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Dealt a Bad Hand
Rick Reilly
May 30, 1994
CADDIES HAVE ALWAYS BEEN GOLF'S UNDERCLASS, ENDURING LOW PAY AND NO BENEFITS. NOW THEY'RE ON THE VERGE OF EXTINCTION
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May 30, 1994

Dealt A Bad Hand

CADDIES HAVE ALWAYS BEEN GOLF'S UNDERCLASS, ENDURING LOW PAY AND NO BENEFITS. NOW THEY'RE ON THE VERGE OF EXTINCTION

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In the North, at courses like Inverness in Toledo, Ohio, and Olympia Fields outside Chicago, young whites today might caddie for spending money and a way to play some free golf. But at Pinehurst and at Seminole in North Palm Beach, Fla., and at Augusta National in Georgia, cad-dying is not a lark; it's a life. "The white kids do it to work on their games," says Zunnie, a popular caddie at Seminole. "I do it to eat."

In the summers, Zunnie caddies at Edgewood Country Club in Rivervale, N.J. He gets up every day at 4 a.m. in Jamaica, N.Y. He catches the 4:28 bus to Manhattan, takes the A train to the George Washington Bridge, catches another bus at 6:54 and gets off near the 2nd tee of the club to make his 7:45 bag.

When caddies finally die out, the black caddie will probably go first. Check your friendly neighborhood PGA Tour tournament sometime. Once, most of the faces behind the bags were black; now they are almost all white. With some players earning more than $1 million a year, their caddies' take of 7% to 10%, plus a weekly fee of a few hundred dollars, can approach $200,000 a year. Behind the bags now arc golfers' brothers, friends, business partners and even golf pros. And since there is not a single African-American player under 40 on the Tour—and the white players don't exactly travel in racially diverse circles—those friends and business partners are almost exclusively white.

It's a vicious circle: As caddie jobs dwindle, it is even harder for young blacks to learn the game. As long as young blacks can't learn the game, black Tour players will continue to be nearly nonexistent. As long as there are no black Tour players, there will be few black Tour caddies.

It has been 11 years since the black caddie all but disappeared at the Masters. Until 1983 the Masters required each player to use an Augusta National caddie instead of his regular Tour caddie. But when a misunderstanding during a rain delay that year caused some local black caddies to be late for the resumption of play, Tour players demanded that they be allowed to use their own caddies. The Masters capitulated.

"I know it was racist," says Jerry Beard, a longtime Augusta caddie who now works for an Augusta paper company. "As the purses went up, the players didn't want the black caddies to have that big money. They wanted their own guys to have it. When I caddied in the Masters, I could go into any store in town and get whatever I wanted on credit. Now...."

Now when the Tour players go to Augusta, they almost never use local caddies. And perhaps not coincidentally, since 1983 no first-time Masters invitee has won the tournament—as Fuzzy Zoeller, armed with local knowledge, did in '79. "I think it's a mistake," says Venturi of the use of Tour caddies. "If I were playing [the Masters] now, I'd tell my regular guy, 'You're taking the week off, son.' "

All that local knowledge is disappearing now—going, going, gone. The players will never get it back. And when Fletch's sight finally fades to black, will we know what we've lost?

In his first year and a half as caddie master at Pinehurst, Jim McGannon had three caddies die on him—two from alcohol abuse and one from both alcohol and exposure. Nothing so unusual in that. What was unusual was that McGannon went to one of the funerals. It was for a longtime caddie known as Fayetteville. You knew it was McGannon at Fayetteville's funeral because 1) he was the only 6'9" professional golfer in the church, and 2) he was the only white man within five miles.

Worrying about caddies is not the usual way a caddie master wins respect at Pinehurst. Bill Bennett, the caddie master in the '50s and '60s, would take an old cigar box with him everywhere he went. Whenever a caddie got a little out of line, Bennett would flip open the cigar box, take out a .38-caliber revolver and growl, "I said, 'Get back in line.' "

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