There’s no hiding for caddies at the Masters. The 91 lads-a-loopin’ are the easiest to find at Augusta National, wearing those pearly white jumpsuits.
While numerous pros benefit from being largely unrecognizable by the masses, caddies get doubletakes everywhere outside the ropes. Having their clients’ names Velcro’d across their backs doesn’t help the cause. So unsurprisingly there were endless eyes boomeranging when two caddies entered the packed merchandise center at the Masters Saturday afternoon.
To everyone in the building, they were the caddies for Guido Migliozzi and Jose Maria Olazabal. To members of the media, who are given all the precious details, they were Alberto Villanueva and Emilio Pereira, respectively. But to friends and family back home, they were a passkey to the gear sold here and only here, at the Masters.
The two gents had been enjoying a break in the caddie lounge near the practice range, coverage of the event streaming on the TV in front of them. The most exciting tournament in golf can get a bit boring when you miss the cut, though. They had come to the course Saturday, despite the missed cuts, while their players made use of the elite practice facilities. And to access the caddie lounge, they have to dress like caddies.
As caddies, they have access to basically every inch of this property — including the exclusive club pro shop — but Villanueva and Pereira elected to dive into the masses. They funneled through the lines, bobbed and weaved through the spend-happy patrons. One issue arose at the counter: a language barrier. Villanueva’s English isn’t great; Pereira’s is a little better. Then a second issue: Mother Nature!
On perhaps the coldest Masters round in the last decade, patrons were exiting the building, ripping off tags and immediately putting their purchases on their chilled bodies. Many spectators arrived to this annual celebration of spring wearing skirts, shorts or polos, so the hoodies were a hot ticket. So hot that Pereira scooped the last grey medium available. Villanueva grabbed the last navy medium, even though he wanted at large. The good thing about Masters merchandise is you will always find someone who wants it.
One patron leaned in with a joke as they perused the t-shirts: ‘Where’d you get the outfit,’ he said. Olazabal was not impressed by the humor.
Of the 39 options on offer, tragically, only two were available in large, Villanueva’s size. One of them was pink. Villanueva didn’t want pink.
By now, a ring of pace had cleared around the men in white, as if it was some universal outfit of authority. Villanueva landed on two of the same shirt that would actually fit him: a navy tee with the entire history of past champions listed on the back. Not his first choice, but it wasn’t a time to be picky. He considered the yellow shirt with an egg salad sandwich printed on the back, but thought otherwise. Probably a smart move. With two white jumpsuits commanding a presence, other patrons gave them space. The whole ordeal would hit home for any Masters fan back home. You’ve got one guaranteed chance to make the right purchase, with all transactions final, and none of the gear available online.
Most of Pereira’s work here was on behalf of Villanueva, a jolly first-timer definitely aware he could be an only-timer. Pereira has caddied in the Masters, “many, many times,” he said, and will surely be back next year. Most of Villanueva’s work was on behalf of friends and family back home. He scooped up a hat, a pair of socks, sized up the youth options and even feigned to buy one of those green lawnchairs sprinkled all over the property.
He held up the chair, removed its casing and even unfurled it, scrutinizing its weight, surely imagining how it would fit in the luggage he’ll be leaving Georgia with. Alas, the chair was left on its own.
Issue No. 3 was the trickiest. Payment! It quickly became clear that Villanueva, who caddies all over the world but mostly in Europe, had been paying for everything in American dollars this week. He arrived at checkout with a fat money clip and an unused debit card given to him by event organizers. Paper bills are no good in the Masters merch building — but apparently one can load money onto these debit cards — but there was an obvious solution here.
“Usually we ask you to find someone with a credit card and just pay them with cash,” a volunteer said when presented with two confused, international men in white jumpsuits. “But one of our checkout people probably knows where that is.”
I offered the services of my upstanding credit, eager to improve this story and perhaps to make out with a net-positive visit to a place where people often walk out down hundreds. Villanueva was keen to make an exchange, but for some reason Pereira passed, uninterested in a deal. Was I that untrustworthy looking? They didn’t wait for me to ask, headed off to find a mysterious cash deposit machine I had never heard of.