This week will be historic, at least in our house. My son, Mike Van Sickle, will make his PGA Tour debut, playing as an amateur in the John Deere Classic, courtesy of a sponsor’s exemption. I’ll be there with him — as his caddie.
It won’t be my Tour debut. I carried the bag for two-time U.S. Open champion Andy North a few years ago at the U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee. Mike is going to play the U.S. Bank the week after the Deere, a home game of sorts for him because he graduated in May from Marquette, where he was a first-team All-America and received college golf’s Byron Nelson Award. One of Mike’s college teammates will loop for him that week.
I’ve got the leadoff spot, though. We’re a good team, I think. I carried for him at last year’s Porter Cup (Mike finished third), the Frank Fuhrer Invitational (tied for sixth), the U.S. Amateur (missed match play by a stroke) and assorted qualifiers over the years. I’m close to a scratch player, and Mike is at least a plus five. I would caddie for him more often, but I prefer to find a local caddie who knows the course, which might save him a shot or two. One or two shots could be the difference.
The challenge of being a caddie-dad is dealing with the job’s three ups: show up, keep up and shut up. The first two are easy, but sometimes the dad in the caddie can’t zip it. Four or five years ago, during a Western Pennsylvania Golf Association event, Mike hit a poor bunker shot that left him an impossible, miniature-golf-type 40-footer over a big ridge. I couldn’t help it. “That sand wedge is killing us,” I said as we walked to the green.
That club was a weak spot in his game then, and he didn’t need reminding. “You may be right,” he said, “but now isn’t the time to point that out.” Oops. That was a dad talking, not a caddie — mistake! I’m the father, but on the course he’s the boss.
I redeemed myself on the green. Surveying his line, I said, “This is exactly the kind of stupid putt you’re going to make on a day like this.” Mike rolled the ball over the ridge, where it turned hard left and barreled into the cup for a crazy birdie. “I can’t believe you called that,” he said. Then he handed me his putter, and we stood there for a moment, bathed in warm summer sunlight, and laughed.