Augusta National caddie Carl Jackson on 50 years of Masters memories

April 6, 2011

[This story originally appeared in an April 2011 issue of Sports Illustrated Golf+, before Jackson caddied for Ben Crenshaw in what was Jackson’s 50th Masters.]

My First Masters

For my first Masters, in ’61, I got Billy Burke’s bag. Burke was best known for winning the 1931 U.S. Open in a 72-hole playoff over George Von Elm at Inverness Club. Burke also had a couple of top three finishes at the Masters in the ’30s, but by then he was well past his prime, and he knew that it was going to be two rounds and out for him. He told me on the first day that he was going to show me how to caddie in the Masters. He showed me how a caddie should get around the course during a tournament — where to stand and how to get the pin. We played the practice rounds, and he would not use the driving range. He did all of his work on the course. I think he stayed off the range to protect me. It was tough out there. You had three or four players hitting wedges. Some are hitting drivers. The drivers are coming out low. And the caddies are out there shagging balls. It was dangerous, really. Guys would get hit on the leg and the back. I can remember one serious incident where a caddie got hit in the head. But you learned how to watch your player, and while his ball was coming, you would search the sky for anything else that was coming in at you.

Brothers of the Bag

In February, 2011, we buried my brother Melvin. He was one of my six brothers to work at Augusta National. He was 50 years old and the seventh of nine children. Like many other kids in the Sand Hill neighborhood, he worked at Augusta Country Club and Augusta National. They were bait. A lot of kids dropped out of school and worked over there. Melvin worked in the bag room, but his back simply gave out on him. His back problem forced him to retire, and he was just getting his life straight when he died in his sleep. I let my brother Justin, who we call Bud, help me with the carts at the club when he was nine or 10 years old. He’s been a caddie at Augusta National for 34 years. My older brother, Austin, who they called Tweety, caddied for Arnold Palmer some in the ’70s. My brother Bill was on Ed Sneed’s bag in 1979 when he blew the tournament [won in a playoff by Fuzzy Zoeller]. Sneed had a three-shot lead with three holes to play and missed par putts on 16, 17 and 18. All he had to do was say to my brother, “Do you see this putt the way I do?” Sneed could have been the Masters champion if he had put his caddie in the game a little bit.

The Sheriff of Augusta National

On the afternoon of Oct. 19, 1976, my brothers Melvin and Bud were fishing at Rae’s Creek with four of their friends. All the boys in the Sand Hills neighborhood grew up fishing and swimming in the creek, which was full of bream. There is a fence dividing Augusta National from Augusta Country Club. We would walk about a mile from our neighborhood, crawl under the fence at the 13th tee at Rae’s Creek from the 10th tee of Augusta Country Club. That day the boys had caught 30 or 40 fish and were keeping them fresh on a line, even though earlier, Rogers Bennett, Augusta National’s nursery man, had spotted the boys — and Bud’s .410 shotgun, which he brought along in case of snakes — and told them to get off the course. One of the boys did leave, taking the shotgun with him.

Shortly after 3 p.m. the boys saw Charlie Young, the club’s white security guard, standing on the Nelson Bridge, near the 13th tee. Young, who had a gun shop at his house, was carrying a homemade 12-gauge sawed-off shotgun with a barrel that was less than 17 inches long. When the boys started running toward the 11th at Augusta Country Club, Young fired one shot and hit three of the five boys, including Bud, who was struck in the right knee. Young later told the club’s general manager, Philip Wahl, that his gun accidentally discharged as he was trying to load it, but he never told the boys to get off the course until after he had fired.

I wasn’t surprised that it happened. Charlie Young had a bad attitude. He thought he was John Wayne. He had it in for Bud. The two of them had a little run-in during the ’75 Masters, when Young scolded Bud for driving a cart too fast near a group of patrons. But that was not the way to handle this situation. Young could have held the boys in the water, called the police and have them put in jail for trespassing. That’s one issue I had with the club — they continued to let Young work there. He would put on a different air if members were coming through the front gate. But he treated a lot of the caddies rough after the shooting. I never had any problems with him because every time I came through the gate, I was in one of the member’s cars. But you could see that hate in his eyes.

Bud and the two others who were shot filed an $11 million lawsuit against the club and Charlie Young, but ultimately ended up settling for $69,000. Bud, who got $3,000, did not work at the club for the next 11 years, but today, at 54, he is one of the most popular caddies at Augusta National. Charlie Young died on Oct. 16, 1994, almost 18 years to the day of the shooting. He was 65.

Laddie at the ’70 Masters

In 1970 the NAACP picketed outside the gates of the club over apartheid in South Africa. They thought Gary Player shouldn’t be allowed to play in the tournament. Player and his caddie, Ernest Nipper, who was on his bag in ’61 when he won his first green jacket, received death threats. Nipper was so scared that he quit. So I ended up getting Player’s bag.

