PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla., May 9 — PGA Tour caddie Adam Hayes had a hop in his step as he approached the 17th tee at TPC Sawgrass this afternoon. And who could blame him — he was bagless, relieved off his duties for one glorious moment.
“Let’s do this,” he said as he clapped his hands.
“Should I take my jacket off?” he asked no one in particular.
“You think an 8-iron is enough,” he asked his boss, Vaughn Taylor. Taylor nodded.
“Wait, let me take my watch off,” he said.
Finally, Hayes stepped in and swung.
Short and right, like so many others before him. “Bad club, dude,” he said to Taylor. Bad club indeed.
The caddies took aim at the 17th hole’s island-green during Wednesday’s Players Championship practice round, a longstanding tradition that allows the bag men one shot at glory — or at least a watch, the prize for closest to the pin. The result is a mosaic of low, hard hooks and high, weak fades, but also a share of remarkably well-struck balls that found safety 132 yards away.
Mostly, though, the caddie competition is like a NASCAR race, with the fans patiently awaiting a spectacular crash.
Matt Bednarski’s first effort qualified. When the southpaw caddie of Eric Axley let it rip, the result was as ugly as the rain-soaked day: a hard ground ball that pinged off a folded-up chair to the left of the tee box.
Thing was, Bednarski’s not left-handed; he was swinging the club of his left-handed boss. Bednarski then borrowed a right-handed club and hit a low hook that missed the green left. Still not textbook, but airborne.
How must Jerry Kelly have felt? He dunked three balls from the back tee before his caddie, Eric Meller, stepped up.
“Is that my last ball?” Kelly joked as Meller reached into his bag. It wouldn’t matter. Meller striped one hole high.
By 2:26 p.m., 26 of the 84 caddies who had played the hole had reached the green safely, a respectable number given the swirling winds and steady drizzle. Mark Sherwood, Fredrick Jacobson’s man, was tightest, at 9′-3″.
Michael Bestor, Dean Wilson’s toter, found the water, then took a creative mulligan. Instead of re-teeing, he took a running start from behind the tee and threw a ball toward the green. Short again.
Other caddies took the shot more seriously, sizing up the yardage like hardened veterans. But did any of them actually prepare on the range this morning?
“I would think not,” said Casey Kellogg, Ryuji Imada’s bagman, after safely lobbing one to the back-left of the green. “I would hope not. It’s all luck.”
This reporter’s favorite moment didn’t involve a caddie at all, but one of the Tour’s youngest stars, Camilo Villegas. When the flashy Columbian reached into his pocket for a contribution to a charity collection jar on the 17th tee, out came a turquoise snakeskin wallet.
That’s worth repeating: Camilo Villegas has a turquoise snakeskin wallet. — Alan Bastable