Picture Rich Lerner opening “Live From the U.S. Open” with this:
On a piece of rhythmic Wisconsin farmland carved out of the glaciers by Mother Nature herself sits a barn. In this barn the cows are spotted, but they’re 4.8% ABV. Betsy and Buttercup have been replaced by Yahtzee and Jeopardy, but everyone is still there at sunrise, ready. Ready to help squares with iron covers try to break 80 as they stare Holy Hill, their looper and God in the face and still hit driver off the deck from 350. All of them simply hoping to skim a little extra cream off the top to bet on afternoon baseball. The base fee plus tip for caddies at Erin Hills is now $120, but any good caddie knows the stories and camaraderie are a more valuable currency. The natural beauty of this sprawling property will be the early narrative, but when the cows come home, the stories shared in real life on the kettles, mounds and eskers of Erin Hills are what make heartland golf, and the people who love it, special. And wow, there are some great stories. That’s where we’ll start, on Live From the U.S. Open at Erin Hills. Next…
Thank you, Rich. Magical as always.
I worked at Erin Hills the summer when it first opened. They hadn’t started their caddie program yet (so I worked in the cart barn and my only interesting story was Steve Stricker tipping me $4 for cleaning his clubs when he previewed the course with its architects). They quickly replaced carts with caddies and lots of my friends became loopers. Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of funny stories from the Erin Hills caddie barn, so with the U.S. Open coming to a course in Wisconsin we worked at, I thought aggregating as many of these stories as possible would be fun.
Alright. Enough time on the putting green. Let’s get to some great stories from a few of the original caddies at Erin Hills to hold you over until the action begins Thursday.
The story of all stories to set the tone from Drew Olson:
We worked with these two caddies at Erin that were longtime jocks at Augusta. They were brought up to Erin for the summer season every year by one of the board members who was also a member at Augusta. They were basically his personal caddies to the point where he bought a house for them to live in on the far end of the driving range. I believe he charged them a combined dollar a day for rent. So here are these two 50+ year old black guys, Bud & Po Baby, living in a house in Erin, WI. No car, no women, really nothing besides two bikes that they’d ride down the 1st hole every morning to the caddie shack.
Bud walked with a limp because apparently, years ago, Augusta security shot him in the ass with a shotgun while he was fishing in Ray’s creek before a loop. Bud’s Dad was Ben Crenshaw’s longtime caddie and apparently Bud had a short stint on the tour himself, which seemed kind of unbelievable considering Bud’s general present ability. Po Baby (AKA Ronald) literally didn’t remember how old he was. In his own words, he was called Po Baby because his Dad was Po Boy & his Grandpa was Po Daddy. He had a habit of urinating on the tee box and smoking grass &/or cigarettes on the course in front of his players. The caddie shack is positioned in a way that if you yell something inside the shack you can hear it pretty clearly on the driving range. I remember one day cleaning clubs on the range and hearing Po Baby yell in the shack “HELL YEAH I SUCK PUSSY”. The entire range paused and looked at the caddie shack. I also remember Po Baby telling our caddie master to “FUCK YOURSELF IN THE ASS WITHOUT NO GREASE”. These guys were pros, seasoned jocks who truly embraced the lifestyle. Many early mornings in the caddie shack were spent listening to Po Baby talk about the prostitute he’d shacked with the previous night. All the stories were pretty much the same….they started with Pernie (another jock w/ plenty of stories himself) driving him down to Milwaukee on the back of his Kawasaki Ninja and ended with him “sucking some pussy”. Po Baby loved to suck pussy. Bud didn’t kiss & tell but we all knew he was getting down too.
Anyways, one morning I’m sitting at bag drop and here comes Scottie’s parents in their white Navigator, Mr. Miller driving & Mrs. Miller shotgun. They stop at bag drop and Po Baby jumps out of the backseat fully suited in his all white caddie jumper looking high as a kite. At this point I’m thinking what in the fucking world….
Turns out Po Baby got into some sort of run in with a pimp downtown in the wee hours the previous night. Apparently he couldn’t find a cab being it was 3 or 4 a.m. He knew Scotty lived downtown so he called him for help. The story gets a little blurry when it comes to how/why Scotty picked him up from a whorehouse and housed him for the night. Not sure Scotty even knows. I guess it got really weird when Scotty’s college roommates woke up the next morning to a 50 (going on 70) year old black man passed out on their couch in an all white caddie jumper, which could easily be confused with a prison uniform. The next morning Scottie’s parents were coming to take Scotty and his roommates out for brunch. Instead they got Scotty, his roommates, & Po Baby (still in his jumper). When the meal ended Po Baby conveniently remembered that he was scheduled to be at work hours ago and also remembered that Mr. & Mrs. Miller were driving home in that direction anyways. To this day I still wonder what was talked about & how many F bombs Po Baby dropped on that 45 min car ride.
Martin DeZell breaks down the four typical types of players, shares a few great stories and drops some caddie nicknames:
Looking back, one of the funniest aspects of the job was the taxonomy we came up with for the players. In our eyes, the guys we caddied for usually fell into one of 4 buckets. The groupings aren’t mutually exclusive, but this did cover 90+% of the patrons:
- Local joes (LJs): these were the Sconnie guests who arrived in pickup trucks, often donning a fresh pair of cargo shorts, and decided to splurge on a caddie (not infrequently, the first time they’d played with a caddie). 99% of the time they tipped the minimum, but were usually nice enough and kept things light on the course with a few beers. They also usually suck at golf, but that comes with the territory.
