Finding the Head By Losing Your Way

It was obvious the kid had, as the old loopers say, “lost the head” by this point. He’d been playing well to now, for a child who, as near as I could tell, wasn’t in high school yet. He was a big hitter, driving it over 220. But this time that wasn’t enough—he’d put it right in the huge bunker that sits across the 18th fairway at Chicago Highlands, where I’ve been working lately while waiting for Medinah’s main track to open. Now he was preparing to hit a 5-wood out of it, despite the fact that he had to know that a 5-wood had no chance of clearing the lip of the bunker. I found the rake and waited, figuring we might be a while.

Sportswriters and the athletes who swallow their repetitious phrases like to talk about golf, like other sports, as being about “one shot at a time,” or as Tiger Woods likes to say, “baby steps.” I don’t know much about other sports, but in golf it’s nonsense: every shot sets up the next, and if you aren’t thinking about your next shot you aren’t really playing. That’s what the old caddies mean when they talk about “losing the head”: what they mean is the golfer has become so obsessed with this shot that he’s lost sight of the overall goal.

According to the Wall Street Journal recently, the game itself may have lost its head in recent years; apparently my young charge is something of an anomaly. The story the paper ran was entitled “Golf’s Big Problem: No Kids Are Joining The Game.” This, the same month during which the young have dominated the world of men’s tournament golf: an 18 year-old Ryo Ishikawa shot 58 to win in Japan on the same day that 20 year-old Rory McIlroy shot 62 to win at Quail Hollow on the PGA Tour; this past week a 22 year-old Jason Day won the Byron Nelson while a 16 year-old Jordan Spieth not only made the cut, but finished tied for 16th. The Bible of the financial community, however, ties it together by way of blaming Tiger Woods: his rise inspired a great many juniors not only to hone their games, but also a lot of golf courses to get longer; “Tigerproofing” as Augusta National’s changes were called some years ago. “Want to make an eight-year-old cry?” asks the Journal. Just throw the child on the “testosterone-induced courses constructed over the past decade.” But the course I’ve been working at, Chicago Highlands, has it seems been developed precisely in order to answer these questions.

The club has a two-pronged strategy. The first is straightforward: free lessons any time. It’s an interesting development in terms of labor relations between golf pros and their clubs: standard practice is for pros to be paid by the lesson. Perhaps it’s in part a response to the increasing amount of graduates of professional golf management programs in the nation’s universities now that the split between club pros and touring pros has seeped down to the college level—which itself might be analogous to the situation whereby increasingly lower-level courses in the universities are taught by graduate students and “adjunct” faculty: i.e., people without tenure, i.e. cheaper. Strictly in terms of golf’s growth, however, it’s amazing no one has thought of this before: the sport has never really been taught at a mass level, which is why most if not everyone is so, so incredibly bad at it.

(As an aside, has there ever been a human activity in the history of the world in which people have been both so incredibly awful and yet passionate about it at once? Discuss.)

The second strategy pursued by the Highlands is one that’s been proposed many times, but that most courses have been reluctant to do: building multiple tee boxes. Most golf courses have two, or possibly three tee boxes; only recently have courses been built with more. More tee boxes means that golfers can arrange themselves according to their skill level better, with consequences for the speed of play for instance. (It should be faster.) On the other side is the fact that more tee boxes cost more in terms of mowing and watering and so on. But what’s never been really argued, so far as I know, is whether or not by appealing to more people, multiple tee boxes would draw more people into the game, and thus pay for itself—which is what the Journal implicitly argues. Chicago Highlands, which seems to agree with the thought, has six different tees.

Now, the decision of which tee to play is one that always runs up against the equation that longer equals better. Certainly longer does, on the whole, equal harder, but that’s not always the case; witness, for instance, two of the golf courses at my usual club, Medinah. Course No. 3, site of five major championships and numerous tour events, is at present more than 1200 yards longer than Course No. 2, but there are those who might argue that No. 2 is the better golf course.

