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.