On this brisk Monday morning in San Diego, laborers gather by
dawn's early light on the corner of Mission Bay Drive and Damon
Avenue, waiting and wondering if the next pickup to roll down the
I-5 off-ramp carries the promise of a day's wages. Eight miles up
the interstate, a different breed of job-hunting early bird
congregates in a parking lot near the intersection of Callan and
North Torrey Pines roads, keeping an eye out for the late-model
Buicks that carry the dream of an $82,000 payday.
Patrick Keeley mans his post outside the players' entrance to
Torrey Pines Golf Course, site of the coming week's Buick
Invitational. He is comfortably dressed in a clean pair of
khakis, a windbreaker and tennis shoes. The pristine white towel
tucked under his arm and the Tour-issued ID mark Keeley, 38, as a
caddie. A veteran looper, he has worked the last three years for
Lanny Wadkins on the Champions tour. "Patrick is the most
reliable caddie I've ever had," says Wadkins, who has had his
share since turning pro in 1971. Unfortunately, high praise
doesn't pay the bills, and with Wadkins now spending many of his
weekends in the CBS tower, Keeley has been pounding the pavement.
At 7 a.m. he is alone at Torrey, but not for long.
By noon 14 caddies with Tour experience are loitering in the
parking lot, all eyes peeled for the Buick courtesy cars assigned
to the players for the week. "We're CWABs--Caddies Without A
Bag," says Scraper. The nickname is short for Skyscraper and
belongs to 6'8" Jerry Schneider, who, at 44, is back in the lot
this year after taking a 10-year break from being a Tour caddie.
What a difference a decade makes.
In 1993--or the year 3 B.T. (Before Tiger)--the total PGA Tour
purse was a little more than $53.2 million. That figure has more
than quadrupled to $236.7 million. "In a 144-player event there
used to be maybe 120 full-time caddies," says Andy Davidson, 41,
who remembers when, even at the majors, a job could be bagged in
the parking lot. (Davidson was hired by Bobby Wadkins at the 1985
PGA.) "Today there are maybe 175 full-time caddies."
Guys who don't have bags are up against not only one another but
also regular Tour loopers whose boss is taking the week off. "How
about us poor caddies," says Keeley, half-joking, to Marcel
LeBas, whose man, Harrison Frazer, is sitting out the Buick
Invitational after a hot start this year (two top 10s and nearly
$350,000 in winnings) in three events. "Don't forget," the
42-year-old LeBas says, "I have a four-year-old, a two-year-old
and 17 lean years out here." How slim are the pickings? In the
first four full-field Tour events this season, 584 golfers teed
it up. The combined number of bags snagged by caddies on-site?
Money (surprise, surprise) is the main reason for the shortage of
openings. Sixty-one players won more than $1 million on Tour last
year. Consider Matt Gogel, who finished 57th on the money list
with $1,089,482 in 25 starts, including a win at Pebble Beach and
two other top 10 finishes. The average pay scale for a Tour
caddie is around $1,000 a week in salary plus 5% of the player's
earnings (7% for a top 10, and 10% for a win), so on paper
Gogel's caddie, Bruce Clendenen, worked less than half the year
and grossed $119,274.10. With so much money at stake caddies work
harder than ever to keep their jobs. And when the player makes a
change--eventually they all do--the caddies are loath to leave
for a lesser tour. "The grass is so much greener," says Dave
Patterson, 51, a cigar-chomping vet known as Alaska Dave, who
started caddying on Tour three years before Sergio Garcia, 23,
At this year's Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, Cliff Robinson plucked
the only pro bag, David Sutherland's. The pair made the cut but
missed it the next week at Pebble Beach. Sutherland is not
playing in San Diego, so on the Monday of Buick Invitational
week, Robinson, 46, paces the Torrey Pines parking lot looking
for work. He spies Scott Simpson, the 1998 Buick champion,
slipping into the parking lot unnoticed. (Because he lives in San
Diego, Simpson drove his own BMW convertible to the tournament
instead of a complimentary Buick.) No sooner does Simpson pop
open his trunk than Robinson is there asking, "Are you all set?"
"I might be," says Simpson, which is caddie-speak for step into
my office. That indefinite maybe is the closest anyone comes to
getting a bag on this Monday.
Mother Nature must have mistaken the Buick Invitational for the
Pebble Beach Pro-Am this year, because while Pebble Beach, played
the week before, enjoyed glorious weather, usually sunny Torrey
Pines is pelted by rain on Tuesday morning. Yet even in a deluge,
tales of being in the right place at the right time keep a
caddie's fire burning. Joe Damiano, 47, trudged through eight
West Coast events in 1997 without a sniff before Tim Herron
kindly recommended him to Stuart Appleby. "Stuart pulled into the
parking lot at the Honda looking for me, but I wasn't looking for
him because I didn't know he was on the market," says Damiano.
"I told him we'd give Honda and Bay Hill a go," says Appleby,
"and we finished first and second." They've been together ever
In 1991, when Kenny Butler showed up 15 minutes late in this very
parking lot at Torrey, his pro, Brandel Chamblee, had already
found himself another man. Butler, now 43, did the same,
connecting with Jay Don Blake--and riding him to victory that
week. the muted sound of a cellphone rings from the depths of
Robinson's rain pants. As he struggles to juggle his umbrella and
find the phone, the anxious look on his face bespeaks the
scenarios running through his mind. Is it one of the golfers to
whom he had given his number? Or perhaps it is his wife, Debbie,
who "is ready to fire me from this caddying," he says. If it's a
player and Robinson misses this call, will the pro leave a
message or will he simply try the next number on his list? On the
fourth and final ring, Robinson answers. It's Simpson. Robinson
has the job. He thanks Simpson, hangs up, smiles and says, "I'm
going to go call my wife." Finally, a ray of sunlight on an
otherwise miserable day.
