Wednesday, July 31, 2013
I was resting comfortably in my half-state -- not fully conscious, not fully asleep (and thus, most importantly, not snoring) -- when the announcement came over the sound system, summoning me to the caddie office. I was getting an assignment, and I was getting it right now. Most of the time, these things don't happen like a fire drill; typically, you get some measure of warning, giving you a little grace period to prepare, but that's not how it went down on Monday. It was good I'd brought all my gear in with me -- towel, water bottle, yardage book -- though I'd forgotten my sunscreen and peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the car. I was going to starve and burn.
Moments later, I was walking up to the first tee at Bandon Dunes (that's not just the name of the resort, it's also the name of one of the four courses on property). The course's clubhouse has a camera mounted on the side of it, and through the resort's website, you can log in and see live shots of the first and 10th tees, as well as the 18th green (available by clicking here). Whenever I'm scheduled to caddie there, I let my parents and Emily know what time my group is teeing off, so that they can get on their computers and see the back of my head from an indiscernible distance. I've tried coming up with a signal I can use to let them know it's me -- without making it obvious to anyone else around me that that's what I'm doing -- but this creative process is still in flux. A tip of the cap? The "Hook 'Em Horns" sign? Pulling down my coveralls and shooting the moon (this was a staple of my childhood -- minus the coveralls)? The possibilities are endless, and I want to be sure to select the best option.
My guest for the day was a younger guy, probably not that much older than I am, and he introduced himself as simply, "T...like the letter." I had no idea what that meant or why I've been so lucky to keep getting assigned to guys with unusual nicknames, but given that I was now, at best, in my seven-eighths state, I didn't have the awareness to care. It didn't help that T then hooked his opening drive way left, and when we got down to where it should've been, I couldn't find it. There I was, just moments removed from semi-consciousness, trudging through dew-soaked, ankle-length grass, failing to locate my player's ball on his very first shot of the round. This day had all sorts of promise.
Thankfully, one of the other guests in the group stumbled upon the ball, and I was off the hook. But it wouldn't take long for my shortcomings as a caddie to inevitably surface. On the fourth hole, T played a nice approach shot into the center of the green, leaving himself about 40 feet for birdie. Now it was time for me to read the green and tell him how his putt was going to break. Beyond carrying the bag, locating errant shots, and feeding your player's ego undeservedly, this is the biggest -- and arguably most important -- task a caddie has. For the non-golfers out there, the greens on a golf course are not flat like, say, a pool table; they are complex structures with sweeping slopes and subtle contours that make the ball move in all different directions. So an integral aspect of scoring well is to decipher those breaks correctly. Actually, think of it like putt-putt: you know how you have to figure out which red wall to bank your shot off of or which secret tunnel to send your ball through? It's the same thing in real golf, except the greens aren't made of Astroturf.
Reading greens is not like reading a book; it's rarely straightforward, and oftentimes, it's like trying to read Hebrew for the first time -- does it go right-to-left or left-to-right? And when you throw in Bandon's gusting breezes and the unquantifiable pull of the ocean into the equation (the belief is that the ball wants to break towards the water), it's even more confusing here. Because of that, guests lean on their caddies that much more to read their putts -- the thinking being that, because of the sheer amount of time they've spent on the greens, the caddies know something that the average player does not.
For most caddies, this is a welcomed responsibility, because a couple of good reads resulting in a couple of made putts can translate into a couple of extra bucks at the end of the round. But for me, it's a source of anxiety for a very simple reason: I'm terrible at it. I always have been. I don't know if it's something with my vision or what, but I just don't see the breaks that well. I can look at a putt from one angle and think that it moves one way, and I can then look at it from another angle and think that it moves the exact opposite. And even when I do have a sense of the accurate line, it's difficult for me to take what I see and put it into words so that the player can understand. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for my writing ability, but it's just not something I'm accustomed to doing. My mind doesn't process the information that way, and when I'm playing myself, I simply read it, aim it, and hit it -- all by feel.
And it's much easier to get in touch with that feel when your paycheck isn't dependent upon it.
Thursday, July 25, 2013
Another day, another scratch.
That's some more Bandon Dunes caddie lingo for you. If you're in the shack waiting for a job, and you decide to give up for the day and leave, that means you "scratched." I have no clue where the term comes from; my guess is that before everything was done on computers, there was probably an actual piece of paper on which you had to write your name, and if you chose to go home early, you had to scratch it off the list.
