The Enduring Passion of the Maestro of Mondays
As he joins the Fire Pit Collective, the author looks back on a golfing life unlike any other
By Ryan French
“Jackson needs brain surgery.”
The words hung in the air and then hit us like a brick. Our son was not yet two years old. He had vomited almost every day of his young life. We had been to every type of doctor and finally ended up at a pediatric neurologist. An MRI soon followed, a day I will never forget. A doctor would not read it for a week but the technician who performed the MRI overstepped and gave us the preliminary report: Chiari Malformation type 1. My wife Steph is a nurse but had never heard of it. A frantic google search followed. (NEVER google a medical condition). After a week of little to no sleep, we sat with Dr. John Ruge at Advocate Children’s Hospital, in Chicago, and he told us our son would need brain surgery. A few weeks later, I started Monday Q Info.
The PGA Tour account started following me that weekend. The PGA Tour! It didn’t seem real. I called everyone I knew.
Let me take you back to the beginning of the journey. I was seven years old and watching the Stanley Cup finals with my dad in our basement. That is when the TV caught on fire. Literally; it actually burst into flames. My only memory is that my dad yelled at my mom to get the fire extinguisher. She yelled back that she couldn’t lift it. My dad ran up the stairs to grab it and quickly back down to put out the fire. That is the day I became a golf nerd. My parents promised to get a new TV the next week. Next week turned into a month, a few months, a year. They did not get another TV for 29 years. My sports information would come from the Detroit Free Press that arrived on our doorstep each morning. At age 10, I started reading the sports page daily, front to back. Mitch Albom was my favorite writer.
Our backyard was Alpena Golf Club, the local 5,800 yard muni, which I had been playing since I was five. Golf was my passion and I scoured the back page of the sports section looking for tournament results. It was the only place to find the scores at that time. I don’t think there were many other 10-year-olds scrolling to the bottom of the Ben Hogan Tour leaderboard to see how many of the names they recognized. As I got older, I would anxiously wait for Golfweek to come so I could flip to the mini-tour pages, examine the money lists for all tours, and wonder why former Tour guys were now playing the Golden Bear Tour. I would talk with my dad about the names I recognized. I couldn’t get enough information.
My dad was always my best friend when it came to golf. He was the CEO of a small company that put mentally and physically disabled people in the workplace. It was a labor of love for him, requiring long hours. He turned down other better-paying jobs. But he tried his best to leave work daily at 5 p.m. so we could sneak out for a quick nine at Alpena. We lived on the third hole. We would start on the fourth tee and loop back around to end our round on the third green, usually racing the sunset. My mom would have dinner waiting for us, and we would repeat that five or six times a week until I graduated high school. Each Friday, we played for a chocolate sundae from McDonald’s. When I was young, I played every hole as a par-5 (including par-3s). Dad would play to regular par; whoever lost paid for the sundaes. Slowly my par was lowered as I grew older. Eventually, we were just playing straight up. By 12 or 13 I was as good as Dad but couldn’t beat him. He was a very solid player, a club champion before he and Mom had kids. He stopped playing when my older brother Scott was born but started again when his sons picked up the game. Dad never really regained his former game, but he was always around par on such an easy layout. He would never let me win; he taught me that I had earn everything in this game (and in life). Each time I was close, Dad would remind me over and over of the stakes. I could never close the deal. I spent much of my allowance paying for his sundaes. I remember the first time I beat him—I made a par on the last to win by three. I was so thrilled. Dad hugged me and told me he was proud of me but, even at 14, I could sense he knew things had changed. He was a prideful, competitive man, and he knew our golf relationship had shifted. He was right—from that day on I beat him more often than not.
I was a fairly good high school player. I qualified for state finals a few times but no colleges were knocking down my door. I played junior college golf for Lansing (Mich.) Community College. We were a good juco team, went to Nationals both years. After that, I tried to walk on at Michigan State and realized that I had the desire but not the talent to make the team.