Gary and I didn’t get off to a great start. On the 2nd hole of our first practice round he told me he was going to make my job real easy. He said, “I just want you to clean my balls and clubs and keep up.” I was insulted. Gary was playing with Tony Jacklin, whose attitude was that the caddies didn’t know anything. On Thursday, Player hit a great drive on the 1st hole. When he got to his ball, he looked at me. (Back then we weren’t using yardage books at Augusta. I was going to let him pick the club he wanted and not say anything.)

He said, “What club do you like?”

I said, “Seven-iron.”

All through the practice rounds I had zeroed in on his game, but I had been getting attitude from him and I had been giving it back. He hit every club I suggested from then on until the 72nd hole. By the 45th hole he swore that I was the best caddie he had ever seen. At the 72nd hole he was in a tie for the lead with Billy Casper and Gene Littler, who was already in the clubhouse at nine under. For his approach shot Player asked me what I thought. I said a five-iron. He said, “Laddie, I’m pumped up — I think I can get a six there.” He hit a great shot, but it plugged in the bunker, and he dropped out of the lead when he didn’t get up and down. Casper went on to beat Littler in the 18-hole playoff.

The Augusta Race Riot

You had 90 to 100 caddies with families out there who looked to the Masters every April for some extra money. All the cooks, waiters and caddies at the club were black. For a lot of the caddies the politics didn’t ­really affect us that much personally ­because we were on the course all day. We had no problems with the members and their guests. But when things got really out of hand during the May 1970 Augusta race riot­ — six black men were killed by the police — all the members and their guests left town.

Lee Elder and 1975

I was in the golf shop when Chen Ching-Po, from China, played there for the first time, in ’63. Mr. [Clifford] Roberts was there to welcome him, and he did the same thing in ’70 for Sukree Onsham from Thailand. When Lee Elder showed up at the clubhouse in ’75, Mr. Roberts gave him a personal welcome and treated him the same as he did every other player. I was well aware of the historical significance of Lee playing in the Masters, so I made sure that I was standing on the 1st tee on Thursday so that I could see the expressions on the faces of some of the patrons and members when Elder hit his first tee shot. There was a different energy in the air.

Roberts Rules

We were known as his boys, in a positive sense of the term, especially the good caddies. At the club we had the Game, which was a match between two or three foursomes of members. They took it seriously. The caddies who were not so sure of themselves were always nervous around Mr. Roberts. When you made a poor read, he would say, “You are no such of a damn lie.” Then he would look around and ask for one of the more ­experienced caddies to read the putt. He didn’t want scared or timid people around him.

Mr. Roberts ran the club with an iron fist. I was the cart man from ’66 to ’72 and always made myself available when Mr. Roberts walked the course to look things over. He hated to see a dead tree limb or anything out of place. Almost every time I would see him he would wave for me. He would say, “You go and you tell that goddam greens superintendent that I’m out here on number 14 and to come out here this very minute.” It got to the point where I could be casually driving somewhere and the greens superintendent would see me coming and say, “Carl, is everything all right?”

Yardage Books

By the early 1970s Jack Nicklaus was using a yardage book at the Masters. Most of the caddies and many of the players, including Arnold Palmer, weren’t ready for that. Palmer thought the book slowed play. Caddies made club selections by sight. But they didn’t realize that Nicklaus was onto something. Sure enough, by ’74 the use of yardage books had started to eliminate good caddies and even my mentor, Pappy Stokes. Pappy couldn’t accept the change. A lot of our yardages were from trees and edges of traps. Some of the caddies couldn’t count, and some couldn’t read a map. In ’74 a half-dozen of us caddies walked the course and made our own yardage books. I was going to make that golf course my diploma. If I made a mistake out there, I wanted to know why.

The Greens

In the fall of 1980 the greens were resodded with bentgrass. There was a lot of speculation that the new greens weren’t going to survive the Georgia heat, but they turned out to be some of the prettiest greens you’d ever want to see, and they were easier to read than the old bermuda ones. They were also faster and 98% true, especially in tournament conditions. Most people in the gallery know which way those putts are going to break, but it’s when you get on that fall or break line that it becomes really technical. I call it the pull — the place where the green pulls to a certain area.

A Bad Read

The lifting of the ban on non-Augusta caddies in 1983 was inevitable because players like Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Lee Trevino wanted to bring their guys off the Tour. That’s understandable, but I couldn’t figure out why Watson made the change, considering the success he had with Leon McClattie, who helped him win in ’77 and ’81. In 1975 I was in the golf shop with Bud and Freddie Bennett when Watson and Ray Floyd asked Mr. Roberts if they could bring their Tour caddies. Mr. Roberts said, “As long as I’m alive there will not be a white caddie working at Augusta National.” In ’84 Ben and I were in the group with Watson and Bruce Edwards. Watson hit the ball well enough on Saturday to put the tournament away, but he couldn’t do it because he was asking Bruce to do what Leon could do. Bruce didn’t have enough experience on those greens. Watson had three or four borderline putts, and he and Bruce misread them all. Ben [Crenshaw] thought that it was a no-brainer to keep a man with local knowledge on his bag.

