Traveling down memory lane for 2011
Farrell Evans, ESPN.com senior writer
Bill Haas at the Tour Championship, Sunday, Sept. 25
This is a three-part scene set at the 17th and 18th holes in the playoff between Bill Haas and Hunter Mahan. We're at the second playoff hole, the par-4, 453-yard 17th hole, where Haas has driven the ball into the right fairway bunker. Mahan is in the fairway.
Haas hits his approach from the sand. The ball comes out high and solid but carries over the green down into the water hazard. I'm standing to Bill Haas' right, near his parents, Jay Sr. and Jan. By this point, I was very interested in how they were experiencing this moment, where their second son was playing for $11.4 million. Bill Haas' older brother, Jay Jr., is his caddie.
There is a moan from the crowd around the green. None of the Haas clan is sure what this means. They can't see over the green from back in the fairway. Jay Sr., who won nine times on the PGA Tour, stays back in the fairway as his boys head toward the putting surface. But his expression is one of despair and disbelief that the ball flew so far and that his son might still have a chance.
Next, Mahan finds the green and has a 25-footer for birdie. Bill Haas finds his ball partially submerged in the water and miraculously lobs a wedge to 3 feet and saves par to force a third playoff hole. The look on Jay Sr.'s face is now one of sheer amazement at what he is witnessing.
The third time Jay Sr.'s face caught my attention was on the back of the green at the long par-3 18th during the third playoff hole. I'm standing next to him. He's focusing now. He's in the zone. He's now a participant, coaching his son from a distance to trust it. Bill Haas has a putt to win the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup playoffs.
Bill Haas sinks his little 4-footer and his dad is overwhelmed with joy. The look on Jay Sr.'s face is what you imagine from a proud father -- smiling, but not too broad because it's his son's achievement, not his own. He's golf's Archie Manning -- proud of both his sons -- the player and the caddie -- but full of humility.
In less than 30 minutes, Jay Sr. had experienced just about all the emotions that you can have on a golf course and I was able to see them all.
Rory McIlroy, 10th hole at Congressional CC during the U.S. Open on Sunday, June 19
The 22-year-old from Hollywood, Northern Ireland, dominated the tournament with a 16-under total for an 8-shot win on a defenseless golf course. Those are the facts, but my greatest memory is of seeing him on the 10th hole on Sunday. The 10th, a picturesque par-3 of 218 yards with a green too small for a hole of its length, was the most popular destination to watch the championship. All that you can see from the tee is water and bunkers guarding the narrow green. It's a hybrid or a mid-iron, depending on the player.
The last time that McIlroy had come to a 10th hole on a Sunday at a major championship -- two months earlier at the Masters -- he made a triple-bogey 7 that led to an inward nine 43 and an 8-over 80 that lost him the shot at victory.
On the 10th hole Sunday at Congressional, Rory hit a 6-iron that hit the top of the slope and finished less than a foot away from the hole. There was a big roar -- something like the one that he had imagined he would get on Sunday at Augusta in Amen Corner -- and the tournament was firmly in his grasp.
Tiger Woods after the first round of the PGA Championship, Thursday, Aug. 11
I have always been fascinated by the spectacle of Woods at a golf tournament. There are the big crowds that chase after him and the hold that he keeps on an event, even when it appears he has no chance of winning. Woods had started his first round at the Atlanta Athletic Club with three birdies in five holes, but after that he made one bad swing after another. For the round, he had five bogeys, three doubles, six pars and four birdies.
After signing for a 7-over 77, there he was near the scorer's trailer trying to explain his round to the media. I give him credit for talking to reporters whether he plays good or bad, but on this Thursday there wasn't a lot he needed to say. He had played horribly and unwisely. His swing and leg needed mending, but so did his mind. He was lost, and it was hard to tell from that moment when he would ever again find his game.
Charl Schwartzel, Hole No. 1 at the Masters on Sunday, April 10
Years from now people will still be talking about the four birdies that the South African made to win his first Green Jacket, but I'll always remember his chip-in from off the green on the first hole to start his final round. It was a 100-foot, bump-and-run hole-out with a 6-iron for a birdie. He had to run the ball through about 20 yards of rough and up a hill to a green with a lot of slope.
