Monday, October 05, 2009

Wood-van-pelt Every year, Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher Mark Wood, the director of Golf at the Cornerstone Club in Montrose, Colo., caddies in a Tour event for Bo Van Pelt, his longtime student. Last week, Wood looped for Van Pelt at the Turning Stone Resort Championship. Here are his observations from his time on the bag.
- You have no clue what a caddie does, all the nitty-gritty toil, until you do it. The public never sees caddies showing up on Tuesday in a Biblical downpour, but there I was with Bo last Tuesday in the rain. Nobody else was on the course, and they were smart. We walked the front nine in rainsuits hoping to devise a gameplan for the holes. On seven, a 433-yard, dogleg-right par 4, we decided that Bo would hit 3-wood every day no matter what. Guess what? He hit driver every day. So much for gameplans.
- I had the best of both worlds. My teacher's badge got me into the locker room and the players' dining room so I could feast on good food, and my caddie badge ... well, actually, that didn't get me anyplace I couldn't go as a teacher, but it was cool to have both.
- I caddie for Bo to find out what's happening in his mind. There's no laboratory that mimics real competition. I learned that Bo can be too much of a perfectionist, which is so common on Tour. On Friday, he birdied seven of eight holes. On every putt, the hole looked like a bucket. That's the mindset that Tom Watson had his whole career. Ditto for Tiger. I suggested to Bo that he needs to always putt like that, thinking he'll make the first putt and not worrying about what type of second putt he might have. Well, on Saturday Bo wasn't so sharp. He bogeyed three holes in a row, including one par 3 where he dunked a tee shot. Bo was really hard on himself. "You can't be a perfectionist; everybody makes bogeys," I told him. He needs to really absorb that idea. Dick Coop, his mental coach who was at Turning Stone Thursday through Saturday, agreed. 

- Bo was like a doting father on the course. He was so protective and concerned, and he wanted to be sure I didn't goof up and bother his playing partners. On tees, he was always telling me where to stand.
- It was incredible to see how Tour caddies take care of each other on the course. On the seventh hole on Friday, Bo drove into a fairway bunker and hit his approach over the green. Rory Sabbatini and Jonathan Byrd had hit onto the green. Byrd's caddie came to rake my bunker to free me up for Bo's pitch back to the green.
- On Sunday, we played with Jeev Milka Singh. He's as good with the short game as anybody I've ever seen. He holed one wedge, maybe 120 yards, and seemed to stiff everything else in close range. He chipped in another shot. And every putt seemed like it was going in -- he's just a wonderful putter. That was in contrast to Bo. The one thing I learned most last week is that Bo needs to practice from within 120 yards. That's true with most players.
- Caddies are as afraid about losing their jobs for next year as the players on the top 125 bubble. Everybody's walking on eggshells.
- It poured the first three days, and man, it was hard working. An octopus wouldn't have had enough arms to keep everything dry -- the player, the clubs, the ball on the green, and myself too.
- Biggest oops moment: Before the first round, I thought Bo was starting on the 10th hole. In the rain, I ran back to the locker to get some gear just before going to the tee. I ran out to the 10th tee, but Bo wasn't there. Hmmm. I ran to the first tee. Bo was standing calmly. "I thought you'd quit already, before we even started," Bo said with a huge smirk.
- Second biggest oops moment: For the first round, I wore regular sneakers. On the fifth hole, in the downpour, Rory Sabbatini burst out laughing after looking at my feet. "You need help," he said. "You're feet must be drenched." Bo said, "No worries. We've already fixed that problem." That morning, aware of my shoe problem, Bo called Nike -- his sponsor -- and ordered a pair of Gore-tex tennis shoes. They arrived on Thursday night. Unaware of the present, I spent Thursday night in the hotel room blow-drying my shoes. On Friday morning, when Bo gave me my new shoes, I was thrilled. That was the greatest gift I've gotten in a long time.
- Saturday night, we went to a sports bar/restaurant near Turning Stone. It seemed like every player was there in his college colors, and every TV in the bar was showing college football. The hostess told Bo and me that we'd have a 20-40 minute wait for a table. I offered a waitress $20 for a table. Cash is still king.
- A bunch of players were talking about how they love the fall finish, especially the first three events, because they're all gambling hotspots. Turning Stone has a casino. This week the Tour's in Vegas, and the following week they go to Scottsdale.
- There were hardly any wives at Turning Stone. It's in the middle of nowhere and the weather is typically bad. Last year it snowed. So I asked one player whose wife did make the trip, "What the heck is your wife doing here?" He laughed. "This is her BellSouth warmup for the Masters." I didn't understand and had a blank look. The player continued, "She's at the casino all week getting ready for Las Vegas next week."
- Bo hasn't paid me yet, and I didn't ask him for any money. He did pay my travel expenses, and he always takes care of me for my work as his teacher. A few years ago, Bo promised that if he ever won, he'd take his family and my family to Hawaii for the Mercedes Championship. Well, right after Bo won in Milwaukee this summer, he told me to start packing for the islands. My wife and girls (ages 10, 11 and 13) are through-the-moon excited. But Hawaii won't be like last week. I'll be on the beach relaxing, not carrying his bag.

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