After college graduation, I began running a small group of quick-service restaurants in the Detroit area. I was still a golf nerd; the Internet had opened so many doors to expand the depth of my obsession. Weekly I was checking out the scores of the Hooters, Egolf, and Tarheel Tours. One week, I checked out the Canadian Tour scores—this was well before any affiliation with the PGA Tour—and saw they were looking for caddies for an upcoming event, the Jane Rogers Championship. I called the number on the website and requested the caddie master. He asked about my golf background and was ecstatic when I told him I played college golf. I had no real caddying experience, and certainly none at the pro level, but he couldn’t wait for me to come; this was my first sign that mini-tour life was different. I talked with Dad and asked if he was interested in joining the adventure. Little did we know at that time that it would turn into a treasured tradition.
We made the drive to a very non-descript course an hour outside of Toronto. We met with the caddie master, who let us skip the one-hour instructional class on such basics as how to pull a flag and to remain silent while players are over the ball. The caddie corps was composed of junior high and high school kids and retired folks who I wasn’t sure could walk nine holes, let alone 72.
A few moments stick with me about that first trip. My dad and I camped, which would become part of the tradition, and the morning before the opening round I wound up brushing my teeth in the community bathroom next to one of the players. Although I had followed mini-tours closely most of my life, I never really put much thought into the players’ life off the course. The financial aspect was never part of my thought process until that point. Here was a guy who, on any given day, could easily shoot 66 on any course in America and yet he lived in a tent. We chatted while brushing our teeth and he said he camped at every event to save money. That was the moment I realized that the “glamorous” life of playing golf for a living was anything but.
The next day we received our caddie assignments. My dad was given Mitch Tasker, an Australian who was playing well early in the season. I was with Michael Nicoletti, a Californian who had played college golf at Santa Clara and reputedly didn’t lose a single match throughout his entire high school career.
To see a pro golfer shoot 66 from “inside the ropes”—I use quotes because at most mini-tours there aren’t any actual ropes—made me appreciate how good these players really are. I had studied their scores for most of my life but to watch it up close drove it home. I wondered why some of these guys weren’t on the PGA Tour. And my mind reeled how good the Tour guys had to be.
When our rounds were complete, Dad and I went to dinner and talked about our experiences. We kept coming back to two things: how talented these guys were and that pro golf off the course was really, really hard. Tasker had expressed to my dad how much he missed home. He was alone in Canada and hadn’t seen his family in six months. Nicoletti told me he had been on the road for six straight weeks, driving from event to event. Both were struggling with the loneliness. This was a side of pro golf that very few got to see, and we had an all-access pass. We were hooked.
Tasker and Dad made the cut, but my guy putted terribly and missed by three. I didn’t have a bag for the weekend but the caddie master told me to come in the morning and he would find me one. When I showed up, I was told I would be with Ryan Yip, a promising Canadian from Calgary who had a good college career at Kent State. Oh, and he was leading. (Ryan didn’t use a caddie over the first two rounds to save money but since the Golf Channel was filming the weekend for a life-on-the-minis show the Canadian Tour forced him to take a looper, to give off a more professional vibe.) I met Ryan on the putting green; he was quiet but cordial. We walked to the first tee, a reachable par-4 on which everyone was laying up because of trouble around the green and, perhaps, because it was the first swing of the day. But Ryan’s consistently aggressive approach never wavered across our weekend together and he pulled driver. This boldness could have been mistaken for recklessness when he pushed his drive miles right into the woods. I had no idea what to say on that walk. An experienced caddie would have said something, anything, to lighten the moment; I just waited mutely for Ryan to break the ice but he never did. Somehow we found his ball and he decided to drop behind the woods and down a huge hill on the adjacent hole. I was not nearly composed enough to think of such a clever drop, let alone be able to pull off the shot he was about to attempt. Ryan had me climb the hill and give him a line on the pin. We had met an hour ago, and now I had a crucial task on an impossible shot with the tournament hanging in the balance. I wasn’t sure I wanted this responsibility, but with no choice, I climbed the hill and gave Ryan the line. He hit it to 20 feet, still one of the top five shots I have ever seen live. I just stared in disbelief. One problem: Ryan was now climbing the steep hill with his bag on his back. I had forgotten to take it with me. It was my first major caddie mistake (but not my last).
