Oakmont’s First Family of Caddies Likes Watching Pros ‘Suffer’

June 19, 2016

Oakmont Country Club’s first family of caddying spans three generations, boasts nearly 100 years of combined experience and has only so much sympathy for the players trying to tame their notoriously tough home course at the U.S. Open.

“Personally, I like seeing them suffer,” Bob Bugna chuckled softly, taking a break Saturday afternoon from watching golf to run some errands. “The fairways and greens are pretty much the same as what the members run into, but man, that rough is something.”

Fred Bugna began the family tradition in the late 1950s, taking a few loops around Oakmont on the weekends to supplement his pay as a steelworker. Nicknamed “Topsy,” Fred wound up carrying Jack Nicklaus’ bag because few caddies were interested in a second-year pro back then, no matter how promising an amateur career he’d had.

When Nicklaus beat Arnold Palmer in a playoff to win the 1962 U.S. Open here, Bugna briefly considered making it a full-time vocation.

“Jack paid him $2,000 out of a winner’s purse of $26,000,” recalled Fred Bugna Jr. “That was a lot of money back then, and he probably could have gone out on tour, but I guess he figured the work wasn’t steady enough.”

Bob, 60, was the first member of the family to follow his father’s footsteps and the only one to work a U.S. Open at Oakmont, in 1983. He began in the summer in 1979, turning up at the shed after working the midnight-to-8 a.m. shift at a meatpacking plant. Older brother Fred, 63, joined Oakmont’s caddy corps in 1988 and his son, Damon, began working there full-time the following year as a 14-year-old.

Damon, the best player in the family, hoped to pick up a bag for the week. Instead, only four club caddies got hired and he wound up guiding former PGA Tour player Matt Borchert and his caddy through a practice round on Monday.

“This is a different golf course every day,” Damon said. “A standard day in summer, the greens are like concrete. These guys caught a break, at least until the middle of today because when it’s soft, the course plays a little easier. … All I’ll say is that if it stays dry, and especially if the wind kicks up a little, Sunday could be very, very interesting.”