… books of a large design, shadowing the complexity of that game of consequences to which we all sit down, the hanger-back not least …
—Robert Louis Stevenson
I haven’t seen Medinah’s Course 3 for a week, though the last I saw of it the course wasn’t looking good. The fairways began showing the same sort of thinning and browning that showed up last year about this time, and the greens also turned brown in spots. They are ominous signs, though it’s also true that by late September last year most of the wear and tear had disappeared, which I’m sure is what the PGA of America is hoping will happen by this year’s Ryder Cup. Still, the hot and humid weather has had a more personal effect on me: it’s an indirect reason why I haven’t seen it lately, as I violated one of caddying’s cardinal rules: the one about shutting up.
I was assigned that day to a group composed of two foursomes, each led by a member, going out on consecutive tee times. Each of the members was, it seems, doing a favor for another man, not a member, who was bringing out six guests to play Course 3. This isn’t entirely uncommon for Medinah, which is often the site of such mini-outings. The problem, from the point of view of the caddies, is that when such groups reach the tee they can be the site of rather nasty scrums, as each caddie struggles to identify a player to work for based on nothing more than a view of the bags available and (perhaps) a quick glance at the players—trying to gauge which of them is likeliest to part with the biggest side-tip, or slip, as we term it.
Usually, when I approach a foursome, I try to ask the member involved who he would like me to work for, whether it be for himself or perhaps some favored guest or other. Maybe it’s the best player; maybe it’s the guest the member wants to have the best service. Most of the members already know me, so they’re happy to direct me. But in this case the member didn’t know any of the guests, so he directed me towards the man in charge of the outing—who didn’t really understand what I was asking him.
That man did take me around to a player who hadn’t played Medinah before and wanted to take pictures of himself standing in front of the clubhouse and so on before setting out. I took the guy’s camera and positioned him in the best spots—but, unfortunately, I didn’t take the precaution of grabbing his bag first. That was a bad decision.
When we got around to getting the guy’s bag, another caddie had already taken hold of it. Now, most of the caddies at Medinah respect me, if nothing else because of my long tenure at the place. This particular caddie, however, doesn’t—or at least, doesn’t show it. Perhaps it’s because of some natural male competitiveness, or just some kind of machismo. Alternately—and I don’t doubt this has played a role—, I’ve criticized the guy before for his work ethic, or lack of one, both to his face and to our superiors. My complaints, however, have largely fallen on deaf ears (though it’s true that, were there any disciplinary action taken, it’s unlikely anyone would have told me about it.) All of which sounds, I’d admit, like beating-around-the-bush, but it’s hard to get at the point without wasting your time recounting four or five anecdotes that would take up far more time than I’d like to spend. The bottom-line is that I don’t like this guy, and he doesn’t like me.
Anyway, I try to tell him that he should give me the bag, due to the aforementioned photo-taking and conversation, but he basically ignores me, which leads to some harsh words before the guy essentially sprints down the fairway to escape me. I end up taking the bag of the last guest to arrive. The guest I took the pictures with originally, as it happens, is in the first group to tee off, and as I’m standing there on the tee he approaches me to say something apologetic about what happened. I’m pretty mad at this point—though not at the guest—and it’s what I said next that led to the problem: “Maybe you could have been more assertive, sir.”
Now, as I’ve said, the guy hasn’t been to Medinah before and probably had no experience with caddies whatever, not to speak of what to do when loopers are fighting over his bag, and he begins to say essentially that when somebody points out it’s his turn to tee off and he returns to the purpose he came to Medinah about. Which, I thought, was the end of that—in the category of “Things Uttered In Anger” I hardly thought what I said really qualified as actually worth reviewing. But in that—clearly I haven’t watched enough “Downton Abbey” or other PBS shows designed to instruct on proper means of deference—I was wrong.
I had pulled third in the next day’s lottery, which I was quite happy about as it meant that I most certainly would work—it had been rather a question since the imposition, since the beginning of July, of restricted tee times designed to protect the course, which had also the effect of reducing the number of loops possible. An hour or two had passed as I waited to be assigned when, suddenly, the door separating the caddie yard from caddiemaster’s office flew open, and there was my boss. Obviously, he was upset. He repeated the outlines of the narrative I’ve just related, which I couldn’t deny, at the end of which he just said something to the purpose of taking a couple of weeks off. Which, up to now, is what I’ve done. At least from Medinah. I’ve been going to Butler instead. Don’t tell anyone; I’m far too polite to tell my readers (such as they are) to shut up about it.