The dream began in 1972, when the U.S. Open was played at the Pebble Beach Golf Links for the first time. Casey Boyns was a kid, 16 years old, a part-time caddie at Pebble who played it daily in the fading light of dusk. He was a strong player, unschooled but hugely talented. Now he is 44, a full-time caddie at Pebble Beach, still a good player, and the U.S. Open is in his backyard again. He seldom gets to play the course anymore. Pebble Beach is a moneymaking machine now, and sneaking onto it is part of its charming, unkempt but very distant past. Still, you cannot overstate how intimately Boyns knows this course. He has worked nearly 5,000 loops at Pebble, has witnessed well over a million shots there and has tens of thousands of shots filed away in his mental logbook: what the ball did coming out of a particular lie or bouncing off a particular hillock or landing on a particular section of green. Imagine how much he could help a player in the Open. Better yet, imagine Casey playing in the Open—The Legend of Bagger Boyns. What if he contended? There would be bedlam. The studios would be packing trucks with scriptwriters and pointing them north.
Most days he caddies in the morning and plays in the afternoon. On Mondays he sometimes takes a slide from looping, so that he can play a round on fresh legs. His home links is the Pacific Grove Golf Course, a muni with excellent bones a few miles north of Pebble Beach. But on Monday, May 22, Boyns did not play his home course. He headed out of Pacific Grove, where he lives with his wife and two children, and pointed his maroon Dodge Caravan with the license plate GOLFNKC toward Santa Cruz 40 miles north, to the Pasatiempo Golf Club, a qualifying site for the 2000 U.S. Open.
Boyns was one of 90 golfers competing for six spots that day. (Nationally, there were 8,187 players in local qualifying events competing for 569 spots.) Those six spots, you should know, are not for places in the Open field; the only thing local qualifying does is get a player into the sectional qualifying, the one-day, 36-hole grindfest from which roughly one in nine players advances to the national championship. It ain't easy, getting into a U.S. Open.
"I'm not feeling very confident," Boyns said the night before. He hadn't been playing well in the weeks before, and in nearly two dozen previous attempts he had never made it out of local qualifying. Also, he'd been working often and hard. Pebble Beach is always busy, but this year, with the U.S. Open coming, interest in the course has become feverish among the fancy-shoed businessmen, the guys who help Boyns pay his mortgage.
Boyns arrived at Pasatiempo 20 minutes before his 9:50 a.m. tee time, hit five chips, 20 putts, three bunker shots, and was off. That's all the preround preparation he needs. Boyns has his own way of doing things. It is not the pro way.
But he is a pro, at least in the eyes of the U.S. Golf Association, at least for now. To the USGA, a golfer is either an amateur or a professional, or a professional seeking reinstatement as an amateur. Boyns is in that last little group.
In 1983, three years after graduating from Utah—his major was "leisure studies"—Boyns turned pro and went to Q school to get his Tour card. His putting was lousy, and he missed qualifying by 10 shots in the first stage. He entered two small-purse events in California, found he didn't enjoy playing for money and got reinstated as an amateur by the USGA in 1985. In 1989 and '93, Boyns won the California State Amateur, a highly competitive match-play event held annually at Pebble Beach. These wins are the crowning achievements of his golf career. His name shares trophy space with those of Mark O'Meara, Gene Littler, Ken Venturi, Charlie Seaver (Tom's father) and Jack Neville, the amateur architect who helped design Pebble Beach. Casey's a hard man to beat at Pebble. He knows every blade of it.
In 1998 a friend recruited Boyns to be a teaching pro at corporate golf outings. The job required Boyns once again to give up his amateur status, but Boyns didn't mind. Since he was a pro again, and since he had two children to raise, Boyns decided to play in the occasional professional event. His most revealing moment as a pro golfer came in his first tournament: He stood on the 1st tee in a Pepsi Tour mini-tour event at the old Del Monte Golf Course and was introduced as a former California State Amateur champion. He looked down the 1st fairway, on a hole he had played more than 100 times. Boyns stepped up to his ball, went into his backswing and hit a dead pull, out-of-bounds. He teed up a second ball and hit another dead pull, out-of-bounds. Did the same thing with his third ball. He never finished the hole and withdrew from the medal competition.
Despite that start Boyns kept grinding. He has entered about a dozen small tournaments over the past two years; in '99 he won the Santa Cruz Open and its $5,000 first-place prize. But he has never felt comfortable. "I don't know how to carry myself as a pro, don't feel like a pro," Boyns says. His voice is pure Northern California, flat and cool and unexcitable—just like Johnny Miller's. "I like to play in shorts, carry a little bag. I like to wear my hair a little long. I don't like everyone looking at me thinking, 'Hey, let's see how the pro plays the shot.' I just like to play and help people with their games. I'm a caddie." In late '99 he applied to the USGA to regain his amateur status. This time it's a minimum three-year wait.
His goal at Pasatiempo, a hilly gem designed by Alister Mackenzie, the architect of Augusta National, was to play even par or better and to enjoy the round, though he knew that playing it would take more than five hours. (Boyns is a fast player, a fast walker, a fast driver, a little fidgety. He does everything with one extra movement, including his putting stroke.) The round lasted 5� hours, but he enjoyed himself. He made 11 pars, four birdies, three bogeys. He shot 69. He was in. Suddenly the dream was a little closer to becoming reality.