A Dad, A Son, And A Dream
Continued (page 2 of 4)
When we finished, the two of them stood on the 18th green while I took their photograph. I was standing maybe 20 paces from them and was looking at them through the lens of the camera when I saw the son lift his hand to his father's face. It took me a moment to realize that his father had begun to cry and that the son was brushing away his tears.
That was the moment I realized that I was going to learn to be a good caddie in Scotland, and if I kept my eyes open I was going to learn a lot more.
TURNING AROUND A BAD BLIND DATE
For caddies in most of the world, the term "double" means you carry two bags, one on each shoulder, caddieing for two golfers and dividing your time between them. There is none of that permitted in Scotland, where the term "double" means you do two loops in one day. The reasoning for this makes perfect sense: In Scotland the majority of golfers have traveled here from somewhere and are unfamiliar with the ground and need careful supervision to avoid disaster. One caddie attempting to provide sufficient attention to two golfers at the same time would be rather like one man attempting to romance two women simultaneously, with the result being that neither woman felt sufficiently looked after.
I did the back half of a double late one August day with Paul, a retired policeman from Glasgow with a gleaming shaved head and the rugged build of a lumberjack. All summer I observed a mounting anxiety in all the caddies, even the vets, as their time to go out approached. It was a blind date for all of us; one never knew what to expect, and secretly we all feared the same thing: being stuck for five hours with an irredeemable jerk. Paul was the only caddie among us whose calm demeanor didn't change as he made his way to the starter's hut. "Once more unto the breach," he said to me as we walked side by side.
"Ah, Shakespeare," I said.
"Henry the Fifth. I said the same thing before each shift on the police force." He gave me a handshake and said, "It will be nice to be out here today with someone who knows his Shakespeare."
Paul had the best greeting lines I'd heard so far. On the first tee he said, "Gentlemen," then waited for all four golfers to turn to face him. "Just remember: You're not here to have fun today. You're here to play golf."
All four gentlemen laughed, and we were off on what promised to be an enjoyable loop with four heart surgeons from Los Angeles. But the trouble started on the first green when Paul's man glared at him after he missed a three-foot putt for bogey. It was just a glance, but enough for Paul to know that a storm was brewing. On the way to the next tee he said to me, "I've got a real wanker on my hands here."
He was right. Over the course of the next three holes the surgeon made a series of horrible shots and found a way to blame Paul for each of them. I watched closely as Paul bided his time and kept his distance, giving the man the line for each shot and the read for each putt without expression and then promptly walking away from the man like he might be carrying an infectious disease. After each shot, Paul reached for the doctor's club, then marched out ahead as he shoved it back into the bag. The whole time I had the feeling Paul was going to walk off the course and leave the doctor to his misery.
And then we came to the eighth hole, and the poor fellow's ball came to land in a footprint in a bunker. He looked down at the lie, opened his arms to appeal to the heavens and cried out, "That's not fair!" By now all of us had gathered around to have a look at the injustice. "That's not fair!" he cried out again.
Paul casually handed him his wedge and said, "Life isn't fair, doctor. And it's a good thing it isn't, or we'd all be in Africa right now starving alongside those poor bastards instead of playing golf in Scotland." A great hush fell over us as Paul stood the man's golf bag on its legs and leaned over it with his head resting on the driver as if he intended to take a nice nap now that he had delivered his sermon. His golfer took three swings to send the ball out of the bunker, then climbed out, handed Paul his wedge and said very calmly, "You're right."
The effect on the doctor was nothing less than stunning. He began behaving like a grown-up instead of a child. And within the next hour he and Paul were walking side by side and chatting each other up. At the clubhouse when we finished, the doctor had one of his pals snap a photograph of the two of them with their arms around each other.
Walking back to the caddie shed, I told Paul that I had never seen such a transformation. He smiled and held out his hand to show me what the doctor had paid him. "One hundred and sixty pounds. Best tip I ever got," he said. Paul had made more in one round than I made in my double. "That's because you taught him something about life," I said.
"Sometimes we have to," Paul said. "It's in the job description. In the fine print." He gave me a grin, and we walked on.
HELPING A DAD AND AUTISTIC SON EXPERIENCE THE OLD COURSE TOGETHER
I ended the season caddieing in the European Tour's Dunhill Links Championship, then returned to the States just in time to drive through the night from Maine to North Carolina to watch my son compete in his first big NCAA event, where he was up against golfers from all the celebrated Division I schools that were never interested in him. On the second day, when a sleet storm blew in and the fair-weather golfers from California and Florida were fading away, Jack shot a round of one under par, one of only three under-par rounds that day.