The news of Steve Duplantis's death hit me particularly hard because I never expected him to grow up, let alone pass away.
A longtime caddie and one of the most colorful characters on the PGA Tour, he was killed early Wednesday in Del Mar, Calif. According to a sheriff's report, Duplantis stepped off a median and into the path of a taxi. He was pronounced dead at the scene. Duplantis, 35, was in town working the Buick Invitational for Eric Axley.
He was a throwback to an earlier, livelier era when professional caddies were a fun-loving, hard-living bunch. As big money changed the nature of the profession in the last decade, Steve had struggled to find his place, unable to hold down a steady bag. No doubt his reputation for partying didn't help. But as often as Steve was fired through the years, he had no shortage of friends on Tour. He had a good heart and it was impossible not to like him, no matter how often he screwed up.
Steve was never able to recapture the success he achieved in the mid-to-late 90's, his early years as a caddie, but he still took pride in his career on Tour. In a life cut way too short, he reached the upper echelons of the game with Jim Furyk, launched the career of Rich Beem, and was on the bag when Tommy Armour III set the all-time scoring record at the 2003 Texas Open. Steve spent much of 2007 caddying for Daniel Chopra before getting fired in late summer. Now that Chopra is one of the hottest players in the game, it's nice to think that Steve had something to do with his development.
Steve's unlikely journey to the Tour began at the 1985 Canadian Open, when he was 12. He lived in Brampton, Ontario, and had sweet-talked his mom into dropping him off at Glenn Abbey Golf Club for a practice round. For reasons that no one ever quite understood, Steve latched onto the group of Clarence Rose, an amiable old pro with a Carolina drawl as thick as U.S. Open rough. Steve was Rose's only gallery member that day, and they struck up an enduring friendship. Whenever Rose would come back to town for the Open, he would let Steve walk inside the ropes during practice rounds and sneak into the player dining areas.
Steve had always dreamed of playing pro golf, but his own career stalled at the junior college level. In the summer of 1993, Rose needed a caddie and Steve jumped at the offer. It would become his life's work, even as Rose reduced his playing schedule.
In late '94 Steve was hanging around the parking lot at the Anheuser-Busch Classic, trying to find a bag. A rookie named Jim Furyk, who had been stood up by his caddie, asked Steve to step in. Furyk came into that event in a grinding slump, having missed seven of his previous eight cuts, but he clicked immediately with Steve. They finished tied for 10th, with Furyk earning enough money to secure his playing privileges for the following season. That was the beginning of a fruitful partnership, and over the next four and a half years they enjoyed three victories, the 1997 Ryder Cup and a series of near-misses in the majors.
Furyk's success allowed Steve to dive headfirst into the hard-partying caddie culture. At the '95 Colonial, he met a stripper named Vicki with the gravity-defying proportions of Jessica Rabbit. After the first round, they spent the night together, and Steve crawled out of bed just in time to make it to Furyk's 8:17 a.m. tee time. He cut an unmistakable figure: bed-head, an inside-out polo shirt, leather dress shoes and no yardage guide to be found. It was a sign of things to come. Steve and Vicki were married after a whirlwind 19-day courtship, and the stormy relationship became only more complicated when a daughter, Sierra, was born in early 1996, two days after Furyk's victory at the Hawaiian Open.
Steve's life grew ever more turbulent when he became Sierra's primary caretaker, and somehow the fastidious Furyk put up with his caddie's chronic tardiness until March 1999, when he fired Steve after a traffic snarl delayed his arrival for the first round of the Bay Hill Invitational. When Steve reached the course, Furyk was on the 8th hole.