Course No. 3 presents innumerable challenges, sure, but often they aren’t strategic decisions—they’re just examinations of whether the golfer can hit the required shot. Can you hit a two-hundred yard shot over water that stops on the green? for example. Course No. 2, however, presents lots of strategic decisions: the fifth hole asks for a decision to hit anything from a seven-iron to a driver off the tee, depending on how much the golfer wants to risk. The question of which one is a better golf course depends on whether one thinks that golf is more about physical ability or intelligent decisions.

Multiple tee boxes means that every player can find a length that allows them to forget about the mechanics of hitting the ball—that’s what the practice range is for—and immerse themselves in making decisions about what to do. Or in other words, begin playing golf, instead of hitting shots. In effect, more tees means more golf—even for the better player. Even the single-digit handicapper might find another world opening up by playing his usual course from one or two tees closer: suddenly, shots open up never available before, and thus different decisions.

The Highlands is, as I’ve mentioned before, already a golf course built around playing golf, rather than hitting shots. Multiple tee boxes just opens up that many more possibilities. A good player could have just as much, if not more, fun playing the course from the most forward tee box on every hole as he could from the back. Take the 7th hole for instance: from the black tees, it measures 623 yards, a monster. But from the red tees, it’s only 430. Yet, assuming it were thence considered a par four rather than a par five, it might not play very easily; at that distance a number of bunkers unreachable from the black tees—and almost incidental for a good player—are suddenly in play.

St. Andrews is the ultimate example of what we might call “course hacking” in this way: at the beginning of every season, the course is played backwards, or clockwise, as against the usual counter-clockwise hole rotation. That means that you play from the 1st tee to the 17th green, then from the 18th tee to the 16th green, and so on. According to one account, the “result is a lot of blind shots, vague yardage guesses, and people hitting into one another – head on.” Or in other words, fun.

That’s one thing that the kid in the 18th hole’s fairway bunker had forgotten about by then. He was screamingly mad, though completely quiet about it on the outside: a point in his favor I thought. Nevertheless, he went through with his crazed scheme with the 5-wood, which he did manage to get out of the bunker though it went only about 50 yards after catching the lip. He had become obsessed with hitting the shot, in other words, rather than playing the game. It’s a distinction that perhaps the golf world has lost sight of in recent years: 16-year olds building career plans around the PGA Tour might not be the best sign of the game’s health. Playing around with the tee boxes, however, might be a way to find the head again.

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Yardage Is For Suckers

To our right the sun was setting over the ridgeline on the last tee as my golfer drove on the last hole. I was standing near the back of the box, next to the other player in our twosome: the owner of the club. As the ball left the clubface I turned to the owner and said sotto voce, “You think that last putt was a hundred twenty-five K?” He looked surprised for a moment and then, recovering, said “Yeah, maybe.” Then we raced the sun down the fairway.

I’d been waiting for five hours by the time we’d stepped on the first tee of Chicago Highlands, a golf course that had just opened the day before. The head pro had been an assistant last year at the golf course I usually work at, and he invited a few of us to help inaugurate their caddie program. The night before the opening day I’d been on the club’s website trying to find out about the course, but what I found was not only largely unhelpful—instead of a map showing distances to various bunkers and the depths of the greens, it only had written descriptions of each hole—but also couched in the kind of over-the-top rhetoric usually reserved for late-night used car ads.

The tagline on the main page, for instance, quoted somebody as calling the course the “Eight Wonder of the World!” As Hegel will tell you, that sort of talk is bound to produce a reaction. What I found out in two loops there however was that, while the rhetoric was overblown, the golf course was indeed perhaps one of the most interesting courses in Chicago. Most Chicago golf courses are typical American parkland designs: fairways cut through trees, greens surrounded by bunkers. That style of golf architecture is different from the Scottish courses where golf began.