I had the feeling that I was seeing something special that would have great significance later on in the afternoon. To me, it was like seeing a turnover in a football game get turned into a winning score. For Schwartzel, the momentum was real. On the par-4 third hole, he holed out from 108 yards for an eagle. Then he didn't make another birdie until the 15th hole, when he started the run that would thrust him to a 2-shot win over Jason Day and Adam Scott.
Carl Jackson walking up 18th hole at the Masters, Friday, April 7
Over the last 20 years, many caddies have become rich and famous. Steve Williams, Jim "Bones" Mackay and Mike "Fluff" Cowan probably earn better annual livings than all but the top couple of tiers of PGA Tour players.
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Jackson isn't complaining about the life that he's had as a caddie. But he doesn't have the millions. He's still a caddie in the old-school sense as the caddie master at the uber-private Altotian Club near Little Rock, Ark. He even worked at PGA Tour Q-school this year for a little-known player who didn't get his card.
This past Masters marked Jackson's 50th year caddying at the tournament. His first Masters had been in 1961, looping for a gentlemen pro named Billy Burke as a 14-year-old kid from a modest background in Augusta, Ga. But since 1976, he's worked for Ben Crenshaw, helping him to green jackets in '84 and '95.
On Friday afternoon, when his man was headed to a missed cut, the 64-year-old Jackson walked up the 18th fairway before steady applause for his five decades of service to the tournament. I had helped him write down some of those stories through the years. Now many of these memories were running through his head as he prepared to help Gentle Ben read another green.
It was a good day for golf and a nice homage to all the unrecognized caddies who came before him. Jackson had never hit a shot for any of his players at Augusta National, but on this Friday afternoon he was as big a star as anyone who ever wore a green jacket. He had the stories to prove it.
Bob Harig, ESPN.com senior writer
Walking the last few holes at Firestone Country Club during the final round, it was apparent that Adam Scott was going to win. And it was even more apparent that many of the fans who lined the fairways were cheering for his caddie, Steve Williams. A few weeks earlier, Williams had been let go by Tiger Woods after a 12-year association that saw them win 13 major championships together. Williams was not pleased.
Spectators chanted Williams' name throughout the back nine as Scott, 31, shot 65 to win. "Way to call his bluff, Stevie!" one fan yelled. "How do you like him now, Tiger?" said another.
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It was a surreal scene, one that became even more surreal when Williams let loose afterward, basically rubbing the victory in Woods' face. (It was Woods' first tournament since returning from injuries.)
"I've been caddying for 33 years and I've never had a bigger win," Williams said.
That comment and several others raised a few eyebrows. It was clearly big for Williams to win with somebody else. But the way he went on about how "he'' won and how many victories as a caddie "he'' had almost served to backfire. Woods turned him into a sympathetic figure by firing him in the middle of a summer in which he was not playing.
But Williams seemingly ruined much of the goodwill he had engendered.
"It's the greatest week of my life caddying, and I sincerely mean that,'' Williams said.
Rory McIlroy, peeking out from behind the pine trees, with an Augusta National cabin in the background. Who even knew you could hit a ball there at Augusta? Wasn't it out of bounds? It wasn't, and the tee shot that McIlroy hit left and nearly into the cabins on the 10th hole led to a brutally harsh final nine holes.
McIlroy was tied for the lead when he stepped on the tee. That shot led to an epic meltdown that saw a four-shot 54-hole lead evaporate. The Northern Irishman went on to shoot 80 and finished 10 strokes behind winner Charl Schwartzel.
Tiger Woods attempted to return from the knee and Achilles injuries he suffered at the Masters, and his brief appearance at the TPC Sawgrass was a disaster. At the par-4 fourth hole, after an errant drive and a second shot that came up short in the water, his fourth after a drop also found the drink. Adding to the indignity was the fact that the ball hit the railroad ties and bounced back into the water.
