TOLEDO, Ohio -- Even now, almost two decades later, Damon Green thinks about the short putt that didn't go in, the par he didn't make, the PGA Tour card he didn't earn at the 1994 Q school.
"Oh, yeah," Green said. "Every night, almost. You'll be laying in bed and you think about that 2 1/2 footer you missed and [how] it could have changed your life. I wake up in a cold sweat sometimes."
Green spends most of his time as Zach Johnson's caddie.
Thursday morning at Inverness Club, Green's perspiration was caused by the hot, humid weather -- and his effort in crafting a four-under 67 in the first round of the 32nd U.S. Senior Open. It was a score that left him only one behind leaders Mark O'Meara and Michael Allen among the morning starters and pretty fancy stuff for a guy whose day job for the last decade or so has been as a tour caddie for Scott Hoch and, since 2004, Zach Johnson.
On the other hand, Green's fine play is not that much of a shock. The 50-year-old has won more than 70 tournaments on various mini-tours, and he came within two strokes at Champions Tour Q school last year of earning full-exempt status for this season. He has played in two senior events in 2011, finishing T-46 at the Principal Charity Classic and T-70 at last week's Senior British Open, qualifying to play at Walton Heath the day after caddieing for Johnson in the final round of the British Open at Royal St. George's.
"I played pretty well the first two days at the [Senior] British Open, and I got a little sick on Friday night and had a rough two days," Green said of his 77-79 weekend at Walton Heath. "This is only my second major, so I guess I did pretty good. The greens were receptive, and they weren't as fast as I thought they would be. If you keep the ball on the fairway, it's like shooting darts on some of them. But I hit it kind of far, so it may not be the same for everybody else."
A powerful hitter who used a belly putter to good effect in the first round at Inverness (27 putts) and also made an eagle-3 on the 511-yard fourth hole (his 13th), Green's education as a golfer accelerated after he put Hoch's bag over his shoulder.
"I'm way better," Green said. "I've won like 71 tournaments on the mini-tours, but I really didn't know what I was doing til I started caddieing for Scott Hoch. He taught me a lot about course management and [I] figured you don't have to shoot at every pin. Sometimes, par's not bad. I was a better player after two or three years caddieing for Scott. I just got caught up in the caddieing business, and I made a pretty good living doing that."
One of nine children, Green was captain of the golf team at Centenary College. While he won over and over in golf's minor leagues, he never made it to the PGA Tour. His disappointing bogey on the 108th hole at Greenlefe Resort's West course in Haines City, Fla., at Q school 17 years ago cost him his card by a shot -- the closest he ever got.
He earned his way back to the qualifying finals in 1995. "I was really in good shape for the first four rounds," Green said. "I was right on the bubble again going into the last nine holes. I said, 'I'm either making it or missing by a bunch. I'm not missing buy one again because I don't think my body can take it. So I shot 40 on the last nine."
Green, who played two PGA Tour events prior to almost earning his card in 1994, never played in another one. In 56 tournaments on the Nationwide Tour, he has three top 10s, his best a T-7 at the 1995 Utah Classic.
Not long ago Green and a friend were in Haines City and went to see Greenlefe, which is now closed. "It was completely under the weeds," Green said, "so I drove the course in my car. We drove all 18 holes, and it was pretty cool just to see it."
Green believes his playing talent has been a factor in his caddieing success -- he has caddied for nine PGA Tour victories, including Johnson's 2007 Masters win -- and as his Thursday round at Inverness proved, he probably is the best player among current caddies.
"Being a good player helps [you as a caddie]," Green said. "Knowing when to open your mouth, when not to. You know what a guy's feeling like coming down the stretch, under the heat."
The personable Green hopes it's a feeling he has this weekend on the manicured turf of a course that has been open since 1903. There was no sour taste coming off the final hole at Inverness Thursday. He sank a five-foot birdie putt then celebrated with a truncated version of his "chicken hawk walk," a fist pump-plus gyration that got plenty of use on the mini-tours.
It was the type of finish on a kind of day that will give a golfer sweet dreams, not nightmares.
-- Bill Fields
(Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)