Regardless, I hung in until about 2 p.m., but by then, I was mentally toasted and had to get out of there. I was also eager to go to the practice center to work on my golf game. As I mentioned the other day, I am in the midst of arguably the worst slump of my golfing career. Given that, "eager" probably wasn't the best word to use a couple of sentences ago; "need" may have been better. I needed to go to the practice center, so that I could potentially squash the all-consuming feelings of inadequacy that are always present when I can't locate my game. I know that I take it all far too seriously, and that it's too closely aligned with my self esteem. I just can't seem to disassociate from it. This was part of my downfall a number of years ago when I attempted to play competitively -- when the state of my game was bad, it made me feel like I was a bad person, and it inevitably became too much to handle.
Ever since then, I haven't really played that much golf, maybe four to five rounds a year. I needed a break for a while after, and then I moved to Washington, D.C., where the weather was iffy and, more importantly, where my father wasn't -- meaning he was no longer there to pay for my green fees. I'd go to the range every so often, but never anything consistently. And while some people can pick up right where they left off after a long layoff, I am definitely not one of those people. Every time I would go to practice, it was as if I was in a slump, and I would have to languish through a couple of buckets full of hideous swings before I regained some measure of command. But invariably, I always did...it just took a little time. In a lot of ways, it was similar to my writing process -- things appeared hopeless at first, and they were never pretty along the way, but I would keep hacking away until there'd finally be a presentable product.
But that hasn't happened this time around. Not yet, at least. If anything, it's just continued to get worse and worse. Every day, I go to the range full of hope that the tip I read or the video I watched the night before would unlock the key, and every afternoon, I slam the trunk of my car in frustration, feeling even more defeated than before. I know that I've joked/complained about it a bunch, but on some level, the universe is looking out for me by not bringing me any friends, because if I were to go out and play these courses right now, it would be an absolute nightmare. I don't think I'd stand a chance of breaking 100. It's that bad.
This deterioration hasn't been some sort of gradual slide, as if someone were setting the mood with their living room's dimmer; this happened all at once, one flick of the switch engulfing me in total darkness. In fact, I can pinpoint exactly when the lights went out. It was mid-March, a seemingly endless winter in D.C. finally giving way to spring, and I went to the range one Saturday morning to knock the rust off my game. This was a typical, nothing-to-see-here weekend activity, and in most instances, I'd have no prayer of remembering something so mundane. But this outing was different, mainly because it was a decade-and-a-half in the making.
For the first time since college, I had a brand new set of golf clubs.
Wednesday, July 24, 2013
It's been a bit of a soul-searching type of day. I was out of bed by 5:27 a.m., but I moved a little slowly and wasn't out the door until 6:15 a.m., meaning I wasn't signing in until 6:45 a.m. It sucks to feel like you're running late when you've gotten up early enough to see ESPN's non-rerun edition of Sportscenter. Still, there were a few empty chairs in the caddie shack, and I thought my chances of getting a bag were actually half-decent. But as the hours passed, and each refresh of my online schedule kept revealing the same blank page, I slowly became resigned to the reality of another fruitless harvest.
The free time gave my mind ample opportunity to start thinking on a big-picture level. This is almost never a good thing. Today was no different, as I began questioning if I was doing the right thing by staying out here, if it was even worth my time, because all of this sitting was starting to feel ridiculous. I had been told beforehand, though, that there was no guaranteed workload, and once I started making my way through training, I overheard plenty of guys talking about having to ride the pine until you gain a little experience and earn a little seniority.
This is how I get my information, by the way -- I overhear it. Not only does the resort not tell you what's going on -- how the system works, what's the best way to break in, when's the best time to show up, how long it's worth waiting each day, etc. -- I literally have no friends who I can ask. As I explained before, making friends was neither a priority nor a concern coming into this; truthfully, I kind of figured it would just work itself out as I went along. Part of that plan was contingent on me actually caddying, though, when I'd be out on the course, working alongside other caddies and getting to know them organically, bonding over shared experiences -- like having to rake an entire bunker because it takes your player three swings from three separate locations to get the ball out. But since I've been spending most of my time sitting, that plan hasn't had much chance of taking effect. And left to my own devices in the caddie shack -- and I literally mean devices, as in, my phone or my laptop -- I rarely come out from behind the glow of either screen to try to get to know anyone.
