This was later, when all the minicams were packed away and the
azaleas were tucked in for the night but the green jacket was
still on the size-42 shoulders of Tiger Woods. His mother, Tida,
had the floor at their rented house in Augusta still full of
giddy friends and relatives. She pointed to each one of them in
turn. "You make a toast," she would say, and Tiger's father or
friend or agent would make a grand toast about the way Tiger had
eaten the Masters whole, and the 21-year-old Mozart would take
another gulp of amaretto on ice and grin. Finally Tida said,
"Now you, Tiger. You toast."
Tiger turned and faced a frumpy 49-year-old white man wearing a
faded Grateful Dead T-shirt and a giant Wilford Brimley
mustache. The Masters champion raised his glass and said,
"Here's to you, Fluff. You were strong for me, and you were calm
for me. I couldn't have done it without you. And I want to thank
Not bad for a guy who started as a PGA Tour caddie sleeping in
his car and spent a lifetime of nights on the floors of Red Roof
Inns and was thinking about retiring a while back, before he was
thrown into the middle of golf's traveling mosh pit. "What Tiger
said gave me chills all over my body," Fluff says. "My eyes went
all watery. I'll never forget it."
Life is so strange. For two decades you are just a guy leaning
against a wall, waiting for your man to come out of the locker
room so you can do your job, nothing fancy. Then suddenly you
are the fifth Beatle, and everybody wants to know how you lean
against the wall, why you lean against the wall, and can we get
a picture of you and the wall together? VH-1 wants to interview
Fluff about the Grateful Dead, and he is about to sign a huge
sunglasses deal, and he has offers to write a book. (CHAPTER 14.
The Divot: Friend or Foe?)
Three weeks ago, the organizers of the Houston Open were trying
to find a big-gun pro to fill a spot in their pro-am. Tour
player John Cook asked, "Why don't you get Fluff? He's the
second-biggest celebrity out here." (And, with $125,601 in pay
and cuts of Tiger's winnings so far this year--including another
W last week at the Byron Nelson Classic in Las Colinas,
Texas--he's No. 84 on the money list, just ahead of Bernhard
Talk about your odd couples. Tiger has been alive 21 years,
which is exactly how long Fluff has been a caddie on the Tour.
Tiger is from California. Fluff is from Maine. Tiger likes Boyz
II Men. Fluff is a tie-dyed-in-the-wool Deadhead. Fluff has
flashbacks that are older than Tiger. Tiger is like a red
Testarossa, the shiniest and smoothest thing on the showroom
floor. Fluff is like a 1967 VW van with a dragging muffler and a
LEGALIZE HEMP bumper sticker. Tiger works out. Fluff is a
walking duffel bag, a pack-a-day smoker. Tiger plays Mortal
Kombat. Fluff protested the Vietnam War. Yet their partnership
"I think Fluff's the best caddie in the world," says Woods, who
picked up Fluff last August for his first pro tournament and
hasn't let him go. They have 10 top 10s, including five wins, in
16 starts. "He's a great caddie and a great friend," Woods says.
"I'm just enjoying the ride," says Fluff. You figure his 15
minutes of fame should be up by now, but he is a lovable
character people want to touch, sort of like Snuffleupagus, only
hairier. Fluff constantly stops to sign autographs, which is not
easy when you have a 40-pound bag hanging from your shoulders
and a cigarette in your left hand and you would like nothing
more than to set down your nearly half-century-old body and have
a seizure. Fame has not changed Fluff. Fame has changed
everybody around Fluff. He can afford the Hyatt, but he and his
longtime caddie pal Gypsy Joe Grillo, bagman for Steve
Elkington, still stay at places with a Denny's attached to them.
Fluff eats at the same dives where they knew him before he
started carrying Siddhartha's bag. We offered Fluff a clubhouse
parking pass one day at the Byron Nelson, and he refused it,
choosing to park half a mile away and shuttle in with everybody
else. "That's all I need, people thinking I'm special," he says.
"I just want to be a caddie."
