The lanky man who is the main subject of the film The Last Colored Caddy was sitting in the sun at the Broken Sound Golf Club in Boca Raton, Fla., recently. Alfred (Rabbit) Dyer didn't look much different from when he would lean against the big tree in front of the clubhouse at the Mississaugua Golf and Country Club, telling stories and signing autographs before and after caddying for Gary Player in the Canadian Open.
"I enjoyed Mississaugua," said Rabbit, who was born in New Orleans in 1937. "Canada always been my favourite place to go. People are nice. Mississaugua, Montreal - all those places."
Rabbit got his nickname because he was a fast high-school basketball player. He caddied for Player from 1972 to 1992 and now works for Chi-Chi Rodriguez on the Champions Tour. He was the first black caddy to work in the British Open, which he did in 1974 at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in England. Player won.
Rabbit's been on somebody's bag since he was nine years old and working around New Orleans. One of eight children, he contributed to the family's income with caddying money. Rabbit became a lifelong caddy.
He always seems to be smiling, but things have often been tough. Rabbit woke up at 3 a.m. a couple of years ago in his second-floor apartment in a poor section of New Orleans, looked out the window and saw his car floating away. Hurricane Katrina had hit. He swam two blocks to get out of harm's way and eventually moved to Houston, where he lives with his brother.
As for his being referred to as the last coloured caddy in the prize-winning film that his cousin Jada Harris made, Rabbit, who will turn 70 next month, explained that his contemporaries have all died. There was Herman Mitchell, who caddied for Lee Trevino, Adolphus (Golf Ball) Hull and Sam (Killer) Foy. (A three-minute trailer from the film is at edwanambwa.com.)
Then there's Lawrence Swanson, a Texan who was born in 1943 and who is still around. His mother couldn't figure out why she hadn't given birth when his due date had passed. She asked her doctor, who said the question had him puzzled. The nickname Puzzle stuck. Puzzle still works the Champions Tour.
Meanwhile, Rabbit's a writer's dream. Mention a player and he has a story. Or two. Or a dozen. How about George Knudson?
"Man, I loved George Knudson," Rabbit said of the late and great Canadian who won eight PGA Tour events. "Nobody in the world drove the ball like him. He had the sweetest swing. He could do anything with the club, hook it, cut it."
Rabbit caddied for Knudson in a few tournaments and admired him for more than his ability as a golfer. "He was the nicest guy I met on tour," Rabbit said. "I don't care where I was, he'd say, 'How 'ya doing, Rabbit?' When he won back to back [at the 1968 Phoenix and Tucson Opens] he said, 'Here's a couple of hundred bucks. Put it in your pocket.' How many people do that for you?"
Rabbit also caddied for Ben Hogan sometimes, starting when he was 10. Rabbit was a big kid who would grow to be 6 foot 4, and Hogan was about to play an exhibition at the Metairie Country Club in New Orleans. The caddy master wanted Rabbit to shag balls for Hogan. Hogan took to Rabbit and asked him to caddy for him then and in the next couple of years when he returned for more exhibitions.
"He hit one O.B. on the seventh hole," Rabbit recalled, "and he said to me, 'You can't catch a 'coon with the dog tied up.' I was afraid to ask what he meant. But on the ninth, I asked him and he said, 'You gotta release that club, gotta let the club go.' I told Player that when we went to the British Open that we won."
Rabbit was good to Player, and Player was good to Rabbit. Player lent Rabbit $100,000 (U.S.) to send his son Alfred to Princeton, where he graduated. (Another son was born with an oversized heart and can't talk.) Player also provided Rabbit with clothes after he lost his belongings during Katrina.
"Black caddies is a dying breed," Rabbit said. "They were pioneers."
Rabbit, one of the pioneers, is still on the course. It's a livelier place for his presence.