In Scotland, and especially St. Andrews—a golf course for the past 500 years—golf is played on the ground, not the air. That’s because the fairways are usually wide open, without a tree in sight—which means that the wind, unblocked by foliage, plays a major role. In Scotland there may be greenside bunkers, but usually there’s some opening somewhere where a golfer can run a shot up to the green, rather than trying to fly a shot (which the wind might disturb) to land on the green. Whereas American golf usually calls for high shots that can stop on the green, the Scottish game often demands low, bouncing shots that roll on the ground a long way.

That in turn has other effects: because American courses ask for those high shots, the greenskeeper is under pressure to make the greens soft by watering them often. The fairways are also watered often because the grass on them is competing for resources from the nearby trees (this has effects on water resources, as I’ve written about in another post). Scottish courses though mostly don’t have the kind of high-priced irrigation systems American courses have, partly because it’s Scotland (it rains in Scotland) but also because the Scots play a different game: a rolling ball needs hard and firm ground.

Chicago Highlands plays more like a Scottish kind of course: hard and fast fairways leading to greens with openings to them. The course is built around one of the highest points in Cook County—on the summit sits the ninth green—and because there are no trees wind is usually a factor in deciding how to play a hole. Earlier that day for example, on a downhill 3 par that measured around 150 yards, I’d advised my player to hit a wedge—because we were downwind. The shot landed in front of the green, bounced over a bunker, and ended up about four feet from the hole. Later, on another 3 par that was only about fifteen yards longer, I advised the same guy to hit a five wood—because we were into the wind. He missed the green left that time, but the point is that there was an eight club difference between the two holes.

That’s like something American golfers often like to talk about after returning from Scotland—how the Scottish caddies don’t really care about yardages. They might tell you to hit a wedge on a 160-yard shot on one hole, and a three-wood from 150 yards on the next. In Scotland, yardage is for suckers. That’s actually true anywhere, of course—what matters is the shot, not the distance—but it’s easier to discover in Scotland I suppose. Until now.

On my loop that day I was working for a prospective new member the owner was trying to persuade to join. When we got to the 17th hole, the shortest hole on the course, it was playing directly downwind. The flag sat on the front of the green. My player had not hit his sand wedge all day, other than out of bunkers, but that’s what I wanted him to hit—and he wasn’t having it. I remonstrated. He objected. It was worse than Bo Van Pelt on 17 at Sawgrass this year.

Eventually I prevailed after a struggle. Then he hit the shot—and nearly missed it. Every golf shot produces a sound, and the quality of the sound indicates the quality of the shot as I’ve explained in the past. Here the sound was tinny; he’d missed the sweet spot. The ball climbed away from the tee, and I was swearing under my breath knowing it would be short (as did everyone else). But near the top of the arc the ball held for a moment—and climbed again. The wind had the ball, and it rode on the back of the zephyr like a sultan on a sedan chair all the way to the green, where the wind deposited it like a cat with its kitten before the flag. I screamed “Get in!” as the ball rolled up the green. It nearly did.

When we got to the green the ball was six feet past the cup. The putt was a cunning little downhill left-to-right slider—not much of a break, but that is the toughest sort of putt in golf for a righthander. The read was directly on the edge of the hole—naturally, and because fairy-tales do come true, he made it. The cost of a membership at Chicago Highlands? One hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars.

Na, na, na

It’s been something of a whirlwind two days: I began the weekend wanting to write something about Tiger’s exit from the Players Championship—specifically, the incident last Friday when that kid reportedly said, as Tiger Woods left the course for the day, “Say goodbye to #1, Tiger! Kiss it goodbye!” If Phil Mickelson had won the tournament, Tiger would have surrendered his crown as #1 player in the world. It was a great anecdote, with obvious allusions to the old story about the kid confronting “Shoeless” Joe Jackson in 1919: “Say it ain’t so,” said that child, then, a tone so different from Tiger’s child-demon; Mickelson, who happened to overhear the exchange, said “Be polite” to the kid. But that isn’t what this will be about.

