went better. This time round, Stan birdied the first hole and got it to three under after ten holes. Down the stretch, though, the putts just wouldn’t drop and his 69 left him two strokes above the cut line. Once again, Stan showed himself to be a class act – in fact I was very impressed by the way all three players went out of their way to encourage eachother, particularly if they’d made a good par save from a tough lie. Although our agreement had been that I would only be paid if he made the cut, Stan put some money in my hand as we walked off the 18th green and said ‘Good job, Dave – and I’m not discussing it.’ I shoved the money into my pocket, and when I looked later I realised he’d given me $100. That may not seem much for three days caddying, but Stan must have been $1500 or more out of pocket for his week’s work, and was facing an eight hour drive back home to Stockton where he planned to practise while saving up to play in his next event. There’s not an easy living to be made on the mini tours, so if you see the name Stan Mathews on a leaderboard sometime soon please wish him luck – the guy deserves it.

I caddied for Brett today. He was disappointed with his T12 finish and couldn’t wait to get on a plane back to Alberta and his wife and baby daughter. I talked to Mike, the tour director, after today’s round and he said that the next two events were carts only, and that the chance of any caddying was very remote. So what I’d been told turned out to be true: there’s no chance of caddying regularly on a mini tour – these guys are struggling just to keep their heads above water. They’re either going to make it to the next level, or sink without trace: There’s no treading water here.

As it happens, Brett is a friend and neighbour of Tom Pernice Jr, who plays on the PGA Champions Tour, and said he could get Tom to leave me a ticket for Sunday’s round at Newport Beach, an hour or so up the road, so that’s where I’m headed tomorrow – as soon as I’ve had one more chance to play The Links at Summerly, and see if I’ve learnt anything over the past three days. I know one thing: I won’t be playing the tips like these guys. 7100 yards seems a bit excessive, so it’s off the white tees for me – I know my place!

Right now, after three nights in a row in the camper van, my place is a little more upmarket: the Rodeway Inn in Temecula with free wifi access, a comfy kingsize bed, unlimited hot water and a continental breakfast. Sheer luxury!

After this weekend I shall wend my way slowly north. I plan to take the Interstate 101 all the way up through California, Oregon and Washington until I reach Port Angeles and the ferry to Victoria. Caddying will resume when I hitch up with Brian Benedictson at the Times Colonist Open at Uplands, Victoria, in June, but before then Glennie, Robin and myself have our golf trip to Ireland and Scotland to look forward to. You’ll be hearing then of how Bagger Dave hits the links (and no doubt the Guinness) at the home of golf, but until then…

All da best.

Dave B.