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Mark Huber in Biloxi

Professional Caddy, Mark Huber at the Gulf Coast Classic

Posted Apr 05, 2011 by Mark's Kaddy Korner

Whirlwinds are normal traveling on tour but last week was borderline tornadic. After landing in Milwaukee last Saturday evening, having dinner and drinks with Cassie and watching UCONN advance to the Final Four we had time for laundry, repacking and washing the car before heading for Biloxi, MS early Monday morning. The uneventful fifteen hour drive stirred memories while passing by the blooming clover fields and blossoming cottonwoods along I-55.

I spent my twenty-first birthday sipping iced tea and playing pinball at a Tillatoba, MS truck stop, then finished it off shooting pool and drinking Cokes in a late night Jackson, MS bar after we skipped curfew during an ISU spring baseball trip. There were too many dry counties for a full-fledged celebration.

I started terrorizing the Biloxi gulf coast in 1974 when my high school senior class vacationed for three or four days, continued through college when the Redbird baseball team visited Keesler Air Force base during their spring trips, and often stopped over while driving I-10, caddie highway. There were motorcycle excursions along the coast and through our motel swimming pool, a high school reunion at Vapors with a chaperone escort home, our right fielder spent some time on the beach unknowingly with a good looking transvestite and there were many late night cheeseburgers devoured at The Project.

The Gulf Coast has changed drastically. Katrina and other hurricanes have wiped out the antebellum homes, mom and pop motels and little amusement parks along the coast highway. Large casino resorts have replaced the small town atmosphere but the hospitable and entertaining Cajun folks remain.

Luckily, The Project is still alive, although displaced from its original converted horse stable home and maintains the dark, musty atmosphere with the same characters sipping beers and munching cheeseburgers. We slid in there Monday night after checking into the Ramada and “Tex”, the 70 year old bartender was a bit surly until we mentioned the picture on the wall.

“Yup, that was me fifty years ago when I was stripping on Bourbon Street,” she drawled. She entertained us with a few other stories but we had to leave early, tomorrow would be a long day on the course.

Fallen Oak, or Shadow Creek South as some call it, designed by Tom Fazio is an exclusive club for the Beau Rivage Resort and Casino high rollers. Cut right out of the pine oak forest fifteen miles north of Biloxi about six years ago the layout stretched to the tips would challenge any PGA Tour player. The treacherous almost unplayable bunkers, slick grainy greens, variable winds and tree lined fairways need a lot of attention and I spent hours surveying the course Tuesday while Bob played an off-site pro-am. Last year my hip kept me from adequately walking the course but I was armed with a digital slope indicator bound and determined to conquer these greens. I spent every available moment Tuesday and during the cancelled Wednesday morning pro-am charting the greens making sure I’d know every contour around the tournament pin placements.

The Gulf Coast Classic does a great job pulling in spectators from a lightly populated area and goes out of their way to entertain the pro-am participants. Stretch limos shuttle everyone from casino to clubhouse and during the pro-am the Half Shell Oyster Bar feeds us fried catfish, oysters, and shrimp on the 11th and 18th holes while Mickey Bradley, a long time PGA Tour official, and his crew serve up sausage, jambalaya, gumbo, pulled pork and deep fried turkey on the sixth tee. The Huber family can put on a good feed but I’d hate to compete with these Cajuns.

After an all-night blackjack foray Wednesday evening the nourishment was welcomed Thursday afternoon and we had a great time with our pro-am crew. I can’t remember my last all-nighter, I’ve matured, this was alcohol free, but I survived and our hacks said they had the time of their lives but failed to offer compensation for my efforts. Oh well, I hit the pillow hard hoping for a good start Friday morning.

My yardage book greens looked like Egyptian hieroglyphics but we deciphered them and Bob had a good round going, tied for the lead at -4 after chipping in for eagle on 13. When your player is on top of the leader board your mind starts to wonder and that’s the last thing a caddie’s brain needs to do. Staying in the moment is foremost; figuring out how you’re going to celebrate Sunday evening should never enter your mind. I cleared my head and focused on the next hole, a short challenging 3 par with swirling winds. After much deliberation we correctly identified the helping wind and landed our eight iron twenty feet under the hole, two putting for par.

On the par five fifteenth we pulled our drive and it trickled across the cart path into the woods but we had a gap through the canopy. Bob’s 23 degree rescue club was perfect and our layup left us with a nine iron just short of the right rough into a swirling headwind. It was a good two putt five, we moved to the 16th and the toughest finishing hole stretch on the Champions Tour, I was thinking three pars would end the day right.

While waiting for the fairway to clear I picked the wrong time to relieve myself in the woods but it was an emergency. I should have been in Bob’s ear about the wind, all the room to the left side of the 16th fairway avoiding the deep bunkers on the right.

Our tee ball didn’t find the bunker, much worse. It was hanging in the thick Zoysia rough four inches above the sand and an extremely awkward stance. He pulled a rescue club from the bag and I wondered what he was thinking. I mentioned a wedge out to the left would leave us another wedge to the hole without the danger of a dreaded other on the scorecard. I should have been more adamant, he chose a five iron, the shot trickled into the bunker and the next shot caught the lip advancing about ten yards landing next to a drain. After conferring with an official we received a free drop and fatted a seven iron short of the green. The 12 footer to save double bogey was the only highlight and we three putted the long par three 17th for bogey. We ended our day one under tied for 28th.

Golf is all about momentum, having fun and maintaining a rhythm during the round. Bob is a very quick player and for whatever reason the Champions Tour has become a bit methodical, we’re suffering through five hour rounds with long waits between shots. It’s very frustrating when you get off to good start, falter and can’t regain your momentum. We struggled with the greens, not so much the breaks but the speed and finished with three straight bogeys Sunday while watching Mark Brooks, a very systematic player, fire a 68 and move into the top ten.

We’re going to have to find a way to deal with the slow play out here or it’s going to be a long season. We discussed it in the parking lot after the round then Bob headed for Ponte Vedra, FL and a week of practice before our next tournament in Tampa. We high-tailed it back to Chicago, our plans changed, Wendy had work to do, and I’m on a flight Tuesday morning to Fort Myers, FL. Dad has a triple by-pass scheduled, it’s time for me to take care of them since they looked after me during my recuperation. Please keep him in your thoughts and prayers.

- Mark Huber

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