Ryan struggled a bit that day but played pretty well during the final round and finished in the top ten. The conversation flowed easier as the two rounds went on and at the end of the tournament we exchanged phone numbers. We would stay in touch. Mitch Tasker struggled and finished well back; he continued to talk with my dad about how much he missed home. He stopped playing professionally soon after and now owns a lawn care business back in Australia. I hope he’s content with his choice.
On the trip home, Dad and I discussed every detail of the week, such as how much Manuel Villegas (Camillo’s brother) swore and why current Florida coach J.C. Deacon didn’t wear a hat. They were both in a group with my dad. (He has dementia now but for some reason always remembers J.C. not wearing a hat and how nice he was; one of the cooler moments of Monday Q Info was sharing this memory with J.C.) Dad and I discussed the very average course, the lack of scoreboards, the slow player who earned the nickname the “human rain delay.” We decided it would become a yearly tradition.
Ryan Yip and I made plans for me to caddie in the same event again the following year. Dad and I made the trek and set up camp again but this time we were not surprised to see pros camping alongside us.
Dad got the defending champ Alex Coe’s bag. In the first round Ryan played well. Dad was in the group behind us, along with Hugo Leon, who played on the European Tour later in his career, and Graham DeLaet, who would be a President’s Cup team member in a few years. When I looked back, I noticed Dad and Alex were always 75 yards or so behind Graham and Hugo’s drives. Afterward I learned that Alex had the driver yips and following some very wayward tee shots early in the round he hit irons off the tee. Needless to say, they didn’t make the cut.
Ryan continued his good play in the second and third rounds. Beginning the final day we were three strokes off the lead, in the penultimate group. A solid first eight holes had us near the lead, or so we thought—there weren’t many scoreboards on the course, so it was an educated guess. On nine, Ryan had a tap-in for par but he missed it. It was no more than 18 inches. I thought we were done. As a caddie, you need to learn not to react but I failed, letting out an audible groan. On the way to the 10th tee, I remember saying something like,“Hey, plenty of holes left to play.” Ryan didn’t respond.
An actual scoreboard on the 17th tee showed we were down two strokes with two to play. The 17th hole was a long par-4, and Ryan missed the green to the left. He needed to chip it in….and he did. A fist-pump followed, which was very out of character. I loved every second of it, but there was very real tension. I don’t know what the pressure is like on Tour but I can’t imagine it’s more suffocating than that moment. Almost all the players on mini-tours are barely scraping by financially. A good check means a few weeks of not having to worry about how to pay the next entry fee. For Ryan, it also would validate all the work he had put in. We walked to the final tee knowing the stakes: We needed a birdie at the closing par-5 to have a chance at a playoff. Ryan hit two solid shots to get up near the green then made a great chip and a clutch putt for birdie. New life.
It was a three-man playoff again Trey Denton, a young pro from Mississippi, and Jeff Cuzzort, a talent from Michigan. We would play the 18th hole again. Ryan said he didn’t want to talk about golf. He hit his drive in the right rough and the walk to the ball was filled with conversation about which episode of the popular HBO show Entourage was the best. He then hit a 3-iron to 20 feet and, without saying a word about his excellent shot, continued the Entourage conversation. There was one problem: I’d never seen a single minute of Entourage. I just bullshitted my way through the conversation with a bunch of open-ended questions. Cuzzort nearly holed a bunker shot for birdie but it expired just inches short, leaving Ryan with two putts to win. He left the first one about six inches short and tapped in for his first professional win. It was a moment I will never forget.
What followed was mini-tour life defined. I started to unscrew the flag; I’d seen enough pro golf in my life to know this was the winning caddie’s reward. A tournament official hustled over and asked what the hell I was doing. They needed the flag. The caddie master did let me sneak away with my bib and it hangs on my wall to this day. Later, Ryan would send a note that is in a frame with the bib; at the bottom, he talks about his favorite episode of Entourage. I never found the right time to tell him I had not seen an episode….until now.
Ryan didn’t have any family there; they don’t fly in for wins at mini-tour events like they do on the big tour. The media covering the event consisted of a couple of local newspapers. There was a big check, though: $20,000 for the win plus $5,000 more for being low Canadian. After the check presentation and a couple of quick interviews, I asked Ryan where we would celebrate. “I’m going to grab McDonald’s and get on the road,” he said. “I have to get to the next event.” I watched him walk to his car, alone, with this giant check and his clubs. Mini-tour life. No family, no friends, no celebration. He had just won the biggest event of his life, and he was going to grab McDonald’s. That has always stuck with me.
