U.S. Open: Local Chambers Bay caddies offer knowledge, advice about course that few know

They’ve lugged bags around Chambers Bay before, and now four senior caddies from the University Place golf course will be carrying bags in the U.S. Open.

Jason Gilson, Alex Milham, Chris Ming and Kellen Eakin will be on the bags for select golfers all week.

Gilson and Milham are paired with amateurs Jack Maguire and Davis Riley, respectively; Ming with China’s Liang Wen-Chong and Eakin, a former Curtis High and University of Washington golfer, will caddie the final man in the U.S. Open Field — Scotland’s Jimmy Gunn, who was a first alternate at the U.S. Open sectional qualifier in Memphis, Tennessee.

According to USGA officials, more Chambers caddies are being used for selective practice rounds or as a forecaddie, who works as a caddie but doesn’t carry clubs, but total numbers were not made available.

Riley, a recent high school graduate from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, contemplated what was good for his game when considering a caddie for his first professional event.

A local caddie, all of whom were handpicked by Chambers officials, won out.

“I thought it would be a good advantage to have somebody who walked it more than anybody out here,” Riley said.

That meant Milham, a 2005 Gig Harbor High School graduate, also would work his first major. Milham estimates he’s been a part of 2,500 rounds at Chambers since his employment began in 2007.

“I’ve put a lot of hard work in for eight years,” he said, “and it feels good to see it pay off.”

Riley played a second practice round Monday afternoon after his inaugural round Sunday. First impressions of the course are good; a tough but fair test, he said, in his first trip to the Pacific Northwest.

Milham stressed patience, and gave advice that includes hitting flatter clubs and striking the ball at a lower trajectory.

“Guys who adapt to that will adapt to links-style golf,” Milham said, adding that Riley had good strikes and putts Sunday.

Gilson, on staff since the course opened in 2007, called it a dream to work a bag at a major event. He also forecaddied for U.S. Open entrant Billy Horschel last month.

“It doesn’t get much better than this,” Gilson said during Monday’s practice round while caddieing for Florida State’s Maguire.

Gilson said caddies arriving Monday without prior knowledge or experience walking Chambers Bay might be in for a surprise. But the caddie services offered are a posh setup, Gillson said, including massage areas and gift baskets containing pain-relief items.

Those are not necessary for caddies who walk the course six or seven times per week.

“We’re in fantastic walking shape,” Gilson said.

For the majority of the playing field, Chambers Bay is an unknown. The course’s signature fast-and-firm greens makes for outside-the-box approaches, and Gilson will be noting how Maguire’s ball reacts.

“There’s definitely creativity that comes to play out there,” Gilson said. “Sometimes, the extreme shot is the easier shot.

“It’s only to their advantage to take the local guy.”