Woods looked like an amateur trying to hit that pitch shot, which led to a triple-bogey 7. For the nine holes he played, Woods hit just one green in regulation with no birdies. He shot 42, then withdrew.
"I am having a hard time walking,'' he said afterward.
Woods would not play again until the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in August, missing the U.S. Open and British Open.
For a time during the final round at Royal St. George's, it appeared that Phil Mickelson was going to capture the major championship he was least likely to win, in the conditions he was most unlikely to embrace. The wind was howling off the coast, the rain started to fall and there was Mickelson, shooting a front-nine 30. It was spectacular stuff from Lefty, who admitted earlier in the week that he was going to embrace the conditions rather than fight them.
And it nearly worked. An eagle at the seventh hole tied Darren Clarke for the lead. Then two good chances at the eighth and ninth holes missed. But after a birdie at the 10th, Mickelson was 6 under for the day. He needed two birdies to shoot the all-time major championship record of 62.
But it all changed when Mickelson missed a short par putt at the 11th hole. He didn't make any more birdies and finished with a back-nine 38 to end up three strokes behind the winner, Clarke.
The Presidents Cup
Perhaps this will be the tournament we point to as the turnaround for Tiger Woods, specifically the best-ball format on Saturday afternoon -- where Woods actually lost.
The result did not do justice to the way Woods played. With partner Dustin Johnson, Woods lost 1-up to the Korean team of Y.E. Yang and I.T. Kim. But it was hard to fault Woods, although he seemingly could not buy a putt.
On a blustery day at Royal Melbourne in Australia, with cool temperatures and occasional rain, Woods hit 17 of 18 greens in regulation. The wind didn't bother him, and neither did the rain. He controlled his ball on a demanding course but simply could not make a putt on the difficult greens.
"That's the way I've been playing at home, man,'' Woods said while standing off to the side of the 18th green, trying to watch the remaining matches. "People don't understand it. That's what I've been doing. I finally did it out here.''
Two weeks later, he won the Chevron World Challenge, his first individual victory in more than two years.
Michael Collins, ESPN.com senior writer
Hawaii -- After getting invited to go to Pearl Harbor with a couple of pros and caddies, it quickly became apparent that we were not going to see sunken ships.
We pulled up to a building in three white vans and were instructed to turn off our cellphones and leave them in the vans. We were visiting the U.S. Pacific Command Center in Honolulu. (I'm not gonna to tell you exactly where it is because I don't know if I'm allowed to.) I can't lie, I had never heard of the place, but one of the officers told me the commander had flown one of the jets in the movie "Top Gun," so I just really wanted to meet him. I knew it was gonna be a good night when he walked into the room. The doors open and in he walks, everyone in a uniform stands and salutes, he walks right over to me (I'm already standing but I'm not slouching anymore).
"Nice to meet you, sir," I say.
"Great to meet you, too, and please, just call me Bob."
I couldn't help it. I just started laughing.
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He looked at me a bit curiously, and as the room went into a nervous hush, I said, "Nooo way. See, you can call me Mike because when I walk into a room no one stands up and salutes!"
The room burst out in laughter, including the commander. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, "Just call me Bob."
He gave us a tour of the facilities and even took us down in the command center and showed us how they could see every boat and plane in or over the Pacific. It was impressive, to say the least, and maybe if you ask me in person sometime I'll tell you some cool stuff I learned -- maybe.
I can tell you this: The world is divided into seven sections and the Pacific Command is the biggest. That makes me extremely happy because after having a beer and talking with Robert F. Willard, USN Commander, U.S. Pacific Command (I ain't calling him "Bob" for that part!), I feel safe and blessed to be an American. He really did fly in the movie "Top Gun." He was flying the Russian MiG.
If anything ever happens to me, find this man. He'll know what to do. Thanks for the tour and the brew ... Bob!
Pebble Beach, Calif. -- What if I told you two comedians met not through stand-up but through golf?
Sounds ridiculous, but it's true. I met George Lopez around 2002 at the old Bob Hope stop on the PGA Tour. I was caddying for Omar Uresti, and we played a practice round together. We liked each other right away, and a couple of years later when he was asked to host the tournament, he asked me to be his caddie. And after the week was over, he asked if I'd caddie for him at Pebble Beach.