The caddie tradition continued for Dad and me for almost a decade, on different tours across the United States. I wish I would have kept a journal. During a Hooters Tour event there was a storm at our campsite that left our tent up in the tree while we were at the course. Dad was on the bag for two hole-in-ones. The blisters—oh the blisters!— from Rock Barn in North Carolina, a course that wasn’t meant to be walked. The year we picked the campsite next to train tracks we didn’t get much sleep. The stories go on and on (but I’ll save them for future articles).
Ryan and I stayed in touch, and I caddied for him at the first stage of 2011 Q-school when he was medalist (a story for another day). I caddied for him in a Nationwide Tour event in 2012 (another story for another day). My golf nerdiness was at an all-time high.
The trips stopped once I became a married man. A friend had introduced Steph and I at a Halloween party. She knew little about golf, though she confided that she tried out for her high school team to impress a boy she liked, which I respected immensely. It didn’t work out: she got cut from the team, the boy wasn’t impressed and she never played the game again. I slowly introduced her to the depths of my golf nerdiness and now she can name at least five mini-tours. Kids followed, and Dad grew too frail to caddie 72 holes. I was still in the restaurant business running a group of stores; during down time I would caddie in a Monday qualifier here and there and my wife and I would let players stay with us if there was an event near our home in Chicago. The network of players I caddied for or housed grew and grew, so I checked different mini-tours and followed along with their careers.
Annette arrived in 2013 and her brother Jackson followed two years later. Annie was a great baby; she slept through the night almost instantly and she was calm and adorable. Shortly after Jack was born he started to vomit daily and he would cry and scream without either of us being able to console him. We went to doctors over and over again. One thought we were overfeeding him so we kept a detailed journal of how much he was consuming for the next 2 months. Nothing changed. We were told he had food sensitivities so we eliminated lactose, soy, and gluten from Jack’s diet. Nothing changed. A pediatric gastroenterologist was our next referral. He found nothing. Finally, our primary pediatrician wanted to rule out a brain tumor, which led at last to the proper diagnosis.
I remember Dr. Ruge telling us Jackson had Chiari Malformation. Steph tried holding back tears and I grabbed her hand, pretending I was okay, which I definitely wasn’t. There is no book or parenting manual that prepares you for being told your child has such a serious medical issue. Chiari Malformation is a condition in which part of the brain is down the hole in the skull where the spine meets the brain. The pressure put on that part of the brain results in variety of complications. For Jack, it meant he vomited daily. He often suffered from headaches and had other, less noticeable symptoms.
Around the same time we got the diagnosis, our long-time nanny was graduating from college and moving on to begin a career. The restaurant group that I was running went bankrupt. It was a lot. Stephanie and I decided that I would take some time off to stay home with Jack and Annette for a few months. I would help get Jackson back to health, start the process of finding a new nanny and take a little time to find the right job. Three years would go by without me working full-time.
A few weeks before Jackson’s surgery, I caddied in a Monday qualifier for C.D. Hockersmith, a friend I had lopped for a few times. I filled him in on Jackson and told him I was considering starting a Twitter account where I posted links to Monday qualifiers. C.D. gave me the encouragement I needed.
Jacks’ surgery went well, and after some time in the hospital he came home to recover. I started the Twitter account to give me something adult to do. I had zero expectations and my handle proves that. I put maybe 30 seconds of thought into it. I had this phrase in my head: a case of the golf Mondays. I tried @acaseofthegolfMonday but it was too long. I then tried @acaseofthegolf and somehow it wasn’t available. Twitter suggested @acaseofthegolf1 and I took it. It’s the worst handle in all of golf Twitter, and I’m not sure there is a close second. I would have put some more effort into it had I thought I might someday have more than 100 followers. Anyway, we were off.
I started to tell a few people about Monday Q Info and I had around 75 followers after a month. At that time, I would have thought 200 was a lot. There were literally zero expectations; I can’t stress that enough. If you told me then to write down the craziest things that could happen with the account, none of what has transpired would have been on the list, even in my wildest dreams.