That's all Fluff has wanted since he was 25. Before that, he
says, he wanted to be a Tour player. He was the star of the 1969
golf team at William Penn College in Oskaloosa, Iowa, where he
was known as Mike Cowan. He was the holder of the record
(29-33-62) at the Edmundson course in Oskaloosa and was a two
handicapper. But after leaving school, the guy his friends
called Hairy hitchhiked around the country, then returned to his
home state and became the assistant pro at Martindale Country
Club in Auburn, Maine. One day in 1976, when he got lost on the
way to a pro-am and decided to fit in 36 somewhere else, the
club fired him. That's when he decided to do what he'd been
talking about doing for years: caddying on the Tour.
His first bag, David Smith, missed qualifying at the Greater
Hartford Open. Fluff got $20 and 3% of Smith's winnings, which
worked out to a total of, well, $20. Fluff's first full-time bag
was Ed Sabo, who made a whopping $60,045 in his five years on
the Tour. One day Tour player Jay Haas gave Fluff a lift
somewhere and asked him how things were going with Sabo. "Well,"
said Fluff, trying to be diplomatic, "it gets kind of hard to go
out there every day and work for a guy you're pretty sure you
could beat two days out of three."
Two years into caddying, in 1978, Fluff hooked up with Peter
Jacobsen. "He was living in his car when he came to me," says
Jacobsen. "He had this huge beard with lunch from four days ago
in it and this old Pontiac and his dog, Shivas. I thought, Why
not?" They formed the longest-lasting player-caddie team anybody
can remember, spending 19 1/2 years together. "And never once
was he late," Jacobsen says. They were so close that Fluff lived
with the Jacobsens in Portland, Ore., several winters, doing odd
jobs around the house for his keep. "For about eight years," he
once recalled, "I basically had no home."
Which is what made the events of last fall so bittersweet for
Fluff. In the summer Jacobsen had hurt his back, which sat them
both down. But one night Fluff got a call. It was Woods, who had
won his third straight U.S. Amateur only hours before. "I'm
turning pro this week, and I plan on playing the next seven
events," he said. "How many of those can you work for me?"
You could have knocked Fluff over with a bong. "Well, I expect
just about all of them," he replied.
That first Tuesday morning, during a practice round for the
Greater Milwaukee Open, Fluff told ABC's Mark Rolfing that he
was on "just a temporary" job. Nine holes later he saw Rolfing
again. "Remember what I said before?" Fluff said.
"Yeah?" said Rolfing.
"Well, forget it."
"I just started seeing these f------ outrageous golf shots,"
Fluff recalls. "Just amazing. Tiger hit this flop shot over a
bunker--with almost no green to work with--that was just
awesome, incredible. Hardly any pro would've tried that.
Everything he did was completely fearless."
It took Fluff two days to get used to a few things. Like the
notion that a pitching wedge can go 155 yards. And that "It's
305 to carry that bunker" is not necessarily a bad thing. He
stayed quiet. Then, on Thursday, Woods hit him on the 1st tee
with "Whaddya like?"
Fluff tapped the driver. Woods hit it straighter than a 4-H
Club, and the ball didn't stop rolling for 334 yards. Woods and
Fluff went 60th the first week, 11th the next and fifth the
next. By the start of the fourth week they had made their
partnership permanent. "I want 10 percent on wins" was the only
demand Fluff made. "And you are gonna win real soon."
When Fluff broke the news to Jacobsen, he cried like a baby.
Fluff, that is. Jacobsen was numb. "It was like getting hit by a
tractor-trailer," he says. "It was complete shock. But I'm happy
for Fluff. He's got the kid who is, without a doubt, the Man out
here. It couldn't have happened to a better guy."
Fluff was right, of course. Young Master Woods won in his fifth
start, and his seventh, and his first start of 1997, and then
the jaw-dropper at Augusta, and again last week with his ho-hum
two-shot victory over Lee Rinker. Woods is winning so easily and
matter-of-factly that Fluff, who in nine months has nearly
equaled the win total of his first 20 years on the Tour, is
becoming blase about it. "He does his job, I do my job, and we
go," Fluff said after the win in Las Colinas. "People ask me if
I'm amazed. I'm not amazed. This is how good I think he is."
Yawn. Another week, another 32 large.
Of course, a lot of people say that a caddie is to Tiger Woods
what the Wonderbra is to Tyra Banks, but a lot of Tour pros
disagree. Paul Azinger says the biggest change in Woods from his
amateur days, when he made only five cuts in 14 pro tournaments,
is that now "he's got a real pro clubbing him. You don't know
what a difference that makes."
