News & ToursApril 5, 2012

A caddie's unlikely journey to Augusta National

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On Tuesday, 24 people were arrested for scalping tickets outside the gates of Augusta National. Fortunately, Bob McFadden didn't have to go to such extremes to get on the club's hallowed grounds. When play started today, he was inside the ropes, with the best seat -- standing room only.

In hindsight, it's been a journey by the seat of his pants. "It's magical," he says. "I know it's a cliche, but unless you're here, there's really no other way to describe it."

Having never met Randal Lewis and with no plans to caddie in last fall's U.S. Mid-Amateur -- the least likely of ways to earn a spot in the Masters -- McFadden happened to be near the phone at nearby River Oaks Country Club. It rang and when he heard Lewis' arranged caddie hadn't shown up for his practice round, he volunteered.

"If I had known it would be nine rounds in six days in the Texas heat, I wouldn't have said yes," jokes McFadden, 64, relaxing before an early morning wake-up call and an 8:01 Thursday tee time with José Maria Olazabal and Robert Garrigus.

Lewis, 54, won his first USGA title, 15 years after reaching the same final, despite being outdriven with a hybrid. Being paired with Garrigus, the PGA Tour's longest hitter, will mean much of the same -- but McFadden senses added length after Lewis spent two months practicing in Florida this winter (even in the soggier conditions brought on by overnight rain). Still it's his short game that keeps Lewis with a hope of becoming the first mid-amateur champion to make the cut. Wearing bib No. 3, McFadden eyes that third-round pairing. "You never know," says the former Champions Tour caddie, seven times in the winner's circle with Tom Jenkins. "He's already played eight rounds here and after the first time he played, he told me he liked the greens. Many guys would say they can't figure them out, but he kept saying how they're so much fun to putt."

Related: A frame-by-frame look at Garrigus' swing

They've already been treated to a show. In a Monday practice round with Tom Watson, Martin Kaymer, and Andy North, Kaymer skipped his ball through the pond at 16 for an ace. On the previous par 3, Watson's advice to the group on the treacherous 155-yard 12th was to not over-think it.

Over McFadden's light T-shirt the next two days will be the Augusta National caddie uniform. The all-white jumpsuit is not unlike the one he's worn at his club in the winter months. Except the thread count is much higher. "It's so heavy, it's unbelievable. If it gets any warmer, I'm going to need someone to peel if off of me." It's a small price to pay for a free ticket. (In a poll of Golf Digest readers, 43 percent said they'd wear a dress and shave their legs for a weeklong badge to the tournament.)

Thirty-seven years ago was the last time McFadden was at Augusta. He worked for MacGregor then and handled the Augusta National account. He even got to play. "I don't remember the walk up 18 being so tough," he says, "but then again I was young back then. From the tee, it's almost straight up." He means it when he says, "I never thought I'd see the place."

The caddie who never showed up didn't either.

-- Jeff Patterson

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