Nor will it be what I had thought since late Sunday night would be the big story of the week: Robert Allenby’s series of weird decisions to close out the Players Championship and essentially hand it over to Tim Clark. Not that Clark didn’t deserve to win—he shot the low round of the day, 67, when a lot of the field wasn’t breaking par—but Allenby’s decisions seemed to take a lot of the drama out.

To clarify, I am not talking about the two putts missed at 16 and 17—the last one, especially, reminded me of Jack Nicklaus’ line: “I made it but it didn’t go in”—but rather the decisions he made on the 18th hole, which the press asked him about repeatedly afterwards. This Sunday, Allenby was the last man on the golf course with a chance to tie Tim Clark, and he needed a birdie on 18 to do it after missing chances at 16 and 17.

I’ve written about Allenby before, most notably questioning his work with his caddie at Torrey Pines earlier this year when Allenby, near the lead of the tournament on Sunday, flew his ball over the green at 14 and essentially blew his chances at the win with one swing. (Incidentally, it seem to me that “Caddie Killer” Allenby’s looper at the Players was not the same guy as his looper at Torrey, though it’s hard to tell.) Sometimes the putts fall and sometimes they don’t, so it’s hard to criticize Allenby on that front.

What’s hard to understand is how, knowing he needed a birdie to tie, he hit a 3-wood off the eighteenth tee instead of his driver. At the press conference afterwards Allenby defended his decision by making three different points. Let’s tackle them in order, shall we?

1. “That’s the toughest tee shot on this golf course … especially if you’re a right-to-left player like myself, and you’ve got the wind coming off the right and into.” Allenby actually makes a solid point here: it’s hard to birdie from the water.

2. “it’s just not a hole that you can hit driver because if you hit it straight, you’re going to be blocked out with the trees. I did that the first day with 3-wood” Uh, Robert, Lee Westwood and virtually everyone else in the field hit driver here, and I didn’t notice any of them blocked out by trees. And what trees are you talking about anyway? The ones on the right side of the fairway? Very little about this makes sense to me.

3. “I think I’ve only ever hit one driver in my whole life on 18, and that was into about a 30, 40-mile-an-hour wind.” Allenby returns to some kind of sense here: ok, he isn’t used to hitting driver at that hole. It’s a defensible decision, even if his reasons for never hitting driver there—see #2, above—are pretty inexplicable. The thought is, stay with what’s comfortable. But as Allenby hasn’t won in the United States for nine years, maybe he shouldn’t be looking for “comfortable.”

After the tee shot, Allenby was left with a 4-iron to the green, strange because a lot of other players (who hit driver off the tee) were left with 6 or 7-irons or better to the green. If you need birdie, which club would you rather be hefting?

After hitting that 4-iron to the right of the green, Allenby decided to putt instead of chip, despite the fact that while putting is generally better than chipping for amateurs, pros know that chipping usually has a better chance of going in the hole (while also having a greater chance of missing the hole by a greater margin than a putt would). Allenby defended that decision afterwards by saying “I know probably the commentators are going, oh, he should have chipped it. But you know what, I’d love to see them get in that situation and try to do that.” Well, that’s certainly true. But it’s also true that most commentators aren’t PGA Tour pros, and Allenby is. If anyone has the skills to pull off that shot, one would have to conclude that Allenby should be among them. It isn’t clear from his response whether Allenby really thought his best chance to make it was to putt, or whether he was thinking that he definitely didn’t want to give up a chance at second place.

Allenby’s trevails aside, what I really came away from the weekend—in golf, Monday is the weekend—wanting to write about however was my participation in Monday’s local qualifying for the U.S. Open. I ended up getting the bag of a member’s kid from my home track, Dan Stringfellow, who just happens to be this past year’s Illinois high school champ. The kid was unbelievable, at times driving it a hundred yards past the two pros in our group, and his record matches his skill: the only guys close to him for their high school careers are, all of them, present or former members of the PGA Tour. He’s only 17 still, at least for another week or so, but he’s been recruited to play at Auburn—a relative golf powerhouse—next fall.

