As an underdog, out-of-nowhere caddie at the U.S. Open, here’s how I see my role
Ed. note: Welcome to Noonan’s Notebook! Over the next three days in this space, Michael O’Keefe — aka, the actor who played Danny Noonan in Caddyshack — will 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.
People have been asking me how I’m going to prepare to caddie at Winged Foot during the U.S. Open this coming week. I’ve also received much unsolicited advice like “Do squats,” as if squatting for a few days might enhance my bag-carrying capacity.
To be honest, I have not been doing much of anything except studying the yardages on the daunting West Course, and marveling at the fact that someone took me up on my offer.
Ten days ago, I wrote a piece for GOLF.com in which I volunteered my looping services to any player in the U.S. Open field. A Hail Mary? Most assuredly. But my prayer was answered.
For the Monday and Tuesday practice rounds, I will be caddying for Danny Balin, a club pro who works at Fresh Meadow CC on Long Island. When the tournament rounds commence, he’ll smartly transition to a non-fictional caddie.
Danny — now isn’t that fitting? — has played Winged Foot dozens of times. So he won’t be needing much help from me, except to keep things loose and have some fun out there. That, I guarantee will happen.
This whole thing started when I was approached to write something about the 40th anniversary of the release of Caddyshack coinciding with the Open being played at Winged Foot. That got me thinking about how cool it would be to actually carry a bag in the championship, on the course where I caddied as a teenager.
But to watch the story go viral, as the kids say today, has blown my mind — and, no, I didn’t need any drugs to help me get there!
Upon reflection, I think part of the reason why my caddying pitch gathered steam is because it evoked memories of other great caddie stories, like Francis Ouimet winning the 1913 Open on a course at which he caddied — and with 10-year-old Eddie Lowery on his bag.
In the film adaptation of Mark Frost’s book The Greatest Game Ever Played, Brookline CC members approach Lowery, who was barely as tall as the bag he was carrying, and tell him he’s going to be replaced. Outraged, Ouimet responds, “Don’t ever talk to my caddie again.”
The duo went on to win, forever changing the landscape of American golf. Inspiring stuff, right?
I also think of Greg Puga, a Mexican-American caddie from East Los Angeles, who won the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship in 2000. The following April, Puga found himself playing in the first two rounds of the Masters alongside the great Seve Ballesteros. What a ride.
Those stories share something in common with Danny Noonan’s ascent from the caddie yard. They are about surmounting obstacles, working hard and triumphing against all odds — in other words, exactly the kinds of stories we need to be reminded of in these difficult days of quarantining and uncertainty.
I’m thrilled that Danny is letting me carry his bag for a couple of days at Winged Foot, and I look forward to telling you how it goes.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to run. Time for some more squats.