With Tuesday looking like a washout, Butler and Jerry Knapp, 45,
retreat to the Ocean Inn in Escondido. In addition to offering
caddies a special weekly rate of $385, the hotel uses floral
print bedspreads that double nicely as the green felt of a
blackjack table. "You should've seen it at Houston in '91," says
Knapp, referring to the year rain postponed the Houston Open.
"The caddies had two beds going for three days straight."
Meanwhile, perseverance pays off for Alaska Dave, who hooks up
with a Monday qualifier named Gibby Martens. And Alan (the Brit)
Bond is reminded that timing really is everything. "I was drawing
a breath to ask [10th alternate] Richard Zokol if he needed a
caddie," says the Brit. But before Bond could pop the question,
Keeley appeared out of nowhere, beat him to the punch and had the
bag. "The lesson," says the Brit, "is to ask, 'Do you need a
caddie?' and then say good morning." In the end none of the three
parking lot pickups at this year's Buick will go down in caddie
lore, as Simpson, Martens and Zokol all miss the cut.
Sometimes the secret is that there is no secret, just dumb luck.
Martin Courtois, 41, was fortuitously sitting downwind from a
conversation at Pebble Beach about Mark Brooks's caddie's moving
to K.J. Choi. "I made sure I stayed visible in case Mark was
looking, and an hour later he was," says Courtois, who has no
illusions despite having Brooks's bag at the Buick. "I know I
have a big target on my back."
The following Monday, Knapp is sitting outside Riviera Country
Club when Brooks arrives for the Nissan Open. "Hey, Mark, how's
Marty working out?" Knapp asks. "Great," says Brooks without
"S---," says Knapp, echoing the sentiment of his fellow CWABs.
Nothing personal, it's simply the way the game is played. Truth
is, the West Coast swing is always a tough place to find work.
The other tours have not yet started, so those caddies sometimes
come aknocking. Plus, players tend to sit tight until the Tour
moves to Florida in early March. "That flight from Tucson to
Miami is when players look over their scorecards and start making
changes," says Knapp.
No one gets a bag out of the lot in L.A., but the optimists will
say the trip west was a success if they networked with players,
laid the groundwork for the inevitable spring cleaning and
covered expenses by picking up loops for practice rounds (about
$100), carrying for duffers in the pro-ams ($75 plus tip) or
donning a headset and working as a spotter for television ($50 a
Mike Carrick is proof that hanging around the big Tour beats any
alternative. A fixture on Tom Kite's bag for 21 years, Carrick,
56, was blindsided by his firing on Easter Sunday in 2001. "I
flew home, licked my wounds and decided to try to get back on the
regular Tour," he says. "When I showed up in the parking lots at
Greensboro and New Orleans, people were shocked." Through one of
Kite's agents Carrick connected with a young buck who had just
won his first Buy.com event. "Hubert Green offered me his bag on
the Senior tour," says Carrick, "but I decided to gamble on the
kid." He hit the jackpot. With Carrick on his bag Jonathon Byrd
earned a promotion from the Buy.com to the big Tour, won the
Buick Challenge in October, banked $1.4 million and was named
rookie of the year. "I went from the top to the bottom and now
I'm back on top," says Carrick.
Gogel, meanwhile, offers instant gratification. The buzz in the
lot at the Nissan is that Gogel is in play. Following Friday's
round at the Buick Invitational, at which he missed the cut on
the number, Gogel fired Clendenen after nearly three years. "I
had to start hearing something different," Gogel says, "and I
can't fire myself." He offered his bag for the week of the Nissan
to Dan (the Punk) McQuilken, whose regular man, Tom Gillis, did
not make the field. The swoopers smell fresh meat when Gogel
pulls into the parking lot on Wednesday morning. "Can I give you
my phone number later?" a suitor asks as Gogel, walking with
McQuilken, strides toward the locker room. "Sure," he says
politely. "You and a hundred other guys."
Soaking up the sunshine, Alaska Dave takes a long pull on his
morning cigar. "Gogel likes a good cigar," he says. He, too, is
keen to speak with Gogel, but the 1st tee calls. Alaska Dave has
settled for a pro-am loop. "Hey," he says, bidding the brethren
good day, "it's gas money to Tucson."
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY TODD BIGELOW/AURORA $82,000 QUESTION John Glinsky was looking to make a big score at the Buick, but instead he failed to find a bag.
THREE COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY TODD BIGELOW/AURORA THE LIFE Waiting for a bag (top, from left): LeBas, Jim Freedman and Schneider. At the Ocean Inn, Butler (middle, right) and Knapp go for broke. Robinson (left) was one of three CWABs to score, with Simpson.
TWO COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY TODD BIGELOW/AURORA ON THE MAKE Butler (top, right) and Knapp shared a room, but would swoop each other, as Schneider (bottom, far left) tried to do at Torrey when Steve Jones arrived at the Buick.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY TODD BIGELOW/AURORA THE PAYOFF Though the practice round and pro-am were washed out, Simpson paid Robinson the Tour average (around $1,000).
"The lesson," says the Brit, "is to ask, 'Do you need a caddie?'
and then say good morning."
"Can I give you my phone number?" a caddie asks Gogel. "Sure," he
replies. "You and a hundred other guys."