Just about the liveliest place to listen to golf conversation, though of a slightly different nature from what you hear in the clubhouse, is along the rail fence or out back by the shed where the touring caddies perch between the big golf bags they tend. Their rialto is here, and they rock back and forth and compare notes and swap yarns and gossip and talk of their rounds, and particularly about money and how their pros let them down: "Oh my, we're doin' jes' fine and then my man he goes an' dies on me," etc., etc.
There are about 40 professional caddies—touring caddies, they are called—some of whom, the fortunate ones, stay with one golfer throughout the winter tour (the PGA does not allow the touring caddie system during the summer months when the high schools are out; at that time a caddie must stick to a home course), while the others, less fortunate, travel uncommitted and hope to pick up a bag, or "pack a bag," as the phrase goes, when they turn up on the eve of a tournament.
The touring caddies are a wildly individual clan, not at all to be confused with the local caddies. They are a nomadic group—some of the more disapproving professionals refer to them as "the traveling brewery"—that moves from tournament to tournament, usually four or five to a car, and suddenly appears around the caddie shacks with the abruptness and aplomb of extremely competent men sent to do an expert job. The local caddies stare at them with as much awe as they work up for the professional golfers. Johnny Pott once told me: "I can't imagine what it's like to travel with the touring caddies. I remember once a car with six of them in it, going cross-country, came through my home town, and they stopped by to pick up a club I had promised one of them. Well, I opened up the trunk of their car to put in the driver and there wasn't anything in there at all—no suitcases, kits, anything. Real gypsies. They travel in just their shoes."
I got to know some of these caddies by wandering down from time to time and asking questions. It was very lively listening. Most of them are Negroes, though there are exceptions, notably Arnold Palmer's caddie, Bob Blair, a loner I never saw with the others, and a caddie Jack Nicklaus often uses, Angelo Argea.
The caddies had a splendid variety of nicknames: Cut Shot, Violence, Texas Sam, the Wolfman, the Rabbit, the Baron, Cricket, the Rock, Big Ted, the Golf-ball...their names peppering their conversation, as in, "Hey, Cricket, you seen the Golf ball?" "No, ask Wolfman." Ted Randolph was the one called Wolfman. He was given that nickname in the Boy Scouts where, he told me, he had once done a very impressive imitation of a werewolf. I could not imagine such an imitation.
Walter Montgomery was the one they called Violence. He had had his hair straightened. He kept it flattened slick against his skull, so that the sheen of black seemed newly painted on. He was named after his short temper—a characteristic he had worked in recent years at curbing.
"What did you use to do, Violence?" I asked, relishing the odd nickname and the strangeness of it on the tongue.
"I've cooled it, baby. It don't make no sense. It don't do no help to the guys I was packing for."
"You mean you took it out on the golfers?" I asked.
"A cat'd make some crazy play like miss a putt of two foot. Now a cat like that, why he's cuttin' my money, making a bad shot, dig? So I go up and kick his bag. I really bang it."