When you caddie at a course defined by ball-swallowing sand dunes, daunting forced carries and swirling breezes, your duties include more than just reading putts and cleaning clubs. "Half of what we do is psychology," says Sethe Weeter, 25, one of the 70 or so regular bagmen who make up the Ocean Course's unusually young caddie corps. That can mean loosening up a nervous guest on the range, or convincing a more seasoned player who doesn't think he needs a wingman that successfully navigating the Ocean Course is a team effort — even if your bag-toting teammate is only a few years out of college. Says 26-year-old looper, Ian Montgomery, "Sometimes you've just got to let your player know, 'Hey, bud, it doesn't do me any good to lie to you. I want you to play your best, so just trust me on this.' " Here, in the words of six Ocean Course caddies, is what it's like to sheperd golfers around one of the world's wildest and windiest tracks.
GRANT WHEELON, 31 Years on the job: 9
Hometown: Aiken, S.C.
Local knowledge: "Everybody over-reads our greens, including the pros. As a caddie, you have to be able to stand up and say, 'No, it's not a foot out; it's a ball out.' "
"Before starting here, I caddied at Augusta National for four years. The biggest difference between the two jobs? With all the hills at Augusta, it's actually a lot easier to carry two bags at the Ocean Course than it was one bag there. Most people hear the horror stories about this course, but when they get out here, they have fun. If you can't enjoy these views, go home. [Laughs] I think this is Pete Dye's best: big fairways and big greens. Miss your target and you're in trouble; hit your target and you'll make a lot of pars. The biggest mistake amateurs make is playing from the wrong tees — 6,200 yards plays more like 6,600 on a typical day. But some guys jump on 6,600 because that's what they play at home and then they can't even make the carries to the fairways. You grow the rought just a little bit out here, as we did last year for the PGA Challenge, and it makes a world of difference. We'd have guys miss the fairway by two or three feet and we were having trouble finding the ball — it really nestles. I caddied for Johnson Wagner here before the start of this season, before he grew the mustache. He really like the course. I've caddied for Dan Marino and former presidents. I got to carry Ray Allen's bag; his game's just as good as his jumper. At heart, I'm a beach bum, so it can't get any better than this job. We get paid to meet new people and take walks on the beach."
SETHE WEETER, 25
Years on the job: 4
Hometown: Brooklyn, Conn.
Local knowledge: "Out here you need to take some local advice, maybe skip a ball into a green every now and again. Another key: Bring enough golf balls."
"I'm in school here in Charleston to beome a nurse practitioner. This program I'm in now finishes in December. I don't know if I can continue to caddie after that, but I'll certainly try. It's not something you give up easily. It's hard to explain, there's just something special about this place. A lot of people think it would get old seeing this course every day — it doesn't. A couple Augusts ago we had record rainfalls and my players decided to keep playing through 45-mph winds and sideways rain. It wasn't cold, but it was impossible conditions. You couldn't even see the ball. Once it left the club, you didn't know where it was going. Some players are overmatched out here, but I like the fact that it's accessible to everybody. I caddied for a couple one time who both shot in the 160 range. That day was…well, it was a long day. [Laughs] A lot of people are intimidated just by playing in front of caddies. I'm not really sure why, but everybody says it: "This is weird for me playing with a caddie, it makes me nervous.' We're no better than they are; we just know the golf course better. I've seen three aces. The last one was just last week, at 17. His buddies were on the way to the 18th tee watching it happen. It was about 165 yards to the flag, and he skipped it right in there. The club selection? That was his call, but I'll take credit for the yardage." [Laughs]
MARK "FURNACE" BLOOMER, 32
Years on the job: 12
Hometown: Lansing, Mich.
Local knowledge: "If you get into trouble, take your medicine and don't try to do too much –a 3-wood out of the heather or the sand isn't a smart play. Just wedge it out."