In the beginning of the account, I planned to post just Monday qualifier links. Different PGA of America sections run Monday qualifiers in the area that any given Tour event is being held. Scoring was hard to find so I planned to bring all the links to one Twitter feed.
Slowly, I began telling the players’ stories. The first ones involved guys I already knew, just simple tales of staying in terrible hotels and similar stuff that seemed to resonate with people. I remember getting to a thousand followers and excitedly calling my wife at work. A thousand might as well have been a million.
Each Monday, I continued to tell stories of the players who got through. For a while, it was just through google searches. Eventually I started to connect with the players themselves, and I would ask them about their story.
People often ask me if there was a moment when I felt this was becoming a thing. The Monday qualifier for the Honda in 2019 is always my answer. Honda is the Super Bowl of Monday qualifiers. Over 20 PGA Tour winners were in the 2019 field. I had connected with the tournament director Brett Graf ahead of time and asked him to send me whatever information he could. I’d never had anyone feed me information from on-site before and interest in that Monday spiked considerably. They weren’t able to finish a playoff for the last spots before dark so it resumed the next morning. Brett sent me a picture of the players standing on the tee and when I posted it my notifications lit up. He continued to send me pictures and videos throughout the playoff, and more and more people followed along in real-time. I was nervously watching the clock because the time to take my daughter to school was fast approaching. I sent out a tweet asking if following a Monday qualifier was a good enough excuse for her to be late for school. The replies came in so fast that I couldn’t keep up and it was unanimous that I had to stay on-line and continue providing updates. I did, and my daughter was 30 minutes late for school. (When she finally got there she told her teacher, “My dad was doing something on his computer with golf so that’s why we are late.”)
From that Monday on, I would email the tournament director from each section where the qualifier was being held to ask if they would give me information. Some agreed, some never responded. Twitter followers would sometimes walk the qualifiers and provide updates. It worked well enough that for most playoffs I had real-time play-by-play. My following continued to grow.
Then came the 2019 Valero Monday qualifier. I got a message from a player saying someone in his group had missed a tap-in for eagle because he left the pin in and it knocked the ball out. Had that putt gone in there would not have been a playoff with six players competing for the last spot. The winner of that playoff was…Corey Conners. It was a great story that was about to become even better.
As the account grew and I would often tweet about the talent of the players in Monday qualifiers. Corey Conners validated that. Arjun Atwal had been the last Monday qualifier to win on Tour, in 2010. Conners went on to win that Valero, becoming only the fourth victorious Monday qualifier in history. I do not know exactly how many followers I gained that day, but it was a lot. I was now over 10,000, a number that boggled the mind. The last tweet about Conners was, “It turns out that a Monday qualifier winning is good for a Monday qualifier account.”
I stared at my byline on that first Monday Q article I wrote for the Tour’s website. I took a screenshot and sent it to my mom and dad. They called me crying. The mornings reading the golf scores on the back page of the Detroit Free Press, the thousands of emergency nines with Dad…there were many memories shared on that call. I was writing for the PGA Tour.
I started my own podcast soon after and found a sponsor to support my work. The community that helped me with stories grew daily. Wives, girlfriends, moms, grandmothers, brothers, friends and various others would send me pictures or stories of what was happening at the qualifiers. I continued to pull back the curtain on a side of golf many hadn’t known existed. My follower count on Twitter is over 51,000, testament to how much interest there is in the less glamorous sides of the pro game.
The surreal moments continued, and I was blown away by the support. I had tweets shown on Golf Channel and was asked to be on podcasts, including Andy Johnson’s Fried Egg; Golf Magazine wrote an article about my journey. To even type those things makes me realize how crazy this ride has been.
The hours I spent on the account were growing, but the money I was making was the same: zero. In fact, it was costing me money. I traveled to Q-school and a few Mondays, paying out of my own pocket. Those trips led to great content and more followers but it didn’t help us pay our bills.