Jack’s Gambling Man

Nicklaus was his own caddie, really. He got his own yardages and made his own club selections. Willie Peterson was a good cheerleader. That’s not to downplay his contributions, but what Willie did best was gamble. He would take your heart. He was the best gambler in the caddie house. He wasn’t afraid of the money. He and Luke Collins, Ben’s caddie before me, came to the course to gamble. They loved to play cards.

Gentle Ben

In ’84, when Ben won his first Masters, we started the final round two strokes behind Tom Kite. We played a pretty average first seven holes. Ben was in the trap on the 9th hole, and he had short-sided himself to a front-left pin. Ben holed out for birdie, and I flew to the 10th tee. The pin there was back-left, and Ben’s approach ended up on the front of the green (60 feet below the hole). It looked like a sure three-putt. Ben had to play the ball so far to the right that Nick Faldo and his caddie had to almost lift their feet to let the ball go by. As the ball started rolling, I backed up and prayed that it would find the hole, but by that time I was down in the woods. That’s how long it took that ball to get to the hole.

After Ben finished in ’95, I said, “Don’t cry, Ben — we won the Masters. It’s going to be all right.” But he was sobbing like a baby. He was taking Harvey Penick’s death the prior Sunday really hard. It was time to exhale. Except for the year I missed in 2000 with colon cancer, I’ve worked every Masters since ’76 with Ben. There have been lots of special moments, but nothing matched that Sunday in ’95.

Man Friday

In December 1972 I moved to Little Rock to work for Jack Stephens, and for the next 18 years I was his caddie and personal assistant. I started caddying for him in ’61 at Augusta National. I left him in ’90 to go on Tour, but I came back to the Stephens family in 2003 to start the caddie program at the Alotian Club, which was founded by Mr. Stephens’s son Warren. After I got colon cancer, Warren helped me financially when I couldn’t work.

Clifford Roberts’ Suicide

I don’t believe Mr. Roberts killed himself. I was there with Jack Stephens many times during that ’77 season. Every Thursday we flew on Mr. Stephens’s Falcon 20 from Little Rock to Augusta. Mr. Roberts asked Mr. Stephens to meet with him several times. I know that Mr. Roberts was planning to build another nine holes southwest of the par-3 course. I think his body was found at the par-3 course because he was looking over the property.

Mr. President

Mr. Roberts and General Eisenhower were concerned I was too young to work at the club. I had quit school in the ninth grade to support my family. On the par-3 course when Mr. Stephens was hitting, General Ike would nestle up to me and ask, “Son, why aren’t you in school?” Then he’d catch me in another place and reiterate his point. Mr. Roberts asked the caddie master, Freddie Bennett, why a kid was here on a school day. Freddie explained that I needed to support my family.

A Day to Remember

In May 1978 Jack Stephens told me to call the golf shop and tell the club pros that he and I wanted to play them in a match. Instead I went over to the shop and asked the co-head pros, Bob Kletcke and Dave Spencer, if they wanted to play. Spencer said, “Hell, no, I’m not going out there!” So now people in the office were already on the phone trying to get in touch with Hord Hardin, the chairman of the club, to let him know that Mr. Stephens was about to let me play as his guest. I went back over to Mr. Stephens’s cottage and told him that Kletcke and Mike Shannon, the assistant pro, were going to play with us. I said to Mr. Stephens that the office was trying to call Hord Hardin, and Mr. Stephens said, “F— ’em.” We went to the 1st tee, and every employee of the club and caddie came over to watch us tee off. It was such a proud day for the caddies. I was the last to tee off. I hit my drive over the bunker on the right, and the caddies roared like crazy.

“You’re Away, Jack”

At Ben Hogan’s last Masters, in ’67, he was playing a practice round with Nicklaus. They were at the 10th tee with a big gallery. The wind was howling into the players’ faces, but Nicklaus got up there and flew his drive to the bottom of the hill. Hogan’s drive was a low dart that probably carried less than 200 yards, but the ball had so much spin on it that when it hit the ground, it took off. There were two balls down at the bottom, but one was 15 yards ahead of the other. Hogan and Nicklaus were walking side by side, and they both went to the longest ball. Nicklaus said, “Oh, that’s my ball back there.” He had hit this booming crowd-pleaser, but Hogan had hit it by him because of his experience. He did the same thing to Nicklaus on the 15th.

Tiger’s First Green Jacket

That week in ’97 reminded me of a couple of the times when Nicklaus was winning, where I thought he might shoot 25-under. In ’96 Tiger had played with Ben for two practice rounds, and he really did his homework. For two days Tiger hit the same putts as Ben did. A lot of guys start practice rounds following Ben around the greens, but Tiger was trying to absorb everything Ben could teach him. After Tiger missed the cut that year, he came up to me to say thank you because all of the pins were exactly where we told him they would be.