Chasing redemption with a stranger’s golf bag on my shoulder

Dave Hall of Steilacoom is a 2019 reader columnist for The News Tribune.
Dave Hall of Steilacoom is a 2019 reader columnist for The News Tribune. News Tribune photo

Why on earth would a semi-retired senior citizen like me take up working as a golf caddie? Good question, though it makes perfect sense. To me, anyway.

I’ve been lucky to work at Chambers Bay Golf Course since 2016, as a player assistant and starter.

I was a prior member there, so I knew some of the caddies. I secretly admired their swagger as they guided golfers around a U.S. Open course.

My own prior caddie experience consisted of carrying the bag of future women’s professional golfing great Nancy Lopez for three holes during an exhibition in 1970.

It was only three holes because Lopez fired me; I had no idea what I was doing, dropping her golf bag during her backswing, leaving footprints on her line to the cup on the green and leaving her putter behind on the last hole.

Despite my ineptitude, she demonstrated the classy attitude she displayed throughout her illustrious pro career, handing me $20 and thanking me for helping her out.

Maybe I was hoping to redeem myself four decades later, because when one of my Chambers Bay co-workers if I was interested in caddying, I jumped at the chance.

The caddie manager sent me out on training loops with senior caddies. Once I’d proven to be relatively knowledgeable about the course and the rules, they shared some of the secrets good “loopers” acquire after many rounds.

I supplemented my education by re-watching the movies “Caddyshack” and “Bagger Vance.” (It’s an unwritten job requirement to be able to fluently quote dialogue from “Caddyshack” at appropriate moments.)

Non-golfer friends ask me, “What does a caddie do, besides lugging a bag of clubs around the course?”

I compare a caddie’s role to a hunting or fishing guide; we show you where to hit your ball, choose the right club and read the line of your putts –plus keep you thinking positively.

At Chambers Bay, most first-time players also want to know “inside the ropes” stories from the 2015 U.S. Open. (Since I was a volunteer marshal at the Open, I have some pretty cool anecdotes.)

Being able to tell the history of the course, point out wildlife – bald eagles, coyotes and the occasional orcas are sure winners – and otherwise entertain your golfers is a prerequisite for success.

My favorite part of caddying? It’s when I can help turn a round of golf into a memorable experience.

A few Sundays ago, I looped for a woman whose last time at Chambers was miserable. This time it was Mary’s birthday, and I promised to cut 10 strokes off her previous score.

Mary and I clicked in that rare player/caddie synergy; I’d give her a target, and she’d hit her ball perfectly on line. We had a delightful time, and her score was 17 strokes lower than last time.

Last summer, I got to caddie for a women’s professional player during a Senior Tour event. It wasn’t Nancy Lopez, but getting another shot at carrying a pro golfer’s bag helped make up for my fiasco 50 years ago.

She not only didn’t fire me, she asked me to caddie for her again at this year’s tournament. I’ve finally been absolved of my sins.

Looping isn’t always fun, like when your golfer insists you carry his 60 pound pro-style golf bag, crammed full of non-essential gear, when it’s pouring rain and the wind is gusting at 20 mph.

Occasionally the person you’re caddying for is just plain disagreeable. Thankfully those instances are very rare.

I’m completely hooked by being a professional caddie. It’s easily one of the best jobs I’ve ever had, and I plan to keep looping until my ancient body gives out.

Dave Hall of Steilacoom is a former soldier, retired cop and full-time golf enthusiast. He’s one of six News Tribune reader columnists in 2019. Email him at dave.hall058@gmail.com