"I've been caddying for 20 years and playing golf for about 25 years. I started when I was 12 at the Country Club of Lansing. I loved it — being outside and meeting new people every day. We just try to convince players to have fun out here and that a career round just isn't going to happen. If you can convince them to have fun, the good round will come out of that. Last year, on the Sunday that they canceled the Tour Event in Harbout Town [in Hilton Head, S.C., 100 miles south], we stayed open. We were out in near hurrican-force winds; it was probably blowing 60 mph. It was hard to walk, the rain was stinging, small branches were flying by us. The guys in my group weren't playing well, of course — it was just to say that they did. The wind affects everything out here, even putting chipping. You have to read the putt and then you have to factor the wind into the break. We try to explain that to people and they're, like, What? As a caddie, you're battling the heat, the wind, the soft sand under your feet. You're walking 6 to 7 miles per day, and that's an 18-hole day. Double-loop days, you could be looking at 15, 16 miles. After that, you go home and you're not going out that night. You're going to bed."
RYAN "RYBO" BOCCHINO, 34
Years on the job: 12
Hometown: Somerdale, N.J.
Local knowledge: "It's not about shooting a low score out here, it's just about being out here and enjoying the beautiful scenery."
"I wanted to work in the golf industry for a couple years after college, and it turned into 12 years. It's easy to do that down here. If you play golf, I figured you sort of know how to caddie, but learning this golf course was a challenge — especially trying to figure out the wind, which you can't ever truly do. In the third round of the PGA Club Pro Championship [in 2005], it was pouring and the wind was probably blowing about 40. I was in the last group. We got through seven holes and that was it. They called it. That was a rough day. How do most players deal with wind? Not very well. Even for us, who've been here forever, it's still hard to tee it up in 30-mph winds and know where to hit it. Put any sidespin on it and your ball is gone. I've seen some great shots out here — I've seen 13 of the 18 holes eagled. I've seen bad shots that end up good, but you also see good shots that turn out very, very bad. You can get the worst lies ever. I've seen a putter get thrown into the pond at 17 — a guy missed his putt and just tossed it over his head into the water. He said he needed a new putter anyway. Epic rounds? [Pauses] It's never really like, 'My guy just shot 65' — it's more like, 'My guy just shot 200.' " [Laughs]
PATRICK "PUDDLES" WRIGHT, 29
Years on the job: 7
Hometown: Northfield, Vt.
Local knowledge: "We get a lot of players who come from the north, who play at a higher elevation. They don't realize that playing at sea level here, you need to add half a club."
"I started here in 2005 during the Club Pro Championship; before that, I had caddied in a couple of Vermont Amateurs, but not much beyond that. The second day on the job here another caddie and I were driving back from putting ice and water on the fifth hole. I thought the kid was going to kind of casually drive through a puddle and all of a sudden he jerks the wheel left and I tumble out of the cart and land right in the puddle. Brandon Woods [the caddie master] nicknamed me 'Puddles,' and the name kind of stuck. Later on in the day, I was on the practice range. I was paying attention and tripped over one of the nameplates and spilled two baskets of balls all over the place. It wasn't exactly the best first day on the job. [Laughs] I've only seen one hole-in-one, and that came from a guy who had to get talked into replaying nine holes. He wanted to drink a few beers and watch sports at the bar, but his buddy wanted to keep playing. So we went out and played the back nine — he really didn't want to be out here — and the, all of a sudden, he makes an ace on 14. His buddy had paid for the replay and begged him to come out here. Good thing he did."
IAN "IMAX" MONTGOMERY, 26
Years on the job: 5
Hometown: Columbus, Ohio
Local knowledge: "Trust your caddie. Most players will, but you always get that person who is confident in what they do, and having met your for the first time, they have to get over that hump."
"I've caddied since I was 13. You see it all here, that's for sure. I've seen guys throw clubs, break clubs, helicopter a few down the fairway. It would take a pretty good arm to get one into the ocean. I've seen guys take a dip in the ocean in the middle of a round. They'd had a few cocktails and decided, 'Hey, I want to go for a swim.' Windiest conditions I've seen? It got to a point where a guy would be 130 yards out and I'd be like, 'Dude, I don't know if you can get it there.' I remember a stretch two summers ago, it seemed like three weeks in a row the heat index was 115 to 120 — just bearing down on you. If that's wind's not blowing to keep you cool, you're working for your money. My biggest tip? $1,500. Just a generous guy. He didn't really care too much about what I did. He just wanted someone to hang out with. I really enjoy the interactions with different people, and that somebody walks off the course and says, 'Hey, that's the greatest round I ever experienced. Maybe I didn't play as well as I like to, but you were unbelievable, and I couldn't have done as well as I did without you."