Upon reading my post about the 2013 Bandon Dunes All-Caddie Nickname Team, my brother, Brian, and sister-in-law, Karen, gave me the suggestion of acting like an undercover journalist and exploring all of the diverse personalities of the caddie world. This was an exceptional idea, because a) it would give me something to write about besides having to get up early, b) it would be a catalyst to start meeting people, and c) you've got to figure the dude nicknamed "Crazy" has some outstanding stories in him.
Sunday, July 21, 2013
Yesterday was the perfect illustration of why I came out here, what I'm hoping to achieve, and just how difficult the quest for that achievement can be. It was British Open Saturday, the ideal day to sit around, be lazy, and never go more than 30 consecutive seconds without being under some sort of blanket.
The morning dawned as it always seems to in these parts -- cold and dreary. The first thing I do when I wake up is check the weather app on my phone in order to determine if it's a coveralls or rain suit kind of day. Because I never updated my default location, the forecast for Washington, D.C. still pops up initially, and in my half-conscious state, I'm often excited to see that it's currently 94°. Then I notice the deer antlers on the wall, and I remember where I am, and I begrudgingly swipe the screen over to Bandon. Surprise, surprise...it's 52° with dense fog. Oh, what I'd give for some oppressive heat and humidity.
I got to the caddie shack around 6:45 a.m. I'm late, and it's a packed house. The prospects of me getting an assignment were already slim, and it's not looking much better now. I'm actually okay with this. Not only do I want tomorrow off to watch the final round of the tournament in peace, but it's been a long week -- a week that centered around an opportunity that never fully materialized and the first Costanza-esque entry on my resume -- and on some level, I know that I'm sitting here just so I can say that I did.
By about 11:00 a.m., I've had enough. The tournament's telecast is over for the day, so this seems like a natural exiting point. As I turn on my car, though, I notice the clock on the center console. It's not even lunch time. I've been up for almost six hours, and I've done little else but sit and stare for all of them, so I guess that's why it feels a lot later than it actually is. But there's still a whole lot of day left. What am I going to do if I go straight home? Every other station on my TV is static, and I don't even have a guide to let me know what's on.
I give myself two choices, neither of which I want to do: head back inside and continue waiting for a job that may never come, or head to the practice center and work on my game. I know, I know...getting a free ride at a state-of-the-art, 55-acre practice facility at one of the best golf resorts in the world, where there are stacks and stacks of Titleists to hit, an expansive putting green, and a classy short game area sounds like an absolute death sentence. But I'm cold, I'm exhausted, and I'm unsure if I have the energy to accomplish anything in the 25 mph gusts.
Thursday, July 18, 2013
Getting up at 4:50 a.m. sucks. Getting up at 4:50 a.m. for absolutely no reason? Unless you’re Jerry Seinfeld's Nana trying to conduct urgent business at Chemical Bank, that’s just downright unconscionable—but that's what I had to endure this morning.
As I laid out in excruciating detail last night, I had to wake up before dawn today in order to be at the course for a 7:10 a.m. tee time. And after six unsatisfactory hours of tossing and turning and checking my bedside clock, I was up and at 'em and in the caddy shack a little after 6 a.m.
I’ve begun to develop a routine for the (far too few) days when I have an actual assignment. I check in; I fill up my water bottle; I thoroughly apply sunscreen; I check Twitter and Facebook on my phone because I have nobody to talk to. It’s great. When I get the 10-minute call to board the shuttle, I make a quick pit stop (largely because I’ve been drinking my water bottle in an effort to appear busy), which takes about three times longer than it should, due to the fact that I still haven’t figured out how to locate my fly without having my coveralls come in contact with anything around me that should only come in contact with Clorox.
After exiting the restroom unscathed this morning, I thankfully got on the correct bus that was going to the correct course. Because it was the same group of caddies (caddying for the same group of players) from yesterday, I was actually part of the small talk on the ride to the course for the first time since I’ve been here. This was progress.
The first sign of trouble, though, came once we got dropped off, and I noticed that the golf bag I carried yesterday was nowhere to be found among the rest of the group’s bags, which were all organized and staged, ready for their arriving players.
Wednesday, July 17, 2013
The only thing more awkward and embarrassing than being the new guy is actually doing something that makes it plainly apparent that you're the new guy.
Since I've gotten here, I've lived by those words with the same dedication and devotion that Marines live by their code; they've been my Bandon Dunes equivalent of "Unit - Core - G-d - Country." And thankfully, I've done a respectable job of upholding them, working hard to learn the ropes and prove my worth while simultaneously blending into the scenery.