We've been hanging out together that week playing/caddying regularly for five years now. This year was different though. New teammate Trevor Immelman and his wife would stay in the guest house. Actor/comedian Anthony Anderson and I would stay with George in the main house.
A black guy, a South African, a Mexican and a Black/Irishman all show up at a house -- sounds like the start of a bad joke!
Lopez hadn't made the amateur cut at Pebble since the first year he played, but this year was different. After putting up back-to-back 63s on Thursday and Friday, we were in position to make the cut for the first time ever as a team.
After getting off to a shaky start, George hits two great shots at the par-5 sixth hole, and from about 40 yards out, he flubs a chip. Now you should know Lopez has an amazing short game and he's complimented on it by the pros a lot. When he blades the next chip over the back of the green and leaves a downhill slippery chip, let's just say what was said on the walk to the ball was appropriate only for an HBO special.
The ball was sitting down in the rough, a horrible lie for a pro, an impossible lie for an amateur. He asked me where he should land it and I showed him the spot about a foot on the green, maybe 5 feet away from his golf ball. He opens up his 64-degree wedge, takes a couple of practice swings, settles over the ball and pulls the trigger.
The ball comes off the clubface and goes straight up in the air about four feet and forward about five when it lands on the green. I remember hearing one guy yell "NICE!" and as it made its way on the line, the crowd noise began to crescendo. The ball hit the flagstick at the perfect speed and dropped straight down in the hole. The place went ballistic!
He chipped in again on the par-4 13th for par, net birdie! And when the golf day was over, George and I had made our first cut together at Pebble. Unfortunately, we celebrated way too good at the Tap Room afterward. When we teed off No. 10 at 7:30 a.m. Sunday morning, there was ice on the grass. He didn't play good and I caddied worse, but neither of us cared.
Can't wait to do it again in 2012, my friend.
Texas -- I got to San Antonio a couple of days before the tournament week started because a good friend and caddie said he had a surprise for me. And he told me to bring my clubs.
A.J. Montecinos was caddying for Joseph Bramlett, and this was his hometown. I figured he had just gotten us on a really nice exclusive golf course, the kind he knows I never get to play. I was way off on that one.
To be sure, he did get us on a couple of nice tracks, but that wasn't the surprise. Valero Texas Open tournament director Craig Smith had an opening Monday morning for one of the "special" things they do for the pros when they come in to town, so when A.J. told Craig I was gonna be in town, it was all set.
Monday morning, I was going to be at Randolph Air Force Base, suiting up and going for a ride. Remember earlier when I told you Commander Bob flew a MiG in the movie "Top Gun"? I'm gonna fly in the jet that played the part of the MiG -- a T-38 fighter/bomber!
Through Twitter, I talked to a guy who had done it the year before, and he told me to make sure I had something to eat in the morning -- "peanut butter on dry toast" were his exact words. Of the three of us, I was the only one who ate breakfast.
I almost didn't get to fly because the guy who was taking my pre-flight blood pressure wanted to talk about Tiger, so the first time he took it I was all jacked up and it was too high. When the doctor met the three of us after our checkups, the first thing he said was, "I hope y'all ate something this morning."
"I was too nervous to eat," Bramlett said. "What should we have had?"
"Bananas, because they taste the same when they come back up." The doctor smiled. We did not.
Getting fitted for a flight suit and G suit is just like getting fitted for a wedding tuxedo, except you're not going to go 500 mph after the ceremony, in most cases. And so everyone is clear, fighter pilots don't walk like that because they're cocky. They walk like that because the G suit is snug in all the wrong places!
There are only two things I remember definitively from the training we got -- where the ejection pull was (between my legs), and to keep my knees bent when I hit the ground if I was forced to eject (that video will never leave my subconscious).
I assume that like lions they wanted to separate the weak one from the herd because Bramlett and Montecinos were going on a "dogfight" mission while yours truly was going on a bombing run.
