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Heading East

Pro Caddy, Mark Huber at the Westchester CC in New York

Posted Aug 24, 2011 by Mark's Kaddy Korner

Three-thirty wakeup calls are only welcomed when you’re heading hunting or fishing, not when a nine hundred mile drive to New York City is looming. First of all I hate driving into the sun, New York is not a favorite destination and hopefully the Rendevous would make it.

Everything went fine and we pulled into the Stamford, CT Hilton about 8:30 Monday evening. It was definitely overpriced even with a great deal through Priceline, backing your car up to a cheap Mom and Pop motel room is not an option in the Northeast. You end up paying extra for parking, Internet service, $6.75 for a draft beer and the place was a bit antiquated but we survived the traffic, New Yorker attitude and rudeness, plus the moldy, polluted air.

We were playing Westchester CC, one of my top five courses on the PGA Tour, and the first time I’d been back since 1992, I was definitely looking forward to strolling the tight, tree lined fairways surrounded by rocky out-croppings. The memories made the drive a bit easier, Murph offered me my first full time job in the parking lot in 1988 and we hauled Wayne Grady’s caddy to the hospital late one afternoon after a caddy holiday spent shooting pool ended in a minor altercation and a broken beer bottle protruding from his right lower cheek.

Twenty years ago this course wasn’t that hilly, it was a much more difficult walk this week, we both weren’t in very good shape, me and the course. The summer’s hot, humid weather with heavy rains destroyed the fairways and we had to play the ball up all week, something you hate to do in a major but balls were collecting mud and the fairway grass was splotchy.

In the 1920’s John Bowman, self made millionaire and founder of the Biltmore Hotel empire, created this exclusive retreat for Manhattan elite and commissioned Walter Travis to design two golf courses. Along with the eight story hotel, three polo fields, numerous tennis courts, riding and walking trails, beach access on a local lake and the finest staff to take care of every members need Westchester CC and Resort opened in 1922 with 1,500 members for a $25 initiation fee. It was his flagship property for his exclusive hotel empire.

Bob was returning to the scene of his most famous shot (maybe top ten all time PGA Tour shots) and it was fun following a rock star for the week. Usually Bob flies under the radar but this week everyone wanted a piece of him. In the eighteenth fairway there’s a plaque commemorating his 1982 double eagle from 251 yards, every true golf fan knows the story and most wanted him to relive it this week. There were Golf Channel interviews, autograph seekers everywhere and at least five times a day we heard from someone who was there in 1982.

During our Tuesday practice round Jim Thorpe, Lonnie Nielson, James Mason and the caddies paid homage, bowing to the plaque as we walked down 18 finishing off a competitive money game. Lonnie’s caddy, Mike Carrick, was in the 1982 group working for Tom Kite and witnessed the shot. There was a long lunch, more interviews and we finally made it to the practice tee Tuesday afternoon. Coincidently, Tom Kite and Peter Jacobsen were next to us, the same threesome from 1982 reminisced about the shot as they worked on their game. Stories like that aren’t heard on the PGA Tour practice tee.

We had a good group for the Wednesday pro-am, they actually finished second in a scorecard playoff and I thought a nice tip was coming. The foursome had two local caddies, both could really read the deceptive greens, and one of the guys asked me about the customary caddy tip.  Boldly, I said it was customary to tip all the caddies in the group.  Two out of three ain’t bad, I guess. One tour caddy, well, a player’s wife who caddies regularly, hit the mother lode.

An extremely wealthy Wall Street exec, a rag to riches type story, brought his favorite high school coach and teacher to the pro-am. It was a bucket list day and after the round he stuffed cash in each caddie’s pocket. Jill, Jim Rutledge’s wife, told me her wad was into four figures but wouldn’t divulge exact numbers and the local caddies were in tears when they counted their tip. Both used the astounding tips for their kid’s high school tuition and couldn’t thank the man enough. I’d forego all my tips if I heard a few more stories like that, the pro caddy tent was abuzz and the local caddy yard threw a party Wednesday afternoon.

I wish Bob’s game would have reflected the scores on his double eagle plaque but they were in the black this week. We had seven bogies during the opening round Thursday and never really recovered. It wasn’t that ugly but we kept missing fairways by inches and the gnarly rough swallowed our Titleist every time. A few inches here or there and we would have been fine but not this week. He hung in there, the head dropped a few times and the frustration boiled over Saturday but he managed a nice 67 on Sunday and we moved up 25 spots.

When it’s going tough you have to focus on goals other than winning so we set our sights on retirement points, they get two points every time they finish above 48th place. We’re also on the cusp of the season-ending Tour Championship in San Francisco and every little bit will help the cause. It’s tough staying focused when you’re out of the tournament but like Murph used to say, “Four beats five, five is better than six. That’s the way dad taught me golf. No matter how bad it’s going do the best you can, never give up.”

Even though New York isn’t one of my favorite spots being at Westchester CC helped. I didn’t get a chance to stop by some old local haunts, Rye Bar and Grill and Pete’s in Elmsford but that was probably a good thing. I suffered all week with a serious sinus and chest infection, the heavy pollen count, mold and smog didn’t help and beer didn’t taste good. It was a tough week until the tournament doctor ordered a Z-pack and the beer tasted okay by the weekend.

Play was suspended Sunday for about two hours, cramping our travel plans for Seattle. Sitting in the locker room during the delay watching “Freddie” Couples nap on the floor with his feet propped up on the bench I researched our chaotic trip west. A 15 hour drive to Chicago, 5 o’clock flight from O’Hare, maybe there will be time for a little sleep, I’ll let you know.

- Mark Huber

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