Punctuality increasingly became a problem. "You can count on one hand the number of times I was more than 10 minutes late to meet Jim for our entire time together," he says. "But it's true, I was always a couple minutes late to everything."
Nineteen ninety-nine was not a good year for caddies. Before May had rolled around more than a dozen had been fired, including those who worked for such world-class players as Ernie Els, Mark O'Meara, Jesper Parnevik and Tiger Woods. Caddying is a fickle business, and those who ply the trade have only the security of a handshake deal. In '99 the Tour was flooded by the riches of a new TV contract, and the huge money added a layer of strain to the already delicate player-caddie dynamic. In April, O'Meara, coming off his Masters-British Open double in 1998, fired his longtime bagman, Jerry Higginbotham, in part because he wanted to bring in a new caddie for less pay. "I find it hard to believe I will ever again pay a caddie 10 percent of a win," O'Meara said.
Making Duplantis's laxity all the more shocking was his awareness of the ferocious competition for bags, especially among the top players. The big money pouring into golf had turned caddying into a respectable profession, and a new breed of looper was beginning to show up on Tour—the former white-collar professional. Dick Christie, Fred Funk's caddie, gave up a judgeship for the pleasure of toting a 40-pound bag; Don Thorn, Notah Begay's man, had been a high-ranking police officer in Bradford, Ont.; and Ken Dawson, caddie to his brother Marco, had been a practicing lawyer. With all the jockeying for work, "it's one big ratf—-out there," says Duplantis. "Guys will stab you in the back in a second. Jim was constantly getting notes in his locker or messages on his cell phone from these sharks who wanted my job. If he was at a bar, guaranteed some caddie would pay for his drink, even the tightwad bastards. These guys would knife their mother in the heart for a bag like Jim's. It was like a dozen guys were always standing around with stopwatches just waiting for me to show up late."
Duplantis did not disappoint. In the third week of March, Furyk played at the Bay Hill Invitational, Arnold Palmer's tournament in Orlando. Bay Hill is about 50 miles from Duplantis's house. On the morning of the first round Duplantis was cruising on Interstate 4 when he hit a monumental traffic jam. A couple of tanker trucks had wrecked. "As soon as I hit the traffic, I called Jim, and he said, 'Don't worry about it. I saw the whole thing on the news,' " says Duplantis.
By the time Duplantis arrived at the course, Furyk was hitting his approach to the 8th green, having grabbed another looper for the day. Duplantis snatched Furyk's bag on the 9th tee and caddied the rest of the way. "Jim was like, 'I don't want to talk about it; let's just play,' " says Duplantis. "He had said he saw the report on the news, so I thought he understood." Duplantis caddied the rest of the tournament and the following week as well, at the Players Championship in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., where Furyk was now living. In the parking lot of the TPC at Sawgrass following the final round, Furyk told Duplantis, "We've got to have a talk, and you're not going to like it. I'm letting you go."
They retired to Furyk's house and talked for an hour. "He talked and I listened," says Duplantis. "He said, basically, that he liked me as a person, but I had too much stuff going on, too much turmoil."
Furyk handed Duplantis an envelope full of checks—one for every tournament dating back to the previous October. Players and caddies deal with the payment issue in myriad ways, and Furyk and Duplantis had been casual about it. The last thing Duplantis said before leaving Furyk's house was, "Good luck at the Masters," which was to be played two weeks later. Six weeks after Augusta, Duplantis was still looking for a job, and it was then that he hooked up with a struggling rookie named Rich Beem at the Kemper Open.