We were supposed to only do three drops with descent angles of 10 percent, 20 percent, and 30 percent. I found out quickly that the G suit I was fitted for would do its job perfectly. Imagine an 8-foot python trying to squeeze the life out of each thigh, thereby forcing the blood back up into your brain. I also found out that my bottom lip can touch my knee from a seated position.
My pilot found out that a short, fat guy won't pass out or throw up as easily as he thought, even if he brought extra barf bags for the trip after I told him I wouldn't need one. Just for good measure, my squad did an extra bomb run at the 30 percent angle just to make sure I got the full effect. Thanks boys, but when we got back to base ...
... we got back with an empty bag. I still have it. I felt kinda bad for my pilot because when we got back some of the other guys asked, "How was it?!" Trying to be a smart aleck, I replied, "What does this mean?" showing my empty bag.
"It means your pilot wasn't very good." Ouch.
I asked Bramlett when he thought maybe this was something that should have stayed on his bucket list.
"As soon as the jet's wheels stopped touching the ground," he said. "Man, he asked me how I was doing. I didn't say, 'Take me back to the base' or 'Let's just go back and land.' I totally ..." His voice trailed off softly. "I told him to take me home. I literally wanted to go to my mama's house."
Montecinos just kept whispering, "Don't tell him I threw up on the joystick in his plane. Why did we do this?" over and over again. I have an answer for that question. It's because even if I would have gotten violently ill and been in bed for three days afterward -- I was none of those things -- how many times are you gonna get a chance to fly in a fighter jet?
Not much left on the bucket list after that.
St. Simons Island, Ga. -- The thing I'm going to remember the most from 2011 is when I decided not to take a picture or ask for an interview. I chose to stand back quietly, watching the fierce love a father has for his son, and the content look of a son for the pride he had given his father. It was at the McGladrey Classic, and Bud Cauley had just finished his final round. Walking with Bud's father, Bill Cauley, on Saturday for the third round was some of the most fun I have ever had covering golf. Bill Cauley is high-energy and passionate, especially about his son's golf. So when they found out that they were not getting a sponsor's invitation to the tournament for the final week and Bud Cauley would have to top-10 his way in, the roller coaster of emotions Bill Cauley was going through was intense. All while trying to watch his son play for what amounted to his tour future.
Now if you're gonna walk with Bill Cauley, you better be two things: in shape, and cool with a Navy diver's language. I got the language thing down at least. I've said it for years being out here, but the hardest job on tour is for someone outside the ropes to watch someone they're emotionally invested in work inside the ropes -- because you're helpless. A wife can't run over and kiss her husband after a double-bogey and tell him, "It's OK, baby, get 'em on the next hole."
The golfer would be the laughingstock of the tour. And a father can't hug his son in the middle of a round and say, "I'm right here with you. Do what you came here to do."
The strange thing watching Bill Cauley watch Bud Cauley ... it looks like Bill has taken all the stress and anxiety from Bud and kept it himself, so Bud can go freewheel on the course looking almost nonchalant while dad now has the nerves of a cat that's been in a dog pound for about 20 minutes.
Saturday had pretty tough conditions, and Bud Cauley could only manage an even-par 70, dropping him to a tie for 33rd going into the final round. As Bud Cauley made his charge up the leaderboard, I saw dad in the stands on the 18th hole Sunday, anxiously watching his son putt for birdie. When the putt missed and Bud Cauley tapped in for par, Bill Cauley knew his son was not going to Disney for the final PGA Tour event of the year. The emotional roller coaster was now departing the station.
Bud Cauley came out of the scoring area and went over to do some interviews; all the while dad was talking to friends and keeping an eye on what Bud was doing and fighting back tears. When Bud Cauley was finally done, the two men hugged. Bill Cauley, built like a linebacker, former Navy man and still someone I'd go into a bar fight with on my team, cried as he held his son. He cried because his son was going to be on the PGA Tour in 2012. He cried because he wanted so bad for his son to have the chance to play in the final event of the 2011 season, and that wasn't going to happen.
But mostly he cried because he was so proud of his son. At that moment, I was proud of both of them.
The 2012 season can't get here fast enough.
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