Until this morning, that is.
As I've explained before, there are buses that shuttle caddies from the caddy shack to whichever course their guest is playing. Twenty minutes before your tee time, an announcement is made over the shack's public address system, detailing who needs to get on the bus and what course each person is going to. Because there are four possible courses (Bandon Dunes, Bandon Trails, Pacific Dunes, Old Macdonald) that are located in varying directions, there are commonly multiple shuttles waiting out front, and the overhead announcement denotes who is to get on which bus.
I was a little anxious about going out to caddy today, and I was closely watching the clock as it counted down to go-time. Well, when I heard the girl start to make the announcement, I immediately popped up and headed for the shuttle -- without paying much attention to which shuttle I was supposed to board.
Once you get on the bus, the drivers typically get on the radio and re-confirm to the office how many caddies they've got and to which course they're going. Sitting there, I heard the guy say, "Two to Bandon (Dunes)" -- when there were actually three of us on board, and I needed to go to Old Macdonald. This didn't stop him from starting to pull out of the lot, though, and as we approached the exit, I then heard the driver from the other shuttle say over the radio that she was missing one person, but she didn't know who.
That missing person was me -- and nobody knows who the hell I am.
Mercifully, we hadn't yet turned left onto the main road to go to Bandon (Old Macdonald is to the right), and I was able to hop out before too much damage was done. Of course, there was still the matter of the long run around the corner and the embarrassment of getting on the correct bus after I had so blatantly screwed up. Typically, there aren't more than three or four caddies on each shuttle, but for my walk of shame, there was not surprisingly a full house of seven or eight.
"Stellar listening skills," one person cracked.
On the bright side, maybe this blunder will help a few more people around here actually learn my name (the current approximate stands at three), although that can be a slippery slope, and I'm not of the opinion -- at least in this situation -- that any publicity is good publicity. With that in mind, I think it's best to keep doing what I've been doing, to remain rooted in my maxim that's gotten me to this point nearly unscathed.
After all, I'm a little scared to find out what they do for a Code Red around here.
Tuesday, July 16, 2013
We’re into Day 4 of this new “daily journal” approach, and in reading through the first three entries, I realize they haven’t really been that daily journal-esque; they’ve been more of the same style of articles I’ve been writing, and I’ve actually had to go back and write down some of the occurrences from the last few days in the notebook I’ve been keeping, just so I wouldn’t forget.
From what I can tell, there are two issues at play here. First, if I’m sending something out and hoping people will read it, I want it to be interesting. As the great Aaron Sorkin has said (and as I have referenced before), the responsibility of a writer or director or whoever is to keep the audience’s attention for as long as he’s asked for it. This leads directly into issue No. 2:
I haven’t been doing anything all that interesting.
As I mentioned the other day, it’s been slow going around the caddy shack, at least for those of us who are fresh out of our green Trainee bib. I haven’t had the chance to meet any new people or receive a completely underwhelming tip. Yesterday, minus water bottle fill-ups and restroom visits, I sat uninterrupted in the same chair from 6:15 a.m. – 2 p.m., staring at my computer, trying to be productive in the face of a couple of horrific Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston movies. After merciful back-to-back episodes of “How I Met Your Mother,” I finally gave up on getting a bag and went to the practice center for a couple of hours. Then I came home, made dinner (chili!), and had a Slingbox-Skype date with my girlfriend, Emily, to watch “Dexter” on DVR.
Riveting, I know.
Sunday, July 14, 2013
I woke up at 5 a.m. this morning. Like most everybody, my tolerance for getting up early has increased with age, though when I was younger, I couldn’t imagine that ever happening. I’d hear about people rising at the crack of dawn—and acting as if it was normal—and it simply didn’t compute. I hated those people and their attack-the-day mentality, and I never wanted to be one of them.
Yet sure enough, here we are. My tolerance hasn’t grown out of ambition or wanting to be up at and at ‘em, though; it’s come from necessity. With every successive job I’ve held, the alarm on my phone has gotten pushed earlier and earlier. Eight a.m. became 7:30 a.m. became 6:15 a.m.—as the college student in me slowly met his demise. Each time there was an adjustment period, but each time I made it through. The good thing is that it’s made certain situations easier to deal with. Early flights, early tee times…they’re not as intimidating or debilitating as they once were.
