A caddies’ story

What did you do on your summer vacation?

I had the pleasure of volunteering at the recent United States Amateur Golf Championship conducted at the venerable Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. This championship, one of the oldest in the country, brought together 318 of the top amateur golfers in the world. Players came from 28 countries. The arduous 36-hole qualifying section lead to a field of 64 golfers, who played “mano a mano” matches for a week until a champion was crowned on Sunday, Aug. 21. The champion was Curtis Luck from Perth, Australia. A truly great player.

I served as co-chair of the Caddie Committee with my best friend, Roger Denha, but the real work was done by the captain of Oakland Hills first tee, Bob Byerlein, and Jim Roschefski, as well as Big Bob, Bob, and the rest of the first tee staff. (A great group that I would hire at Henry Ford in a minute.)

United States Amateur Golf Champion Curtis Luck (left) and his father/caddie, Stuart Luck.  USGA Image: (USGA/Jeff Haynes)

United States Amateur Golf Champion Curtis Luck (left) and his father/caddie, Stuart Luck.
USGA Image: (USGA/Jeff Haynes)

A major part of the job was to register the caddies that came along with the players or to arrange for a local caddie from the club. It was great to meet the caddies and their players. But the caddies were a far more diverse group. The caddies ranged from friends, significant other friends, teammates, coaches, fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, professional caddies, Oakland Hills members, and caddies from local clubs, mostly from Oakland Hills. Champion Curtis Luck had his father, Stuart, on the bag.

One of the most distinctive caddies in the group was Scott McNealey, who caddie for his son, Maverick, a golfer from Stanford University who was rated the number one amateur in the world. Scott McNealey was CEO and co-founder of Sun Microsystems, and has a reported net worth of $1 billion. What exactly do you tip him at the end of the round? A hot dog and a Coke at the turn just doesn’t seem enough.

Caddies are an incredibly important part of the game. Golf is best played as a walking game, and caddies allow old guys like me to walk the course without lugging their own clubs. Caddies are also the only person who can provide a player with advice on the course during a competitive round. They are coaches, cheerleaders, confidants and advisors. A lot to ask of young men and women.

Caddies also learn many life lessons while observing the behavior and words of their “loops” or rounds of golf. Some hear new words for the first time. How a person acts on the course (a true game of honor and self-policing) is generally how they act in the “real world.” Life lessons, both good and bad.

Many of the clubs in the Midwest support the Evans Scholars Foundation program. Sponsored by the Western Golf Association, the program provides full ride scholarships to deserving caddies, who have exhibited great academics, great personal attributes and need. Many caddies attended college only because of this program. Both the University of Michigan and Michigan State University have tremendous Evans Scholars programs and houses.

Oh, yes. The caddie story.

A couple of years ago I interviewed a chair candidate. When he walked in, after shaking hands, he said to me, “I know you.”

“You mean you know what I have done or my reputation,” I replied (hard to keep the ego in check).

“No. I used to caddie for you at Red Run Golf Club.”

I looked at his CV more closely and saw he was an Evans Scholar at the University of Michigan. When I spoke to one of my friends who was deeply involved in the Evans program, he said that this person won the leadership award at the yearly awards banquet. He was said to have one of the most inspiring talks about his caddie years and the effect of the Evans Scholars program.

He told stories about his grandparents who were farmers in Italy. His father immigrated to the United States, became a cobbler and owned a small shoe repair shop in Birmingham. He said that his experiences as a caddie shaped his views of right and wrong, and the role of hard work and perseverance. He also noted the Evans Scholarship was the only way he could have paid for college at the University of Michigan, let alone go on to his dream of becoming a physician.

That caddie and chair candidate was John Deledda, our Chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine.

That’s my caddie story. And one of the reasons why I volunteered for this assignment.

Fairways and greens to all of you.

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8 thoughts on “A caddies’ story

  1. “Golf is the closest game to the game we call life. You get bad breaks from good shots; you get good breaks from bad shots – but you have to play the ball where it lies.”
    Bobby Jones

    Great Story, John.

  2. Dear Dr. Popovich: I thoroughly enjoyed your caddie blog. Both my husband and son are golfers, in the truest sense of the word which you described in your wonderful story. Both started out as caddies, and both learned life’s valuable lessons in character building on the course (and at the University of Michigan!). We have supported the Evans program for years. I related to, and appreciated your story. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Thanks, Molly. I appreciate you taking the time to share your family’s story. As you know, the caddie experience is much more than just carrying your loop’s bag.

  4. Thank you for responding and providing the quote from one of my favorite golfers (and people) of all time, Suresh! So for you, another caddie story.

    I was playing in Scotland at Prestwich Golf Club (the original golf course of the British Open). The fourth hole is a par four with a blind tee shot over a large patch of grouse bushes. I play fairly quickly, but, because of the blind shot, I asked my caddie, “Is the line over the second bush on the left?”

    In a deep brogue my caddie said, “That is the line…” and I went into my swing, hit a solid drive, exactly on the line, but dead into the bush.” I turned to my caddie, who took my driver in hand, shook his head knowingly, and said, “Laddy, you should have more patience and let me finish. What I was saying is, “That is the line that Tiger Woods would take.”

    Suffice it to say, I respectfully took time and listened to his advice fully for the last 14 holes.

  5. Very good blog Dr. Popovich. Really enjoy those inspirational true life stories.
    Thanks for taking the time to share.

  6. Thank you, Julie! Your feedback is appreciated. I only hope you enjoy the blog as much as I enjoy writing it.

  7. Thanks, Brian. Your work for Western Golf Association and the Evans Scholar program has been instrumental in creating stories like this. (As a side note, Brian currently serves on the Board of Governors of the Western Golf Association. He has been a great amateur golfer in the State winning the 1992 Golf Association of Michigan Mid-Amateur tournament.)

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