Long-time PGA Tour caddie Scott Steele, who passed away Oct. 19, was a familiar and friendly face to golf fans - even more so to those who met him years ago when he was an assistant pro in Southern Ontario
Grant Holcomb, now a regional executive director with ClubLink, got to know Steele when they were assistants in the early 1990s at the newly opened Heron Point Golf Links in Ancaster, Ont.
"In 1995 and 1996, he caddied for me in the Canadian Masters at Heron Point and at two Canadian Open qualifiers," recalls Holcomb. "He was the kindest guy I ever met. He would do anything for you. He was always smiling and laughing. There wasn't a mean bone in his body."
Steele, who caddied for Larry Mize when he won the 1987 Masters, was on Jim Nelford's bag when he lost the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am to Hale Irwin in 1984. Nelford appeared headed for his first Tour victory when Irwin's ball miraculously bounced off a rock in the Pacific and back onto the 18 fairway. Nelford lost in a playoff.
"We both understood that golf isn't a fair game and that it can drive you crazy," Nelford says. "Scott was one of the most even-keeled guys I ever met but when we lost that one, the way we did, he said, 'That's just not right.'"
Born in Milwaukee, Wisc., Steele's attraction to Canada began when he met a local woman at the 1984 Canadian Open at Glen Abbey. That attraction grew to the point where the two were married in 1987 and Steele decided to settle down in the Hamilton area, entering the PGA of Canada's apprenticeship program.
"I wouldn't be the person I am today or doing what I am doing without Scott in my life," says Tom Vanderlip, Steele's stepson. Vanderlip, who worked his way up to head pro at Heron Point and then moved through the ClubLink ranks, now is the general manager of Peninsula Lakes Golf Club in Fenwick, Ont. Steele married Vanderlip's mother when Tom was 15. He had never played golf until Steele, a good player, showed him how.
After Heron Point, Steele worked at other local golf clubs. But then the phone would ring each summer as the Canadian Open approached. At the other end would be a Tour pro looking for a reliable, experienced caddie. One year, it was Corey Pavin. Another, Payne Stewart. Eventually, Steele returned to the looper's life fulltime. "He loved that life," says Vanderlip. "He got the bug in the late 1970s and it was always in his blood."
During his career, he would work with many of the top pros, spending 11 years with Tim Herron. After his passing, it was telling that even in the ultra-competitive world of professional golf, not one player or caddie used anything but superlatives when remembering Steele.
Vanderlip travelled to San Antonio, Texas, with his friend Chris Neale to attend a memorial for Steele.
"The attendance was simply amazing," says Neale, the former Glen Abbey head pro who now is general manager at Copper Creek Golf Club in Kleinburg, Ont. "Not only did all the caddies show up, but so did players like Hale Irwin, Larry Mize, John Cook, Corey Pavin, Tom Lehman, Dan Forsman, Sandy Lyle, Loren Roberts, Andrew Magee, Kirk Triplett, John Huston, just to name a few. Tim Herron flew in from Minnesota. Amazing. Tom Watson wrote a poem. It really showed what a tight-knit community the Tour is and that Scotty was extremely well liked and respected … and a very talented caddie,"
Tour pros also turned to social media to commemorate Steele. "We lost a great caddie and even better person," said Robert Garrigus on Twitter. "He always treated people how he wanted to be treated - like a friend." "One of the great caddies and great human beings," Peter Jacobsen tweeted, while Steve Flesch added: "Lost a true pro, caddie and great person. He would always put a smile on your face and loved life."
In Australia, Bo Van Pelt dedicated his victory at the Perth International to Steele's memory. "To see that he had passed on was tough news," Van Pelt said. "Scotty has been great to me ever since I was a rookie. The best way to honour a guy like that was to have a great attitude, to have a lot of energy. That's how he lived his life. He was a good man that will be sorely missed by anyone who ever came in contact with him."
Steele was caddying for Kirk Triplett at the Champions Tour Greater Hickory Classic in North Carolina when he had a heart attack in the parking lot Oct. 14. Doctors placed him in a medically induced coma to help him recuperate but he later died. He was 54.
"It didn't matter if you were a major champion or a Monday qualifier, you always got his best game," said Triplett. "He may be gone, but he will continue to be an inspiration to me and many others for a long time to come."
John Gordon is the Director of Communications for ClubLink Corporation, Canada's largest owner and operator of member golf clubs. Gordon has been involved in Canadian golf for more than two decades as managing editor of SCOREGolf, director of member services and communications at the Royal Canadian Golf Association (now Golf Canada), founding editor of Golf Canada magazine, executive director of the Golf Association of Ontario and the author of eight books.