It has been said that you can learn more from watching a professional golf tournament in person than practically any other sport. If that’s the case, then you can gather tremendous insights from actually being inside the ropes. That was my premise last year when I volunteered to caddy at PGA Tour Canada’s TOUR Championship. I can’t say I was disappointed – I learned plenty looping for Mike Mezei, a friend who has toiled on the tour for much of the last decade.
This week I’m back, carrying Mezei’s bag as he uses my guest room. Such is the case for many golfers on PGA Tour Canada, pros who are trying to make a dollar stretch while chasing their ultimate dream – a spot on the PGA Tour. Hopefully I’m a little wiser – and have learned to rake a bunker appropriately. Regardless, here is a story from earlier this year that appeared in Golf Canada magazine
Phil and Bones. Tiger and Stevie. Mike and Brennan. All are iconic pairings between a superstar golfer and his caddy. You’ve seen them together, hugging after a major championship victory, or consoling each other in defeat.
Few, however, will immediately recognize the Mezei and Thompson team. We aren’t well known – downright obscure in fact. And we only worked together for a single tournament – last year’s Canadian Tour Championship (now part of PGA Tour Canada) at Scarboro Golf and Country Club in Toronto’s east side, around the corner from my nearby home at the time.
Mezei, once one of Canada’s up-and-coming amateurs from the prairies of Alberta, was a friend of a friend. I had an interest in investigating the relationship between a golf pro and his loop (as a caddy is colloquially called), while Mezei was intrigued by cheap accommodations – he’d stay at my house – and an even less expensive caddy. After all, mini-tour players like Mezei can’t usually afford a regular caddy, instead using locals who are looking to put a few bucks in their pockets. Those caddies take out flags, rake bunkers and lug clubs over the course of four days. But more than anything they follow the main rules of caddying: show up, keep up and shut up.
On the other hand, I’d been around the professional game for 15 years. As a reporter, I’d interviewed caddies as they came off the 18th green at the RBC Canadian Open. I’d watched as they cleaned clubs and handed balls to their employer on the range before lugging a 30-pound bag up and down hills in stifling summer heat. I thought I knew what I was in for. It wasn’t that simple.
First of all, mini-tour players soon learn that self-reliance is the rule of the day. They are used to bag carriers, not caddies. They never assume their caddy will know much about the course or even the game. I was certain it I’d be different.
My first mistake came on day one. Mezei, having played solidly, faded a ball right behind some trees on a long par four on Scarboro’s back nine. Faced with a difficult shot that had to cut around some trees to an uphill green, Mezei executed it wonderfully. I was impressed, but wondered how he’d pulled it off. Did he open the clubface or change his swing path?
“That’s a question for after the round,” he said curtly. I knew I’d broken one of the cardinal rules of caddying – never ask a technical question in the middle of a golf game for fear that the player will start thinking too much about his swing. Tournament rounds are for execution – the range is for fiddling with how you hit the ball. I remained quiet for several holes after my misstep.
My next mistake came in the third round after Mezei made the cut – something he’d struggled to do for much of the season. While eyeing his short approach on the third hole, he asked whether he should go at the flag. “Well if you’re long or left it isn’t good,” I replied.
“You know if you’d been working for [insert name of veteran Canadian Tour pro here], you’d be walking back to the clubhouse now,” he said blankly before breaking into a wide smile. I’d violated another of the other main tenants of looping – I’d highlighted a negative outcome. Professional golfers never want their caddy to discuss the possibility of a bad shot, only a good one. Strike two.
That’s not to say caddying wasn’t a blast. You end up bonding with your player, rooting him onwards. You live for birdies and dismay when your player doesn’t make par. And caddying on a developmental tour means you see some raw talents, playing partners who could turn into something special. Heck, Mike Weir, Steve Stricker, and Matt Kuchar, to name but three, all played the Canadian Tour at some point. While working with Mezei, one of our playing partners for the week even shot 28 over nine holes.
By the final rounds, Mezei had become relatively comfortable with his scribe looper. He’d see me taking notes and not be bothered. He’d regale me with jokes. But my chance to shine came late on the front nine during Saturday’s round. Mezei’s day hadn’t gone well, and he felt the time had come for aggressive play. On a narrow par five where he’d been conservative all week, Mezei turned to me.
“Shall we hit the driver?” he asked.
Let’s be clear. I wasn’t hitting anything. It was all on him. I paused momentarily.
“Yes,” I said confidently, trying to show that I’d carefully considered the situation. “Rip it down the middle.”
He proceeded to split the fairway with a little draw. He handed me the club and smiled.
Mezei would finish well down the leaderboard, but in that instant I knew my foray into caddying had been a success.