His caddie qualified. They played together. Here’s what they learned

Erik van Rooyen and his caddie Alex Gaugert played together in this week's 3M Open.

Erik van Rooyen and his caddie Alex Gaugert played together in this week's 3M Open.

PGA Tour

Erik van Rooyen’s week at the 3M Open started with a task: find a caddie.

His was otherwise occupied.

Van Rooyen’s regular looper, Alex Gaugert, had entered his first-ever Monday qualifier. Then he finished eagle-birdie-par to shoot 65. Then he made it through a playoff. Suddenly he had a tee time at TPC Twin Cities and, actually, he needed to find a caddie too.

By Friday afternoon they stood together in front of a microphone, Gaugert holding his three-year-old daughter in his arms, both of them reflecting on lessons learned from a perfect week — leaderboard be damned.

“I mean, it was a dream,” Gaugert began.

The dream had started years before at the University of Minnesota, where the two were college teammates from 2010-13.

“When we were playing college together, this was what we were all talking about,” van Rooyen said after their second round. “Oh, man, we’re gonna play the PGA Tour together, we’re gonna room together, play practice rounds together. We get to share that a little bit with him on the bag, but with him playing a tournament, it was really, really cool.”

When van Rooyen said “with him” he really meant it. That’s because the PGA Tour put the two in the same 2 p.m. tee time. Gaugert worked to prepare in practice rounds but made it clear he was focused on soaking up the scene.

“Yeah, just taking in the moment. You don’t get these special moments every single week,” he said. “This game’s hard and it’s cool to share that with my best friend — something I’ll never forget.”

If he’d dreamt of contention, four bogeys in Gaugert’s first six holes snapped him back to reality. But a first-round 77 left room for improvement, and when he holed a 10-footer for birdie on his 18th hole on Friday it was good for a round of even-par 71.

That was the same second-round score as van Rooyen, whose two-round score of three under par left him one shot off the cut line. But he took more away from the week than just a missed weekend, he said. It provided a welcome shot of perspective.

“Playing the PGA Tour is such a huge privilege, man. It’s the best of the best that play here. And I know how good he is and to see the look on his face, it just reinforces for me how grateful I need to be playing here,” he said.

A few moments stood out from Gaugert’s five days as a Tour pro.

One was the overwhelming support he got from his peers.

“All the support, especially from the caddie yard and all the caddies and even the players, it was nice to get that feeling where everybody’s lifting you up and telling you ‘good job.’ It was cool to have the light shine on you for a week,” he said.

Another was a taste of the good life — and a firsthand recognition of the perks of being a pro.

“I told my wife it’s kind of funny because this week as a player I actually get to use the daycare facility for the kids, so it was nice,” he said.

There was also a moment of heroism, a moment that came from the left rough on the par-5 18th on Friday. Gaugert, with nothing to lose, sent one some 250 yards over water to the front left portion of the green. He made a 47-footer for eagle. Meanwhile, van Rooyen three-putted for par.

“This game’s beautiful. I’ll always remember that,” van Rooyen said of the moment. “It’s a sick shot he hit from over in the rough down there.”

It’d be a neat and tidy ending to say that Gaugert knows he can compete now. It’d be fun to suggest that his dreams are closer than ever. But in some ways his takeaway was even more meaningful: he doesn’t think he has the game to belong, which made a taste of Tour competition that much more special to experience.

“Before you see it, you have this kind of false sense of hope,” he said. “Once you see it firsthand week in and week out with all these great players it puts into perspective what it takes to be out here.”

A lot of his amateur friends see Gaugert’s game and encourage him to take a real run at playing the Tour himself. He’s not sold.

“It’s like, I would love to, y’know, but I know how good I have to be and if I can’t do that on a daily basis at home, what makes me think that I’m going to be able to do it in a tournament?

“So to put myself in their shoes and to see what they go through, you’re trying to pick shots and what you’re kind of seeing, it was a great experience.”

Van Rooyen did find that replacement caddie, by the way: Robert Bowers, the assistant men’s golf coach at Minnesota. But by next tournament both he and his full-timer will eagerly return to their respective roles.

“Oh, yeah, his job’s safe,” van Rooyen said. “Trust me, we’ve been through some highs and we’ve been through some lows together. Nothing can shake us, so we’re all good.”

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