- Flatlanders, also known as FIBs: given the proximity to Chicago and golf money there, a big proportion of the players came from Illinois. FIBs are also more likely to take a caddie than Sconnies, so they probably represented 30-40% of the players we caddied for. These guys were usually rich (relative to us) and were used to playing with caddies, which made it smoother but also a little more challenging as they had actual expectations. Generally considered more dickish than LJs; always got brats in the halfway house and ordered them in an ironic, patronizing way as if it were a cute thing us Sconnies did. The upside here was that if you could put up with them and get them around the course safely, they usually took care of you after the round with a healthy tip.
- Squares: not necessarily unique from the first two – i.e., someone could be both a square and an “LJ”…talk about a long day. These were the guys who didn’t laugh at crude caddie jokes, tend to carry iron headcovers (telltale sign of a square), and always lay up. I’d rather caddie for an asshole FIB who at least keeps things interesting than a guy who has the personality of a bunker rake and still doesn’t tip you in the end.
- Good guys: these were the unicorns and made for the best days on the course. A typical good guy is a single-digit handicapper who doesn’t take himself too seriously; he will joke around with you, ask you if you’re banging the beverage cart girl, play quickly, let you swap his clubs into a lighter carry bag, not blame your read when he blasts his putts through the break, and appreciate the effort with a genuine ‘thank you’ and a generous tip. Unfortunately, this was only ~10% of the population.
A few good memories:
- Once caddied for a guy who shot 54-36 and tipped me the minimum. He was a doctor (orthopedic surgeon, I think), and 36 was the best 9 holes he’d ever shot by far, not to mention the back 9 at Erin usually brings good golfers to their knees. I had him dialed in on the back and thought he’d return the favor; I think I got him so unconscious that he didn’t even realize how well he’d played and gave me the minimum. Total square (see above).
- I caddied for a guy, we’ll call him Rick, who looked like Guy Fieri. Don’t remember if he was a FIB but he was definitely a dick. He was a 1 or 2 handicap, and on 18 he asked for driver off the deck on his second shot from ~350 out. I said, “Rick, you don’t want to hit driver, you have nothing to gain and it just brings the bunker into play,” to which he replied with something along the lines of, “don’t fucking tell me what I don’t want to do – give me the driver.” I shut up, gave him the driver, and watch him put it into the bunker, and proceed to make double to shoot something like 75. I had a smirk the entire hole. Later that night, I got a call from another caddie who had gone down to Summerfest to tie one on. I answered and he told me he ran into Rick in the front row of whatever concert was on. Rick had seen the Erin Hills hat and told my buddy that he’d played that day. To his credit, Rick took the phone and apologized for being a douche on 18. I accepted his apology (and still do), but replied, “yeah, but you still shouldn’t have hit driver.”
- Watched another caddie who’d had a long night puke into the bunker on 8, look around to see if anyone had seen, and then raked over it and just carried on with his day.
- Caddied for an 85-year-old guy who played as a young adult, then quit the game for 50 years out of principle because his wife wasn’t allowed to join his club (#relationshipgoals). He eventually got back into it with his wife in their 80’s, was one of the nicest guys I ever caddied for, and he could still stick it.
- Watched a caddie sprint across the entire course
- We watched Las Vegas religiously from 10-12 on TNT every day. It was our version of a soap opera, and 10:00 was greeted with a chant of ‘Ass and Titties’ with an accompanying dance each day.
- Caddied with a guy who caddied at Augusta when not at Erin and claimed to have been shot in the ass with a shotgun for fishing in Rae’s creek. He also golfed cross-handed and played to about a 6. Bud was a legend.
Can’t beat the nicknames we had. A sampling:
- Gator (he was from Florida)
- Pernie (his name was Max –> Maximus Copernicus –> Pernie)
- C-note (great name for a gambling golfer)
- Rabbit, or sometimes just Rabbi
- Jeopardy (guy always asked too many questions)
Zach Fowler shares some of the challenges of the job:
I caddied for two younger rich guys who were pretty good golfers. Their round had gone to shit and they were a few Heinekens deep, so they decided to have a little fun with me the last three holes. The challenge was simple. If I didn’t set either of their bags down at any point of the last three holes, they’d tip me an extra $200. These were Tour Staff bags, so they were heavy as hell. The first hole they simply would set their club down after each shot and toss the ball at my feet after they finished putting, but by the last hole it was a gong show. They were tossing their drivers deep into the fescue and throwing their irons into every possible bunker so I had to rake with the bags still on. The last hole probably took 45 minutes and they were giggling like school girls the whole time. I never set their bags down and they ended up impressed and tipped me the $200. Good old fashioned fun I guess.
A few final stories from various caddies with attribution redacted to protect the semi-innocent:
What about getting hammered drunk the night before, sleeping in the caddie shack, then waking up in the morning to people asking you why your boxers are drying on the heater (because you went skinny dipping with the cart chick and banged her in the back of your 2001 mercury sable). Golf Digest worthy?
One has to do with Silkey going full sprint in his jumpsuit up and over mound after mound for 250 yes on 14 to get to the shitter before he shit his pants. Then has to run all the way back to get the players bags only to run all the way back to their tee balls.
What about when Trump hit that sandhill crane with his car and rolled into the parking lot with a crane sticking out his back window…
Holy smokes. What a ride. RIP Po Baby.
Can’t wait for the golf to get started.