Illinois of course is not particularly known as a golf powerhouse, though the state has produced a few pro golfers like Jay Haas, Todd Hamilton, Gary Hallberg, and a few other guys. But Stringfellow might be on another level than those journeyman pros: the sound his club makes meeting the ball is different than almost any professional player I’ve ever heard. The great players do make a different sound than others: talking about Jason Heyward, the Atlanta Braves new prospect, Terry Pendleton (the Braves hitting coach) said recently that “There are just some guys that hit the thing, and it’s, like, Oooh, that’s different. That’s way different.” It’s the same in golf—Tiger Woods, in 1999 anyway, sounded way different than anyone else on tour. Stringfellow makes a similar sound, which doesn’t make him Tiger Woods, yet, but it does mean that he has, as the recruiters like to say, potential.

Unfortunately, it seems that he hasn’t figured out the flat stick yet, as we missed something like 6 to 8 putts that easily could have dropped. He didn’t make anything more than 5 feet—and missed one of those. So the 75 he actually did shoot could have, with very little imagination, been a 68. Or better. The kid, it seems is still learning how to go really low; it may be that playing against Illinois high school competition, where 75 is a good score, hasn’t pushed him enough as yet. It may be that, like Allenby, he hasn’t developed enough of what the gutter press likes to call the “killer instinct.” But Stringfellow’s story is just beginning: he may or may not be the kid to knock Tiger off his pedestal, but the kid that will is alive now, somewhere. The only question, really, is whether he’ll be polite.

On the Mendoza Line at Sawgrass

The “Mendoza line” is a term sabermetricians—those curious stats-addled baseball fans who now, through the success of Moneyball and Red Sox GM Theo Epstein, rule baseball—use to refer to a certain minimum amount of skill needed to play major league baseball. Specifically, it’s the minimum batting average that a major leaguer can get away with while not being sent down to the minors. No matter how brilliant a defensive player you are, you still need to hit at least at the Mendoza line to stay in the big leagues. Golf though, with its varied tournament sites, doesn’t have a strict correlative for the Mendoza line: a single skill that determines the difference between the tour player and your average club pro.

Short hitter? Some golf courses favor short, accurate players. Bomber? Some golf courses have wide fairways. It’s always been part of golf’s charm that no matter what kind of golfer you are, there’s probably a place for you to play. No tournament has better exemplified that point than the Players Championship since it moved permanently to TPC Sawgrass in 1982—or better exemplified what’s become a kind of theme of this blog: that most matches are won on the first tee; i.e., that the rules of the game have a lot more to do with the outcome than most people realize.

“If people don’t think course setups don’t make a difference, check my record here at this tournament,” said Scott Hoch in 2002. Hoch is a multiple winner on the PGA Tour and a near-winner of a major—he famously missed a two-footer to win the 1989 Masters—and his record at the Players Championship (or as the Tour now prefers it, the Players) is pretty odd. Between 1988 and 1995, Hoch never finished the tournament, withdrawing twice. In 1997, however, after the tour decided to grow a thicker rough at TPC Sawgrass, Hoch finished second.

“Before, if you hit anywhere other than the water, you would be all right,” Hoch said. “That’s definitely not my game.” Hoch was never a long hitter, and courses that bombers ruled, like St. Andrews (site of this year’s Open Championship, which Hoch infamously called a “the worst piece of mess”), were never friendly to him. Nevertheless, he had a pretty good tour career, even winning the Vardon Trophy in 1986 for the lowest scoring average for the year.

