These are rancorous times in golf, as the game's elite struggle
to deal with the exploding fortunes and unprecedented attention
that have come their way. Some are dealing better than others,
as Andy Martinez demonstrated last week at the U.S. Amateur at
Martinez, 49, is the leather-skinned caddie who followed Johnny
Miller like a comet's tail through the 1970s and who has been a
steadying influence on Tom Lehman through his emergence this
decade. He has been a part of more than 30 victories on various
pro tours, along the way earning the respect of his peers while
building a pleasant life in Fairfax, Calif., with his wife,
Stacey, and their 19-year-old daughter, Alexis. Yet there was
Martinez last week, enduring the seven-day death march that is
the Amateur with a perma-grin while gently guiding a kid he
barely knew--David Gossett--to the championship. It was the kind
of unselfish gesture that gives one hope that the spirit of the
game will endure. "I wanted to give something back," says
Martinez. "That may sound trite, but this game has been great to
me, and this is my way of acknowledging how fortunate I've been.
When I think about the friendships I've made and the experiences
I've had...." Here his voice trails off and his eyes wander to
Martinez's road to Pebble Beach began in June at the FedEx St.
Jude Classic, in Memphis. Gossett, a 20-year-old playing on a
sponsor's exemption, introduced himself to Martinez on the
putting green at the TPC at Southwind. Gossett explained that he
was eager to qualify for the Amateur but had only seen Pebble
Beach on TV and was looking for advice on how to play the
course. He also wondered if Martinez could recommend a caddie.
In the ensuing week Martinez thought a lot about their
conversation. He thought about the good times and the success he
had had at Pebble, and he thought about Gossett, a polite,
humble young man with a bright future. "His first time ever at
Pebble Beach, and it's for the most important amateur tournament
in the world," says Martinez. "I guess I wanted to make sure he
had a good experience." So Martinez picked up the phone and told
Gossett that he had a pretty good caddie in mind. "After he
called, I wasn't jumping up and down, but it was close," says
Gossett. "I mean, he is Andy Martinez."
Martinez couldn't have known what was to follow. His man,
Lehman, spent the summer grinding hard for a spot on the Ryder
Cup team, and the PGA Championship two weeks ago capped a
wearying stretch of nine tournaments in 11 weeks. Martinez would
have dearly loved to take off last week, but he is a man of his
word. So, following the final round at Medinah, he flew home for
a night in his own bed and then blew down the coast in time for
the opening round of qualifying at Pebble Beach. Gossett started
double bogey-bogey, followed with a four-putt on the 7th hole,
then bogeyed the 8th and the 9th to turn in 42. "I wasn't quite
ready for that," says Martinez with a chuckle. "I thought this
was going to be a somewhat stress-free vacation, and then all of
a sudden we were in the middle of a crisis." Martinez helped
right the ship, not with any schmaltzy speech but with calming
instructions on where to drive the ball on the tricky 10th.
"That's the art of caddying: knowing what to say and when to say
it," Martinez says.
Gossett settled down and finished with an 80. The next day he
shot an educated 71 at Spyglass Hill to squeak into the
match-play portion of the championship. As Gossett began
marching through the draw, Martinez became a minor celebrity,
but he steadfastly deflected the attention to his player. "I
wanted it for him so bad," says Martinez. "I've experienced a
lot of great victories and a lot of bitter defeats, but for
David, this is the kind of thing that can change a career."
Still, Martinez allowed that the week had been "one of the most
satisfying experiences of my career."
On Tuesday, Martinez was scheduled to take a 6:15 a.m. flight to
Akron to hook up with Lehman at the NEC Invitational, a glitzy
World tour event that features a $5 million purse and the game's
biggest names. It was back to business as usual, though Martinez
has made it clear that he is anything but usual.
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK
Martinez said caddying Gossett was "one of the most satisfying
experiences of my career."