IN 1979 I was planning to caddie for Don January, whom I had worked for previously, but the caddie master, Freddie Bennett, and Mike Shannon, one of the assistant pros, had other plans. "You got Fuzzy Zoeller," said Bennett, who explained that Zoeller and Shannon had been college teammates at Houston. Shannon wanted his buddy to have me on the bag for his first tour of Augusta National.
When Fuzzy showed up on Monday, we went to the back nine. He asked me if I knew how to judge distances. "Yes," I said. When he got to his first drive, he asked me how far he had to the green. I told him 185. "What should I hit?" he asked. "I don't know how far you hit it—yet," I said. "But try a five-iron." He hit his five-iron to 20 feet. At the green he asked me if I could read putts. By the 12th hole he was convinced that I was his man. "It's your game, baby," he said. "You got it." After that I pulled every club and read every green for him. He didn't even have a yardage book. The only time he picked his own club the entire week was at the 11th during the second hole of the sudden-death playoff with Ed Sneed and Tom Watson. He had 150 yards to the green, and I told him I liked pitching wedge. "But I hit the best knockdown eight-iron," he said. "It's your club then," I answered. He hit his shot to eight feet and made the birdie to become only the third player to win the Masters on his first try.
Later he asked me if I wanted to become his full-time caddie, but I told him that I had a wife and five children and a decent job with benefits as a filter-plant operator at International Paper. I had always caddied during the day and worked the night shift at the plant. I took my vacation from the plant during Masters week.
I continued working for Zoeller at the tournament until 1983, when the ban on non-Augusta caddies was lifted. I had been told that I was going to get his bag, but he backed out under pressure from other players. "It's rough out on Tour," Zoeller explained to me. "If I don't bring my caddie, they're going to give me hell for the rest of the year."
I never worked another Masters, but over the years I've been back there for practice rounds, where I have occasionally run into Fuzzy.
In '97, when he made the comments about Tiger serving fried chicken at the champions dinner, I didn't perceive them as racist. Fuzzy talked continuously and told lots of jokes on the golf course. He was so casual when he played that the golf seemed like an afterthought to the cigarettes and the jokes. All those years he played there, I had never heard any of the black staff at the club say anything but great things about him. I think if he had been playing with Tiger on that Sunday when he was winning by 12 shots, Fuzzy would have turned to Tiger and said, "Hey, man, you better tell them to fry the chicken and get the collard greens ready because you're kicking their butts." It was just something that came out of his mouth, and he got labeled for it.
Now, 30 years after we won, he's playing in his last Masters. I'll miss seeing his scores every year. For me he is a reminder of some of the best times I had at the club. You may take or leave his humor and banter, but the Masters will never be the same without him.