SAM CADDY'S FOR DAVID DUVAL
By Sam Kouvaris
Original Post date: January 30, 2008
"Mr. Duval, Mr. Duval, sign my hat please."
"Mr. Duval, sign my flag, how about in the middle?"
"Good luck David, it's your year."
"I can feel it Dave."
That's a sampling of the running stream of questions, encouragements and comments made over the hour or so David Duval spent playing the annual Par 3 tournament at Augusta National. David invited me to caddy for him, a real treat to participate in one of the special traditions at the Masters at one of the most famous sporting venues in the world.
It starts with a trip to the caddy shack, tucked behind the media center, a low slung cinder block building with two doors clearly marked. "This door for Masters caddies," says the one on the left, "This door for Augusta National caddies," says the sign on the right. Inside, Tom Van Dorn greeted me and set down the rules. "You give me your credential, I'll give you a uniform. I get the uniform back, you get back the credential. Now lets try one on for size."
Van Dorn is a very pleasant man, unfailingly polite and encouraging as well. "That looks great," he said as I donned the traditional white jump suit made famous by the caddies at Augusta. "Thanks," I answered, although the suit looked and felt about four sizes too big. I figured it was "Augusta style." "Smooth soled tennis shoes if you have 'em," Van Dorn added. I did, having promised David I'd wear Nikes (his sponsor) while I was on the bag. The official green Masters Caddy hat on my head and I was out the door, transformed from reporter to participant (sort of).
"Have fun," Van Dorn called after me as the door closed.
I headed to the practice tee and found David working on a short pitch, over a bunker to a close pin. His regular caddy, Mitch Knox was there, as was Dr. Bob Rotella, noted sports psychologist. The thing you learn in those situations is to keep your mouth shut and listen. In this case, listening meant hearing the smooth "swish" of the club as Duval executed the shot flawlessly, again and again. Not a lot of conversation. Almost as if they were working on a positive vibe. And it was working.
Shot after shot with the blade of a sand wedge wide open, David would take nearly a full swing and the ball would travel about 15 feet in the air, hit the green, and stop on a dime. Knox explained to me that Duval likes to work on all kinds of shots in order to give himself some options if presented with something challenging on the golf course.
David doesn't say much to begin with, and when he's working, there's not a lot of chatter. Mitch knows this and reads David's moves almost instinctively, knowing when to come up with more practice balls, when to clear some of the shots out of the way. Just as instinctively Knox knows when to get out of the way. That's what both of us did when David and Rotella got involved in a quietly intense conversation as the practice session came to a close.
A Masters official asked David if he'd like to go early and David said "Yes," and yelled "Shingo, let's go." Shingo Katayama, one of the top players in Japan and Robert Hamilton, the U.S. amateur runner- up were Duval's playing partners. Katayama is a delightful guy, and despite the language barrier portrays an easygoing manner. Hamilton has golf in his future and was taking it all in.
It's a short walk from the practice area to the first tee of the Par 3 course, but it took David more than 5 minutes to get there, agreeing to almost every autograph and picture request and exchanging pleasantries with the fans. That's when the running stream of comments started from the fans and stopped only when players were actually hitting shots.
The caddy's primary job is, of course, to carry the clubs and attend to the players' on-course needs. But it's evolved to part crowd control, part bodyguard. The crush of requests for autographs is constant, and I'm amazed at how many kids ask for all kinds of things. "Can I have your glove (ball, hat, whatever)?" I figured carrying David's bag was part of the job, watching out for him was the other part.
I took the bag to the first tee, filing in with the other caddies on the outside of the tee box. Everybody there is in a good mood, the members of "The National" working as starters with Byron Nelson and Sam Snead observing from chairs adjacent to the tee. Lots of smiling, lots of chatter, just a relaxed fun-filled afternoon.
David offered Katayama and Hamilton the chance to hit first, but both yielded to Duval. "Now on the tee, David Duval," was the simple announcement as David teed his ball up. The member on each tee tells you the exact yardage to the hole and having played there before, David knows the key to almost every hole is to hit it past and spin it back toward the cup. Duval made a couple of easy pars to start, even using the shot he was practicing earlier.
On the third hole, David was about 30 feet short and I was focusing on cleaning his golf ball, getting his putter and trying not to block the view of too many fans. An Augusta official asked me how David was playing and in the middle of my answer I heard "Hey Sam," as David was lining up his put, and gesturing toward the flag. My heart sank. I forgot to tend the flagstick! "I whiffed," I thought. And I was right. David was playing along, palms up, gesturing to the crowd but I was appalled.
To compound matters, I had left his bag standing next to a tree and all I could think of was what his dad, Bob, had said to me when I first picked up the bag on the practice tee. "A bag lying down cannot fall," Bob said with a laugh. Thankfully, the bag did not fall; only my spirits did at the time. I was trying to stay out of the way and not embarrass David or myself. I knew the scrutiny would be there, if only because I was carrying the bag of one of the best players in the world.
There are some nuances to caddying, where to walk, where not to walk, and other mechanical aspects. But it's the player/caddy relationship that makes a great pairing. David and I shared a few laughs, and when he said, "is this the right club," on the seventh tee, it took me a second to realize he was speaking to me, as his caddy. "Hit it hard, with a cut," was all I could think to say. Thankfully, the pin was in the right side of the green and it was the right call. David hit it right on the screws, all the way to the back of the green. "Nice club," he laughed as he shoved the 8-iron back in the bag.
"What do you want me to hit here," he asked on the 8th tee. A 130-yard shot downhill into the wind to a pin all the way on the back of the green, I pointed to the pitching wedge. "Just smooth it," I said. "Back into the wind," David said as he pulled the 9-iron out of the bag and hit it in the water over the green. Duval then turned and bowed to the crowd in a Chaplin-esque gesture. The crowd didn't know what to make of it, especially when he hit the same shot, again bowing and tipping his cap. (His second shot actually stopped in the fringe and he got it up and down for 5.) David's gesture is indicative of his new willingness to reveal parts of his personality only those close to him saw in the past. He's funny. Very dry, and very funny.
On nine, with the crowd swelling, the talent of all three players came out, as precise iron shots gave each player a birdie chance. On the green, David said to me, "Now's your big chance." I had no idea what he was talking about until he handed me the putter and slung the bag over his back. "How about a read," I asked. "Ball out to the right," Duval said. It seemed a little much to me, but I figure he's finished in the top 5 the last four years at the Masters and is the reigning British Open champion so he probably knows what he's talking about. So I hit it right there as David yelled, "Hook!" and missed it on the right. "Bad read?" David asked. "Bad read," I said loud enough to be heard and thankfully, the crowd burst into laughter.
The next 20 minutes or so were full of autographs, pictures and a radio interview before we jumped on a cart (first time I've ever been on a cart at Augusta) and headed back to the clubhouse. Some good-natured ribbing followed under the oak tree with Mitch and Bob giving me a critique. "You did your job," Bob said with a wink. "He didn't win!" No player has ever won the Par 3 tournament and gone on to win the Masters in the same year.
"Thanks, David. That was fun," I said as we shook hands in front of the player's locker room. "Good job, I'll see you later," he answered as he disappeared inside. Hopefully, later means wearing a green jacket Sunday evening outside the pressroom.
The above story was passed to us by a Navy retiree. We thought that it was worth a reprint.