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A Week Inside The Ropes
April 18, 2005
Working as a caddie, the author has a unique vantage point from which to observe the traditions of Augusta, and to discover the true meaning of the Masters
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April 18, 2005

A Week Inside The Ropes

Working as a caddie, the author has a unique vantage point from which to observe the traditions of Augusta, and to discover the true meaning of the Masters

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Early Monday morning of Masters week I reported to the Augusta National caddie shack--a substantial cinder-block structure painted Masters green--where I was issued a caddie jumpsuit. The overalls, made in Honduras, are bright white, heavy and 65% polyester, with zipper fronts, little side pockets for scorecard pencils and large back ones for yardage books and headcovers. The last time I was so eager to suit up was 35 years ago, when I was a backup catcher for Rocky's Main Street Luncheonette. � I went to the back porch of the clubhouse, where there were 20 or 25 real caddies, most of them working for players you know, and Butch Harmon, hanging easily with the loopers. The promise of a new week and the year's first major filled the warm spring Georgia air. I waited for my man.

My player was Stuart Wilson, a young Scot who earned a place in the Masters field by winning the British Amateur at St. Andrews last year. I met him briefly in July at the British Open at Royal Troon, which I covered for this magazine. Stuart was the low amateur there. In the dead of winter I wrote and asked him if I could carry his bag at Augusta. I had one outstanding qualification: My price was right. (Free.)

At the practice tee on Monday he warmed up briefly and without any fuss next to Mark O'Meara, with whom he had played his first two rounds at Troon last summer. It was sunny and hot, and Stuart's parents sat in the stands behind the range. His mother wore a stopgap hat that she had made from a newspaper to protect her fair skin from the sun. Stuart gave his mother a tiny under-the-shoulder wave and said, "That's a wee bit embarrassing." But Jill Wilson was having the time of her life.

He got to the driver quickly, and some of his shots were sailing far right. He said that happened when his left shoulder got too high and stiff at address.

"Do you have a thought that helps with that?" I asked. A caddie has to insinuate himself somehow. Otherwise he's simply carrying the bag.

His answer came out of the Scottish golfer's handbook: "It's not a thought, it's a feeling."

He watched O'Meara make a swing or two more before we left the practice tee. "I wanted to say hi, but I never caught his eye," Stuart said. Stuart wore a Scottish pin on his shirt, but he didn't need to. You knew he was a Scotsman on manners alone. He didn't think interrupting O'Meara was his place.

I led the way through the crowd to the 1st tee for a practice round. The course was clogged with people, but a Masters caddie with his white jumpsuit and a bag on his shoulder has an odd sort of authority. Gallery marshals and Pinkerton guards call out, "Caddie coming through," and magically a path clears. Stuart played the 1st hole by himself, hitting a solid drive that brought polite applause. He caught up with Tim Clark, the South African golfer, and Adam Scott of Australia, and they were happy to have Stuart join them. Stuart is 27, quiet and exudes modesty. He set up no practice games for himself and simply by bumping around found himself playing with Paul Casey, Chris DiMarco, Jay Haas, Jerry Kelly and Fuzzy Zoeller over the course of the three practice days. Fuzzy, profane and funny, graciously had Stuart hit before him on nearly every tee. Fuzzy, a former Masters winner, was the host, and Stuart was the guest.

I was traveling last week only on my caddie badge, not my press pass, so I couldn't get in the clubhouse for the peach cobbler or in the pressroom for the player quote sheets. ("You can only be one thing," a club official had told me at credential time.) But I was at home in the caddie shack. I had been under the impression that an MBA mentality had corrupted the caddie culture as the PGA Tour has become more about science and money and less about artistry and survival. A week in the caddie shack taught me otherwise. The looping game is still fueled by adrenaline and hope. There was no decaf in the caddie shack, and an outside bucket for spent cigarettes was loaded with butts at the end of each day. During the rain delays the shack was filled with cribbage and backgammon players, newspaper readers, bench sleepers and a small group, led by Billy Harmon ( Jay Haas's caddie and Butch's kid brother), solving the problems of the world and wondering how often Charles Howell says "How are you?" over the course of a day.

The champions' dinner is held each year on Tuesday night in the Augusta National clubhouse. I sat quietly on a bench near the main entrance in my white jumpsuit as the past winners arrived at irregular intervals, driving down Magnolia Lane, leaving their courtesy-car Cadillacs with the club valet and disappearing inside. (Had I been in my civilian clothes, I'm sure I would have been chased away.) Vijay Singh went in, tying his necktie as he stepped toward the manned door. Byron Nelson, age 93, made the car-to-door walk on two canes but under his own power. The dinner's host, Phil Mickelson, arrived in glasses and his club coat--only the reigning champion may wear his coat off-property--wearing his charisma as if it were cologne. Best parade I ever saw.

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