But early wake-up calls to go try and get a caddying job? No such luck. Five a.m. is freakin’ early. It’s mess-with-your-REM-cycle early. What’s funny, though, is that, armed with my built-up tolerance, I had a false sense of confidence, convinced it wasn’t going to be that bad. Then I started doing the math: to get eight hours of sleep, I’d have to be in bed by 9pm. The sun doesn’t even set here until at least 9:04 p.m. If I went to bed at my normal time around 11 p.m., I’d get six. And when you factor in all the instances I’d wake up in a panic, worried about how much time I had left, I’d get even less. All of this made my head hurt, and before I knew it, it was 10:30 p.m., and I was still sorting through pointless message board threads about Texas football.
T-minus 6 ½ hours and counting.
Saturday, July 13, 2013
This is a little strange writing like this. Typically, I spend hours and hours thinking, outlining, and rewriting (and rewriting again), hiding my words away until they’ve reached maybe, possibly, half-decently-written quality before I’m willing to put them out for public consumption (and by public consumption, I mean the approximately five to eight friends and family members who don’t instinctively send my emails directly to their trash folder). So this is an adjustment, and it’s not going to be easy to let go. But since things haven’t been working as I’d hoped, there’s no point in furthering the definition of insanity...
My parents have been in town since Monday afternoon, and they left this morning. That they ended up here at all was unquestionably a synchronicity or the stars aligning or some other term or phrase about the universe at work that my mother potentially heard on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday. My dad booked the reservations nine months ago, way before I began seriously considering coming out here to caddy. Actually, it was his booking of this trip that brought Bandon Dunes back to the forefront of my mind. At the time, I was in a miserable situation, feeling miserable the majority of my waking hours, unsure of how to turn the tide. And hearing my father talk about the place helped me reconnect with that yearning (do you ever yearn?) and gave me a sliver of hope that there was a way out. I also grew concerned about how I might feel if he were to come out here while I was still at my desk, intently watching the clock to ensure that I hit the mandatory 50-hour work week my former employer required (that’s another story for another time), wondering what the hell I was doing with myself.
Having my mom and dad come out was equal parts bitter and sweet. I got here the latter part of June, and their impending trip for the early part of July served as sort of the first mile marker of this experience. Whenever things got tough or other caddies failed to make eye contact with me, I could always fall back on the comfort of knowing that my parents would be here in a matter of weeks. It gave me something to hold onto, something to look forward to.
Then, just like that, it was over, and they were gone.
Saturday, July 6, 2013
I am standing in a pit of sand, pushing dirt around, back and forth, back and forth. The wind is howling right through me, driving the falling rain against my glasses, ensuring each drop’s descent is more horizontal than vertical. My lower back grabs with every movement, my cheeks are flush from the chill, and my feet are on the verge of incineration; you would’ve thought I’d taken The Proclaimers’ one-hit-wonder literally and walked 500 miles—then walked 500 more. I am 35-years-old doing the job of someone 20 years younger. I am doing it voluntarily, and I am doing it for free.
I am a caddy-in-training at Bandon Dunes.
Nobody said changing your life would be easy, and I’m certainly finding that to be true a couple weeks into this journey. Much to my surprise, though, it hasn’t been my anxiety’s greatest hits—money, writing, what happens next—that have given me the most trouble; it’s been the little things, the stuff I glossed over and dismissed as no big deal before all of this started.
Such was the case with caddy training. Obviously, I knew I’d have to go through some sort of educational process; they weren’t just going to throw me out on the first tee with the Dalai Lama himself. But on paper, the training didn’t appear to be all that demanding; basically, you just follow, or “shadow,” experienced caddies while they work. This gives you the opportunity to both see how the job is done correctly and to begin familiarizing yourself with the golf courses. Bandon Dunes has four 18-hole layouts, and you are required to shadow two rounds on each, for a total of eight rounds.
My goal was to approach the training as aggressively as possible, to get it over and done with in four or five days. This would not only allow me to start making money as a real, live caddy quicker, but it would help me feel a little more settled in what, to this point, remains an unnervingly foreign environment. I needed to begin building a new comfort zone and all that that entails—developing a daily routine, learning the job, maybe making some new friends—and my hope was that the training could be a viable first step.
It didn’t take long to realize, though, that as far as first steps go, this was going to be a big one.
- "It's not a lie, if you believe it." Those were the words of one of my generation's great sages, George Costanza, and the more of life I experience, the truer they ring. And while I still haven't found what I'm looking for, the search for my own personal "truths" is never-ending. Care to come along for the ride?