|ESPN.com: US Open Men 2012||[Print without images]|
|Vini Lopez, a former drummer for Bruce Springsteen, caddied for close friend Mark McCormick in his 36-hole sectional qualifier on Monday. The New Jersey club pro earned one of the four available spots in next week's U.S. Open at the Olympic Club.|
"And it finally happened," Lopez said. "Maybe if I were playing with Bruce before 90,000 people in Hamburg, Germany, I'd feel differently about it. But to me there's nothing like watching Mark hit great shots and putt like a demon and qualify for the Open. That's the dream for me."
Player and caddie lived it the hard way Monday, enduring two grueling rounds for one of four available spots in the Open field at Olympic. McCormick wasn't just fighting back the knee pain, and the emotions tethered to his last stand. He was fighting the urge to worry about his son, Ryan, the St. John's sophomore and New York City Amateur champ who was among McCormick's 70-plus competitors on the course.Ryan McCormick finished the first 18 holes at 2-over, or five shots behind his old man.
|Vini "Mad Dog" Lopez might not be your typical caddie. Said his "boss" Mark McCormick: "He's so jumpy, and yet he relaxes me in a funny way. I tell myself, 'Just don't be like him and you'll be fine.'"|
"It takes away from your ability to play," Mark McCormick said, "because your heart is over where your son is. But then it's, hey, you can't let yourself be with him completely. You have to stay focused. He's going to have a ton more chances."
Mark McCormick nearly blew his last chance. He bogeyed the 10th and 11th holes of his second round on Canoe Brook's North course, falling to 2-under and below the Olympic cut line. But he recovered to birdie the par-5 12th before getting the second shot back at the par-3 14th, the hole that earned his once-in-a-lifetime trip to San Francisco.Lopez was right there with him, every step of the climb. "We respect each other so much," McCormick said, "and we really play off each other. Usually you want your caddie to be calm and Vini is the opposite. He's so jumpy, and yet he relaxes me in a funny way. I tell myself, 'Just don't be like him and you'll be fine.'" McCormick was fine on the 14th green, ready to release a 2½-foot putt, when a rumbling truck forced him to back away. On the rebound, McCormick was preparing to fire when a barking dog in a neighboring yard forced him to pull back again. The third time was the charm, and the 4-under score of 138 was good enough -- by one shot -- to tee it up with Tiger Woods next week. Asked to identify the most prominent players he has played with in his club pro career, McCormick named Michael Allen and Andrew Svoboda. Told he might find himself in a practice round with Phil Mickelson, McCormick said, "Oh my God, that would be nuts. I probably couldn't tee it up." He almost didn't tee it up in the local qualifier, the round preceding the sectional. He was too busy at his club, Suburban, and called the Metropolitan Golf Association to withdraw. Ryan McCormick and some members talked him out of it, convinced him to call back the MGA and re-enter. It was the best mulligan of McCormick's life. "It will be really cool to hit shots in front of a gallery," he said, "rather than in front of two people." When Joseph Horowitz missed a 7-foot putt for par at 18 while Ryan and his mother, Linda, watched, it was official: McCormick wouldn't need to survive any nerve-wracking playoff. He hugged family members, friends, and his caddie. "Vini's the real celebrity out here," McCormick said. Lopez said he would cancel his band appearances to travel to San Francisco with his man. The drummer they called Mad Dog has been a longtime caddie and caddie master in Jersey, and he wants a piece of the big time. "When you're on stage at Giants Stadium with Bruce," Lopez said, "the lights are on us and it's total darkness in the crowd. You don't see the people, you hear them. At Olympic, you'll see everyone. The people are right there." The caddie wants to see Tiger and Phil more than the drummer wants to see the Boss. "Bruce calls and says, 'Hey Vini, I haven't seen you in a while, so why don't you come down and hang out?'" Lopez said. "Bruce calls me when he needs me." As it turned out, Mark McCormick needed him more than anyone did. On his way out of Canoe Brook, the club pro was carrying a USGA envelope that read, "Championship Information. Review Immediately." McCormick handed his Open invite to Lopez. "I won't ever fire him," promised the caddie's lower-cased boss.