As I’ve said many times before, I NEVER intended to turn this into a business. Stephanie and I had another tough conversation about whether or not I should keep going; it was probably our sixth or seventh serious talk. As always, she encouraged me to press forward but I decided it was best for our family to let it go. I truly loved Monday Q Info but at the end of the day it felt selfish to keep going. We had two kids to feed and serious medical bills; Steph is a Type 1 diabetic. I was bartending on the weekends but it was time for me to get a real job.
I called a few people who had helped me along the way to tell them I was shutting down the account and to thank them for their support. One of those folks was Sean Martin, a writer at the PGATour.com. When I broke the news to Sean he was adamant that I couldn’t walk away. He said he was going to see what he could do to help. Sean called back later that week with an offer to write a weekly Monday Q article for PGATour.com. Me? Writing for the PGA Tour? I checked the number a few times to make sure I wasn’t being punked. The pay wasn’t much, and with trips to a few Mondays I was still losing money because we had to pay for childcare when I was away, but it was enough encouragement to keep me going. I will forever be grateful to Sean. He did not have to go to bat for me and I wouldn’t be here now if it weren’t for him.
There have been so many special moments. I set up a plan to help a couple of kids at Christmas and amazing companies like Sub 70 jumped in. Followers wanted to help so a GoFundMe was set up, and we raised over $4,000 in half a day. We wound up giving 11 kids the Christmas of their dreams: new clubs, clothes, shoes, balls, and gloves. This was probably my proudest moment, even though all I did was organize things.
And now here we are. I have an amazing opportunity with the Fire Pit Collective. I got a text message from Matt Ginella that he and Alan Shipnuck wanted to talk. I had watched Matt on Golf Channel and read Alan for most of my adult life. And they wanted to talk to me? They told me about their vision for the Fire Pit and that they wanted me to be part of it. I was intrigued by the support and freedom they were offering. We traded messages in the days that followed and then set up one more Zoom to talk through the details, including a salary that would make a real difference for my family. Stephanie was off-camera listening. I told Matt and Alan I was in and they both cheered. When the meeting ended I stared at the screen, stunned. Stephanie was wiping away tears, and we hugged for a long time. I tried to speak but couldn’t. I still don’t know what to say. It’s hard to put into words what it feels like accomplishing something you had no idea was even possible. I didn’t get this far in my dreams.
I could write another few thousand words about the people I need to thank but I’ll try to be brief. It starts with my wife, a wonderful mother, partner, and nurse. For three years, she supported me and listened to me complain about the lack of live scoring at Monday qualifiers, all the while carrying us financially. This last year has been so hard on Steph—she lost her dad and she worked as a nurse in a hospital overflowing with Covid patients. The stress of exposure hung over us daily and at one point she spent two weeks living in a camper in the driveway because she had been exposed. There were tears, lots of tears. Yet every day she would come home and ask me what happened with the account, as if that was as important as her work. I am so lucky, none of this is possible without her. Next, I have to thank my dad, Howard. If he hadn’t instilled my love for golf this account would not be. A stroke and dementia have robbed him of many memories but we still talk almost daily, often about golf. Those caddy trips with him were the catalyst for this whole thing. Next, I need to recognize my mom Ginny, my biggest cheerleader. And lastly, thanks to all of you for the support and helping me build this community. It is nothing without all of you.
Jack is doing great; he is headed back to therapy again but spend enough time in a children’s hospital, as we have, and it gives you some much-needed perspective about life. The young girl in the room next to Jack following his surgery was never going to leave the hospital and yet every day her parents had to say goodbye to go to work to try to make a dent in the endless medical bills. We couldn’t imagine what that must have felt like. See something like that and you quickly realize your shit isn’t that bad. Aside from the big scar on the back of Jack’s head, you would never know he had brain surgery if you met him. Annie is a friendly, outgoing, and very busy seven-year-old. She makes us laugh often and occasionally makes us want to pull out our hair. Despite the occasional challenges, we are blessed.
I have worked my ass off on this account; my promise is that won’t change. I cannot wait for what is next. It is time to take the content to the next level: video series, podcasts, and long-form stories, all made possible by being on-site much more often. I have had so many ideas but no budget to pursue them. As of today, that has changed.
I cannot believe I’ve typed all these words. I can’t believe you’re reading them. It’s already been a helluva journey but this feels like a new beginning. I cannot wait to get started.
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