The pro-am at golf’s wildest event? An amateur and his caddie compare notes
Among the pleasures of my life has been playing with golf with my friend and colleague Jessica Marksbury, who can hit her longest hybrids more accurately than I can hit my shortest irons. Her husband, Paul Griffin, the head pro at the Phoenix Country Club, surely deserves some credit for this but it also should be noted that Jess was a founding member of the Columbia University women’s golf team before Griff arrived on the scene.
We once, memorably, played as a twosome alongside a young caddie who was (shall we say) a little too vested in Jess’s game. Somewhere on the front nine, on the tee of a long and semi-blind par-4, I said to the lad, “Young man, I’d like you to forecaddie here.”
The kid said, “Are you sure?”
“I’ve never been surer of anything in my life.”
A preamble to a recent golf experience I had with Jess. I played in the Monday pro-am of the Waste Management tournament at TPC Scottsdale. A caddie was (delightfully) required, and Jess said yes to my request. After the last putt was holed, we compared notes.
Me to Jess: “Do you feel like you are growing in your relationship with Ben Kohles?”
Note to you, dear reader: Jess and I arrived on the 10th tee (our first) at TPC Scottsdale at the advertised time, 8:50 a.m. We introduced ourselves to the pro standing there and some of his playing partners. But, unbeknownst to us, the pro with driver in hand was Ben Kohles, the headliner in the 8:40 group. The schedule was running all of five minutes behind.
Jess to me: “In my excitement for the day, I had googled Jake Knapp to find out a little more about him. Kohles did not look like the photo I had seen. But he was very nice and shook our hands anyway!”
Me to Jess: “And when we did meet our guy, young Jake Knapp, PGA Tour rookie, what were your first impressions?”
Jess to me: “I was excited to discover that Knapp was from Southern California. Me too! Though sadly, I am not from the cool beach town of Costa Mesa, as he is. But I thought he had a very nice vibe right off the bat.”
Me to Jess: “Same! We really lucked out. I mean, of course, every last pro in this pro-am was surely an upstanding citizen, but Jake really has a winning personality.”
Jess to me: “He really did. He wasn’t the type to look through you when he was talking or give you the sense he was itching to be elsewhere. Maybe that’s an age thing, since he’s an older rookie. In terms of his physical presence, he looks like the modern PGA Tour prototype. Surfer hair, not super tall, but strong. And he absolutely smashed it off the first tee. I was immediately impressed.”
Me to Jess: “We talked boards for a bit. He thinks a seven-foot surfboard is long. Must be nice. I was going to ask him if he gets mistaken for Jeff Spicoli, the surf god from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Instead, I asked him if he gets mistaken for Cam Smith. Same haircut, anyhow. The thing that struck me most about Jake’s game is how athletic and natural it is. Just a pleasure to be with him and watch him play. And how about the rest of our group? Five players, with four ams, five caddies and a walking scorer. We were a small troop out there!”
Jess to me: “Our group was a very pleasant surprise. All great guys, no pretentiousness. And good players to boot! There was nary a bad shot to be seen. How rare is that in a pro-am? Michael, you are also a dream to caddie for. Super low-maintenance. You choose your own clubs, read your own putts. I think I only raked one bunker. And you play ready golf! What more could a caddie ask for?”
Me to Jess: “Thank you! What was the highlight for you out there, Jess, golf-wise?”
Jess to me: “This is an easy one: No. 16. You stepped up to the tee and stuffed, then drained the putt for a natural birdie. You couldn’t write a better script! We even had a small gallery in the stands to applaud the achievement. And I managed to document it all on an iPhone.”
Me to Jess: Thank you for all of that, Jess. But we won’t soon forget the mile of putts our teammate Chris Fletcher made out there. He made four long putts. Amazing. Also, what a job he has, master distiller for Jack Daniels. Want to make a nod to Michael Loftus and Michael Kolovos, too. Just such a nice group, with a lot of Mikes. What about the something not-so-golfy, Jess: What stands out for you?”
Jess to me: “I suppose for me it was kind of a sentimental feeling about golf itself — the way it brings people from all walks of life together. In our group alone, everyone had an interesting backstory, everyone was eager to talk and share. Sons were caddying for fathers, wives and girlfriends tagging along with a cocktail to take in the scene, enjoying the experience of a beautiful day, elevated by some grandstands and the presence of an elite player. It was fun, special and unique, to be a part of this day.”
Me to Jess: “With you, as the kids say, 100 percent. I also like that moment deep on the back-nine. This was after my shoes took that mud bath in that one bunker, when I retrieved a ball that was not my own. A few holes later, while we were waiting to play — and the pace really was mostly fine — you put down my little Jones bag with its 13 clubs and three extra balls, sat yourself down on the grass like one of your kids in circle time and took a wee break. Good for you!”
Jess to me: “I saw that patch of grass and I couldn’t resist! Reminded my of my college days — I don’t think I’ve carried a bag on my back since then. I have great respect for those Tour caddies!”
Me to Jess: “Same! Jake’s caddie, Michael Stephens — one last Mike here — was also a lot of fun. Pretty sure he was the second-best golfer in the group. Top of batting order is Jake, Michael the caddie, followed by you, Jess. But I heard from a friend who was out there with us: I had the coolest caddie on the course. So, thank you, Jess, for making that Monday pro-am so much fun!”
Jess to me: “The pleasure was truly mine. Thank you for letting me be a part of it!”
Me to Jess: “Well, I do think I can speak for our entire tensome: a good time was had by all.”
Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at Michael.Bamberger@golf.com.