John Strege has a pretty good piece about all of this in this week’s Golf Digest website, where most of the above can be found. He cites Fred Klauk, the longtime superintendent at Sawgrass who retired in 2008, on the point: “‘When we caught a wet year, that’s when a longer player won,’” Klauk said. “‘That’s when Tiger won.’” Numerous power players have won the tournament like Tiger, Davis Love, and Jack Nicklaus, but so have short, but accurate, players like Fred Funk and Justin Leonard. Who’s won has been at least in part a function of the course’s setup in any given year, in a way that’s arguably different than any other sport.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t ways of constructing a field of play to favor certain styles. Baseball is perhaps the best example other than golf: the Chicago White Sox, for instance, have been known for decades to instruct their grounds crew based on the composition of their infield: slow but offensively-potent infielders has dictated a slow infield, while defensively-brilliant but offensively-challenged infielders has dictated a fast infield.

Baseball fields themselves have been the best parallel to the changing courses on the PGA Tour: Bill James, the dean of sabermetricians, has devoted a lot of study to “park effects,” determining for instance that the Chicago Cubs have historically undervalued their pitching (because Wrigley Field favors the offense) and overvalued their offense (for the same reason). But professional golf has one big difference from professional baseball: pro golfers, as independent contractors, can choose where they wish to play. The White Sox can’t refuse to play at Yankee Stadium.

In golf, in other words, it’s what happens behind the scenes that often determines a winner, not necessarily entirely what happens on the field of play. At least, to some larger degree than in other sports. Golf itself has slowly become aware of the effect of course setup, which has never before received as much attention as it has in recent years: Mike Davis of the USGA and Kerry Haigh of the PGA of America—responsible for the setup work at the US Open and PGA Championship—have become almost as well-known in golf circles as the top players themselves.

That, to put it mildly, is not necessarily a good thing. “We’re not trying to embarrass the best players in the world,” Sandy Tatum of the USGA said at the Massacre at Winged Foot in 1974, “We’re trying to identify them.” Tatum’s words recognized the threat course setup poses to golf: it’s important to golf for course setup to be invisible, because if it becomes recognized as important then it’s possible that the game itself becomes somehow tarnished. It’s the same argument as that regarding steroids or other “PEDs”: if course setup is the most important, or even very important, in determining (“identifying”) the best player, then that makes the competition seem artificial or contrived. Some part of the sport’s legitimacy is lost.

Now, why is that? Well, presumably it’s because we want our champions to be born, and not made. If course setup is too big a factor then it begins to seem like the winners are the winners only because the people in charge wanted them to win, and not because they were better than anyone else in the field, just as allowing PEDs to influence sports means that the winners will be those with the connections and wealth to access them have an advantage (along with the willingness to sacrifice their bodies). Making course setup too big a factor is thus a threat to the integrity of the game itself—yet at the same time, courses do need to be setup, which is to say that there will always be arguments about it.

What we’d like, in other words, is for the Buddha himself to come down and tell us who should win, say, the US Open. Unfortunately, the Buddha is usually unavailable, and not just to a certain Florida-based golfer. That isn’t to say that, if there are any, climate deities do not have a say in the outcomes of golf tournaments: according to reports, this year TPC Sawgrass has had weather that’s inhibited the growth of the kind of thick, nasty rough that’s a penalty to long-but-wayward drivers. There isn’t a Mendoza line, in short, in golf as a whole, but there may be one for individual tournaments, and this year’s winner then may very likely be just that sort of player: a guy who can throw it out there without worrying too much about where it goes. Sound like anyone to you?

How to Get A Date … I Mean, Loop

On the way into work early this morning my carpool driver passed the time with a story about his loop yesterday, which included a player I’ve worked for many times and even won the club championship with a few years ago. It’s a story that I think the average golfer can find instructive, plus it has a certain entertainment value. And so to the story.

It seems that this player started out his round birdie, birdie, eagle, birdie—five under par, a spectacular stretch even for my low-handicap sometime client. But, my driving friend went on to tell me, a series of misadventures—including a lost ball on the 14th hole, a point I will return to—led to a round of 76, five over par. Though the numbers might be different, every golfer has had a round like that, with elation followed by disappointment. The interest for me though is in how it reveals something about the caddie business.

