TOLEDO, Ohio — The promotions just keep coming. Damon Green was supposed to catch a Sunday night flight to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, so he could play in Monday’s Zach Johnson Foundation Classic, the golfer’s annual fund-raiser.
Wait, a writer asked Green. Are you caddying for Zach Johnson, your regular boss, or are you playing in the outing?
Playing, he confirmed.
“I’m a celebrity tomorrow,” Green said, sounding unconvinced.
Green was already well on his way to a small level of celebrity after his performance at the U.S. Senior Open here at Inverness. Green was well-known to tour players as one of the better caddies, having worked for Scott Hoch for years and then for Johnson.
But there’s more to Green than meets the eye; he’s also an accomplished player. A star collegiate golfer at Centenary College, he won more than 70 mini-tour events over the years, played in a number of Nationwide Tour events and once missed a two-and-a-half-foot putt at Q-School in 1994 that would’ve earned him his PGA Tour card. Nearly two decades after that fateful miss, he’s almost over the nightmares that came with it.
He looked like he belonged at Inverness and after an opening 67, and he played solid golf all week. He rose to fifth place in the middle of the back nine Sunday before a bogey-bogey finish dropped him into a tie for 13th . Still, the news was good. He won $52,370, and the top 15 Senior Open finishers are exempt for next year’s Senior Open. This was the 50-year-old’s third senior appearance.
Cinderella isn’t ready to give up the day job just yet. After Johnson’s outing, Green will fly with him to Akron, where he’ll resume his caddying duties at Firestone for the Bridgestone Invitational. Then he’ll work for Johnson at the PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club the following week. After that, he’ll finally have a week off and a chance to return home to his wife, Joy, and son, Gunnar, in Kissimmee. Trying to be a player and a caddie has taken a toll.
“I’ve only been home three days since May,” Green said.
All things considered, it was a pretty good week for Green. But like a typical golfer, he couldn’t shake off that bogey-bogey finish.
“It was fun for a while,” he said. “Golly, that’s sickening to do that. Pretty disappointing.”
Green had his share of Sunday highlights. After he holed an unlikely chip-in for birdie at the 13th green, he did his full-bore, two-arms-flapping, two-stepping Chicken Walk in celebration. It’s Green’s trademark move, and corny as it is, the galleries lapped it up. When he made a nice birdie putt at the sixth and went into Chicken-Walk mode, two fans huddled in the shade behind the green tried to imitate the move.
“Well, golf is so boring,” Green said. “You’ve got to do something to spice it up a little bit, and I’ve done that for years. Towards the latter part of my career, I was doing them for pars.”
It all started when he was playing the Space Coast Tour, a mini-tour run by former tour player J.C. Goosie who began needling Green. “He said, ‘You’re strutting around like a chicken with its head cut off,’.
“Then he started calling me Chicken and Chickenman.”
Green later became friends with Ken (Hawk) Harrelson, a former major league baseball star who turned to golf. Harrelson did what he called the “Hawk Walk” after making a birdie. So Green began doing his own version of it and dubbed it the Chicken Walk. (He got the Okay from Harrelson to do it so, no, there won’t be any trademark infringement lawsuits pending.)
“I offered to pay him $1 for it but he said, nah, yours is better than mine anyway,” Green said.
The Walk earned Green a little bit of airtime during NBC’s weekend telecast. The network showed his chip-in at 13 Sunday, and on Saturday it showed his approach shot at the 14th that rolled over the edge of the cup and his subsequent celebration. The cameras also caught him helping out playing partner Jeff Roth by raking the greenside bunker after Roth splashed out of it. “I was just trying to speed up play,” Green said. “I guess once a caddie, always a caddie.”
Green said he plans to go back to the Champions Tour qualifying tournament this year. Even if he wins a full-time playing position on the tour, he said, he would continue to caddie for Johnson. At least, he thinks he would.
Johnson was apparently pumped up by his caddie’s good play. During the weekend, he tweeted: “My main man Damon Green is at -4 tied for 3rd in the U.S. Senior Open. Honestly not surprised. He’s a freakish talent.”
Green said Johnson has promised to caddie for him the next him he plays in a senior event that allows carts.
So who caddies for the caddie? Green brought in a long-time golfing pal, Doug Long. “He’s still pretty green,” Green said, “But he knows my swing as well as anyone and can help me if it gets off.”
Long made no serious gaffes, Green said, but did have one funny one when he tried to hand Green his putter headcover instead of the putter, which Long held in his other hand. “I said, ‘What do I want that thing for? Give me the putter,'” Green said, chuckling.
His gallery last week included his wife, Joy, who pushed Gunnar in a stroller. She’s a former Golf Channel reporter-researcher who handles Green’s travel plans as he tries to juggle two jobs. They cope with the travel by using Skype. “It makes us feel like we’re together,” Joy said.
After Saturday’s third round, the family enjoyed a big night out playing miniature golf at Perry Falls Mini-Golf in Perrysburg, Ohio. Green was very tired but hey, when your 6-year-old wants to play mini-golf after behaving all day at the golf course, you take him to mini-golf. “Gunnar was doing the Chicken Walk there,” said Joy. “It was great.”
Green said he doesn’t have any specific goals as a player and just wants to compete. “I miss it,” he said. “It’s different caddying than playing. It doesn’t feel all that different to me, I guess, because I’ve been on the big stage with Zach, winning the Masters and winning tour events. It’s hard for me to adjust to the cameras and all, but it helps that I’ve at least been on this stage before.”
Green shot a pair of 70s on the weekend and finished at 278, six under par. “All in all, I guess if you told me before I started that I was going to finish around 13th, I’d have taken it,” he said.
What if he was fully exempt on the senior circuit and had to choose between caddying and playing?
“I’d probably still do both,” he said. “But it would be a nice problem to have.”