PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Hey, tour players, what's in your wallet?
Ever wonder who on tour is generous with his money, and who's a little, as they say, short-armed when reaching for his wallet. This might help answer the question.
On Wednesday during the Players Championship, the PGA Tour conducts a closest-to-the-pin competition for tour caddies. It's a hilarious scene where players and caddies swap roles, the pros giving yardages, picking clubs and psyching up their guys, the caddies taking the swings. A fun little event, but two things make it noteworthy: First, the venue is the 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass, the famous island green, and second, the players are asked to drop their own cash into a kitty (a big plastic jar sitting on the tee).
Here's how it works, the pros play a normal practice round, but after they hit their shots on 17, they walk to a special tee set up for the caddies. That's when the roles reverse. It's also when the players are put on the spot to make a donation, this year to benefit the Bruce Edwards Foundation for ALS Research. The winning caddie used to get half the cash, but this year the tour put up a gift instead, an HP laptop valued at $1,750. As a surprise bonus, tour player Robert Garrigus said he'd add a 42-inch plasma TV for the winning shot.
Now, anyone who's ever played Sawgrass has felt the anticipation of playing No. 17. Once you clear the tree line on 16 and get your first glimpse of that little island, you can't take your eyes off the thing. Even if you're not playing in front of 5,000 fans and another gazillion on TV, your heart makes a beeline for your throat. The shot isn't much, anything from a 7-iron to a wedge, depending on wind (140 yards for pros; 128 for caddies), but there's no bailout. Short, long, left, right--all in the drink.
So who put up what? Let's start at the high end. The following players gave $100, the biggest number we know of: Ernie Els, Camilo Villegas, Tom Pernice, Ryuji Imada, Nathan Green and Kevin Stadler. At the other end, some players didn't put anything in the jar, including Fred Couples, Mark Calcavecchia, Retief Goosen, Charles Howell III and Zach Johnson ("I don't have my wallet"). To be fair, we're only naming players we saw donate (or not donate) or heard about from a reliable source, and only during part of the day; some caddies made donations, which they could have been doing for their players; some pros might be giving in other ways or at other times. Whatever the case, it was great tour-player watching.
Teacher Butch Harmon donated a hundred bucks and promised another hundred to any caddie in the group he was walking with who hit (and held) the green. None did. Bart Bryant was light on cash when he got to 17, so he slipped $10 in the pot but in a classy move sent someone back with 100 more. Sergio Garcia was playing with Villegas, and when Camilo produced a Ben Franklin, Sergio said, "That's for me and him" and left it at that. Here's a few more donations we're pretty sure about, although these players could've slipped an extra twenty by us: Vijay Singh ($40), Angel Cabrera ($25), Trevor Immelman ($20) and Stewart Cink ($20).
One player (hint: He almost won a major last year) said he didn't have any money on him, so he hit up one of his playing partners for $100. Then put $20 of it in the jar. We can only assume he later made good on the loan--or else cleared a smooth 80 bucks.
But enough about tour players. The winner of this year's closest-to-the-pin contest is Jeff Willett, Brian Bateman's caddie, who hit a shot to one foot, five inches. Willett's was by far the best of the day, including all those from tour players. Sure, there were plenty of skulls, chunks, yanks and shoves, even a few shanks, but lots of really good shots, too. Of the 117 caddies who participated, 63 found the water, most of them short (a few dismally so). Here's the rest of the top 5: Casey Kellogg (Imada's caddie) 6 feet, 5 inches; Todd Sunderland (D.J. Trahan) 7 feet, 10 inches; Kenny Tolles (George McNeil) 11 feet, 7 inches; and Don Donatello (Kevin Na) 14 feet, 7 inches.
With $5,436 raised for the Bruce Edwards Foundation, everyone seemed to go home happy, whether they gave a little or gave a lot. Or gave at the office.