As it happens, I drew the same player this morning, and he warned me that he hadn’t bothered to hit a ball or even a putt before beginning. It was not much of a surprise then when we started out with a bogey, which was quickly followed by two more and then crowned with a double-bogey: five over par. But the rest of the round went smoothly, and we finished the rest of the holes at … even par, for a five over par 76. Yet today’s 76 felt a lot better, even though the score was the same.

Aside from the psychological lessons to be drawn, the round an importance to me because I have designs of making this guy a regular client. For that reason, I made a point of directing his attention to the curious parallel between the two rounds. The story that I heard about yesterday’s round was that the caddies lost the ball because no one had gone forward to forecaddie—the act of watching drives that’s a big part of a caddie’s job—that hole, a looper no-no. I smelled an opportunity, because in literally years of working for this same guy, I’ve never lost a ball of his, mostly because I know I need to be forward—like the Dalai Lama, he’s a big hitter.

What I want him to realize is, as they say, “why go out for hamburger when you can get steak at home?” In other words, why should he depend on the whims of the caddiemaster and the daily lottery drawing—which determines the order in which caddies are called—to provide when he could just arrange things with my boss so I can work for him every day? It has a certain benefit for me in that I could have a bit of security in a wildly uncertain business, and a benefit for him for the same reason.

It also has a certain benefit for my caddiemaster—at least potentially. As another caddiemaster once told me, the way caddiemasters make their money is essentially by selling the services of their charges: they are like pimps in that way. A number of caddiemasters have actually become angry with me for making arrangements with a golfer, because it cuts into their action. Caddiemasters want and need to have the freedom to assign caddies, because they are getting tipped by the players to provide quality caddies. A cheap guy, in other words, gets a kid, whereas the big tipper gets an experienced guy. It’s a beautiful example of the free market at work.

In my case, what this means is that for the most part my bosses want to sell me to the biggest tip they can get on that day. Therefore they don’t like being locked into a long-term deal, because what if I’m promised to somebody when a much bigger wallet shows up? However, like a lot of problems, this one goes away provided enough cash is thrown at it, so I am searching my brain for ways to encourage this player to make the proper arrangements with my boss. It didn’t hurt my chances when my fellow loopers did me the favor of losing this guy’s ball yesterday.

Since I’m playing a long game, I therefore did not mention it directly to the player today, preferring to let it stew around in his brain for a while until (ideally) he arrives at the answer himself. I just wanted to give him a hint in that direction by mentioning the similarities and contrasts between today and yesterday. Naturally, I also don’t particularly want to throw one of my co-workers under the bus—at least overtly. This of course is a bit tricky.

I’m told that on the PGA Tour and elsewhere that caddies do that sort of thing unhesitatingly: caddies often will call players if they hear that somebody might be getting fired, even if the caddie in question is a friend of theirs. On tour, or so it’s said, things are cutthroat: pro looping is a dog-eat-dog world.

That may or may not be true—the PGA Tour is a hermetic, self-enclosed world, so it might be that things are just attempting to find their own level rather than the cesspool of iniquity it’s often rumored to be—but club caddieing is somewhat different, mainly because of the role played by the caddiemaster: if the tour is a model of laissez-faire capitalism, club caddieing more approximates the world we actually live in, with the caddiemaster taking the intrusive role played in reality by national governments. There’s a bit more finesse involved.

I can’t directly criticize somebody else’s work, in other words, because that might come back to me. What I can do however is ask what I might need to do better in order to get this golfer as a “regular,” as these relationships are known. I do have some indications that things might work out for me. The golfer did ask me today if I had been working much—the answer is no, because our prestige golf course is still closed—then told another golfer in our group that I was usually right with reading putts. He capped it off by telling me he was going to play this coming week. I took that last as perhaps a sign that he would finally just ask for me instead of waiting for me to show up serendipitously—and maybe I’ll get that corsage after all.