On Sunday at Pebble Beach this January, at the 209-yard, par-3
17th hole, Woods was trailing Mark O'Meara by two shots. "I
figured it was six-iron," says Woods. "Hit it about seven to 10
feet past the hole and hope to make the putt, no big deal. But
Fluff goes, 'Yeah, but if you want to stuff it in there, you
gotta hit seven-iron.' So I changed, and I hit it to about three
feet and made birdie. He's a pretty mellow guy, and it helps to
have a guy who's mellow and yet who can speak up and say his
opinion when he has to."
The 15th hole last Sunday was typical of how they do it. With
Woods's ball lying next to a drain in the right rough and the
Byron Nelson Classic up for grabs, the two of them hashed over
the situation for almost two minutes. A lot of caddies, handed a
Brinks truck like Tiger, might go a month without doing much
more than nod yes. But Fluff's been around too long for that.
They chose not to get a free drop from the drain, and Woods
punched a wicked six-iron that rolled eight feet from the pin.
He missed the putt, and they talked about that too. "I think we
had it read right," Fluff said later. "As we walked off the
green, Tiger told me he pushed it just a hair. He's very honest
with me. If it's a bad read, he tells me it's a bad read. If he
mishits it, he tells me, so I don't feel like I misread it."
Not that Fluff can't golf his own ball with distinction. Last
week he took an afternoon off to play Dallas's luxurious Royal
Oaks. Woods bet him $20 he wouldn't shoot 81. Fluff didn't. He
shot 71. Tiger's score that day in the Nelson pro-am was 74. "I
can't wait to get to the 1st tee tomorrow," Fluff said.
Of course, Fluff says that every day. According to a survey
reported in USA Today, the average American would pay $7,800 to
carry Tiger's bag for one day. If Fluff plays this thing right,
he could clear about $40,000 a week. And no heavy lifting!
"Look, I never made this change for money," Fluff says of his
switch to Woods. "I was doing fine for money. Peter treated me
like a king. I made it for history. And now I've got the best
seat in the house."
It's some sight: Tiger, with those long, young strides, followed
closely by Fluff, with his stumpy legs, quick-stepping to keep
up. Watching Fluff on an uphill par-5, you are not sure he is
going to make it without benefit of an escalator. His back ails
him some, and last year at the Nelson he looked so exhausted
from the heat that Jacobsen asked some paramedics to check him
out on the tee box. In fact, five years ago Fluff was grumbling
about the end being in sight. "Two more years of this," he told
Bob Riefke, Justin Leonard's caddie, "and I'm gone." Now that
he's got the Man's bag, how many more years can he go? Fluff
pauses. "Forty, tops."
If there is any resentment among the other caddies because
Destiny came down and French-kissed Fluff, no one has said
anything. "Nobody deserves this more," says Mike Hicks, Payne
Stewart's caddie. "There were times when he could've left Peter.
There were some pretty down times. But he stuck it out. He was
Says Jacobsen, "I've never met a more consistent guy. I don't
think Tiger realizes how lucky he is yet."
Or maybe he does. After Tiger putted out on 18 at Augusta for
the win and the record low of 270, Fluff wasn't able to nab the
flag, which, by tradition, goes to the winning caddie. Last
week, in Dallas, the flag showed up in Tiger's hands, framed and
bearing this signed inscription: TO FLUFF, THE NO. 1 CADDIE IN
Gotta stop here. Fluff's eyes are getting all watery again.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY ROBERT BECK Ho Hum After taking off a month following his victory in the Masters,Tiger Woods, here driving the 11th at the TPC at Las Colinas, returned to action by winning the Byron Nelson (page 64). [T of C]
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK Though he's never been late on the job, Fluff can always find time to lie back and chill to Dead tunes. [Fluff (Mike Cowan) sitting on Tiger Woods' golf bag]
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK At the Nelson last week, Fluff helped Woods roll to his fifth victory in their brief association. [Tiger Woods and Fluff (Mike Cowan) looking at ball on green]
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK The inscribed 18th-hole flag from Augusta attests to Woods's--and Fluff's--greatest win so far. [Fluff (Mike Cowan) with Masters 18th hole flag framed and signed by Tiger Woods]