Editor's LetterMarch 16, 2016

Falling In Love With The Game Through Nicknames

I'll take Bear and Wheel the Field
Masters-Caddie-Tommy-Bennett.jpg
Tommy (Burnt Biscuits) Bennett caddied in 15 Masters.

What first attracted me to the golf life were the nicknames. Potts-n-Pans, Stiff-arm, Pete the Fireman, Chollie Binoculars, Jimmy Cigars, Fatman, Stetson, Plucker, Sparrow, Wa-wa, Jack Scats, Moon Man, Trader Joe—they came spilling out of the clubhouse every morning ready for action with faces and body types like Danny DeVito and Joe Pesci.

"Clubhouse" is probably overstating the shell of a concrete building at our municipal course that more resembled a London target after the Blitz. We played gin rummy upstairs, pitched quarters on the porch, threw the ball for dollars on the putting green, and negotiated nine-hole matches on the first tee. "I'll take Bear and wheel the field," I'd announce amid catcalls and insults. After 18 we went round and round playing carryover skins on a four-hole loop, and then we piled into Cadillac De Villes and headed to the horse track. What a life golf afforded!

It's one of the peculiarities of male golf bonding that we could identify each other by our rusty, dented putters, but nobody knew anybody's real name. I remember introducing my wife to a close buddy, and later she said, "Did you know Sweet-and-Low is getting a divorce?" "I didn't know he was married!" I said, genuinely shocked.

One day I read a book by Dan Jenkins, and it changed my life. Like thousands of kids over the years, I wanted to do what he did so amusingly. A chapter called "The Glory Game at Goat Hills" recounted the Texas course of his youth where club-slinging fifteensomes included bony, red-faced men with names like Foot the Free, Cecil the Parachute, Little Joe, Easy Reid, Weldon the Oath, Grease Repellent, Magoo, John the Band-Aid and Moron Tom while Jenkins tended his scratch handicap and read Dostoevsky in the shade. ("I didn't make up those names at Goat Hills," Jenkins says today. "That's what we called them and what they still take pride in being known as. Those who are still alive, I mean.")

At the other end of the spectrum from my Philadelphia and Dan's Fort Worth was Augusta National, where the nicknames were equally audacious among the old black caddies who worked the Masters and occasionally got some TV time. My favorites were Stovepipe, Ironman, Burnt Biscuits, Skillet, Skinny, First Baseman, Hicky, Cemetery and Marble Eye.

These noms de plume bring back an era of Americana when everybody seemed more colorful than the brokerage firm of Finchem, Monahan & Votaw. So it comes as a surprise that manufacturing pseudonyms and pen names is still a thing on the PGA Tour today, as Contributing Editor Dave Shedloski uncover.. "The old-school nicknames are the best," Graeme McDowell told Shedloski. "There used to be a guy on the European Tour named Guinness because he didn't travel well. He was a great player inside the British Isles, but anywhere else he couldn't play a lick. And there was another guy named Heathrow because he wasn't good in crosswinds. Then you have the notoriously cheap guys who all were called Crime among the caddies, because crime doesn't pay."


MY TOP-FIVE ALL-TIME PRO NICKNAMES
1) Mouse: Bob Toski
2) Nudie: Sam Snead
3) Carnac: Jack Nicklaus
4) FIGJAM: Phil Mickelson
5) Towering Inferno: Tom Weiskopf

Related: The PGA Tour Is A Long-Running Circus Of Nicknames


30 DAYS TO GETTING IT BACK
Your Golf Digest this month usually contains our Masters Preview, but we're now producing a separate Masters issue between the April and May issues. You'll still receive 12 editions in 2016, but you'll get an extra issue during the spring and summer months, when there are more rounds played across the country, and a December/January issue in the "offseason."

Our April theme is getting back into the game after a layoff: "30 Days to Better Golf", by our newest Teaching Professional, Cameron McCormick, who is also Playing Editor Jordan Spieth's coach and the PGA of America Teacher of the Year. Our editors are working with the PGA to distribute instruction advice on GolfDigest.com and through a daily email that you can sign up for on our website. For 30 days from sign-up, you'll receive special video instruction, lessons and inspirational messages.

I don't know about you, but every year about this time when I haven't played much golf and I'm struggling to play to my handicap, I wonder if my game will ever return. Sign up. Help is on the way.