Why I got emotional caddying at the U.S. Open on Tuesday

Michael O'Keefe at the U.S. Open on Tuesday

Michael O'Keefe on the bag at Winged Foot on Tuesday.

USGA/Robert Beck

Ed. note: Welcome to the third installment of Noonan’s Notebook. Michael O’Keefe — aka, the actor who played Danny Noonan in Caddyshack — is using this space to share his experiences from Winged Foot Golf Club, where he caddied in the early 1970s and now, this week, is caddying at the 120th U.S. Open. (Well, for two practice days, anyway.) Keep it tuned here for a unique look behind the rope line at golf’s ultimate test.

The golfers were a lot more serious on Tuesday than they were on Monday, including Danny Balin the club pro who was kind enough to let me be his caddie for the first two practice days of the 120th U.S. Open. I carried his bag for nine holes, but then his regular caddie took over.

“Play like you’re playing today,” he told Danny.

Totally get it. The movie set is the same. People fool around until it is time to get into character. The players at Winged Foot were getting into character for the drama that awaits them come Thursday morning.

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For me, sadly, the drama is over. Those two days of caddying for Danny went by fast. Too fast. When I said goodbye to my boss and his actual caddie, I choked up.

I didn’t expect to get so emotional, but it makes sense. I grew up on this course, and this week whenever I was able to break away from the task at hand, I reflected back on those moments. There are other memories, too, like last year when we celebrated my mother’s 90th birthday party at Winged Foot. She passed away in July.

The emotions also have to do with Caddyshack, and how I relate to that experience from 40 years ago. Believe it or not, there was a time when I got tired of people asking me about the film, of the “Nooonan” chants. It was a part in a movie, not a real character. Didn’t these people have a life?

michael o'keefe at winged foot
O’Keefe and Danny Balin on Tuesday. USGA/Darren Carroll

That all changed when I was doing a TV pilot in 2007. The wardrobe designer told me about her father who had been suffering from leukemia. In the last six weeks of his life, the one thing that relieved the tension was when they sat down to watch Caddyshack. It suddenly hit me: How I feel about the movie internally isn’t how other people experience it. Ever since, I feel grateful every time someone brings it up.

It was the same this week at Winged Foot.

Like Monday, tons of people asked me for selfies, including Paul Azinger and Dan Hicks. I was thrilled. Jimmy Roberts spent some time with me for a feature that will air on Saturday. I can’t wait to see it.

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There was a funny moment, too. I went up and introduced myself to Sergio Garcia. I had been his partner in the pro-am at Riviera the same year he won the Masters. But, as we exchanged a few words, it was clear to me that he had no idea who I was. It’s a wonderful lesson for all of us “celebrities.” You may not be as famous as you think you are.

What now? How do I build on these two amazing days?

I know. I can loop at the Masters in November. Why not? So what if I never caddied at Augusta National as I did at Winged Foot? I’ve seen the course on TV my whole life.

Feel free to spread the word. I will.

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