The Barracuda Championship Week
Day 4 of my journal caddying for Mark Baldwin at the Barracuda Championship
By Ryan French
“Are you going to replace any divots today? John (a player in our group) has replaced more divots for me than you have so far.”
Our day at the Barracuda Championship started with an alarm at 6 a.m., and we drove to the course at 6:45. We got to player parking (I don’t have a car, so I am riding with Mark), and we headed to our respective tents for breakfast. You pick up your bib at a table in the caddie tent. Also, caddies have incentives for such things as wearing a Valspar hat or using a Jani King towel. Both of those come with small monetary rewards based on a points system. I pass on both but do grab a new blank towel. (More free stuff!) After breakfast, we were picked up by the shuttle that took us to the range.
Mark’s routine begins with stretching a little, swinging a couple of wedges together, then starting with a half swing with wedges. He then moves to full wedges and works his way up from there. He hits about 50 to 60 balls total, just enough to get loose. Every once in a while, he asked me for the time to make sure he was staying on schedule. He then went to the green for a few putts and chips. Finally, he returned to the range for two final drivers, and we headed off.
The walk was long, as we started on 10, and along the way, we met Paul Barjon and John Greco, our playing partners for the day. We made small talk as we walked to the tee. When we got to the tee, I said to Mark, “We have nothing to lose, man, everything to gain, let’s just have fun.” He gave me a fist pound, and then he was announced. His first drive was perfect. (It was that way the entire day.) As we walked up the fairway, you could tell he was a little nervous (so was I), and the first wedge showed it. It was struck really thin and went into the back bunker; he hit the next 30 feet by and two-putted for bogey. “All right, man, time to settle in, all good,” I said. He nodded, and we headed to the next tee.
(A quick note on him hitting it in the bunker: It was my first PGA Tour rake job, and I was as nervous as hell. I’ve heard horror stories about caddies getting cussed out from a group behind them about a poor rake job. There are so many inexperienced caddies on the Korn Ferry and mini-tour events that poor rake jobs are commonplace. But this was the PGA Tour. Every grain I saw out of place, I would rake again. I didn’t get cussed out, so I guess I did OK.)
From that moment forward, Mark put on a ball-striking clinic. Our second hole required a layup off the tee. He then hit a wedge to eight feet and narrowly missed the putt. But it was a well-played hole, and it settled him down and got us rolling.
Another insight into some things you don’t see on TV without players and caddies being mic’d up: As we were over the wedge shot, we talked about how close to the water the 5-iron he hit off the tee had come. We talked about how we had used the wrong club and how we were going to play the hole the rest of the week. It was also a good lesson for me. I’ve learned to speak up and give Mark my thoughts, but on 11 tee, I didn’t speak up when I should have. He asked me if 5 was the right club, and I said yes, even though I thought 6 was the play. I normally would have spoken up, but with it being the second hole of my first PGA Tour loop, I didn’t. Lesson learned. I jotted down a note in my yardage book for the rest of the week.
Those types of discussions happen on every hole where there are some decisions to be made. After he hit his drive on 16, an almost reachable par-4, we discussed what we would do the rest of the week. We talked about the possible pin locations and whether that would affect our decision-making. You always have to plan as if you are going to be here on Sunday. Even though you are playing just 18 a day, you have to think about 72 holes. As I have caddied for Mark more, he has trusted me enough to have those discussions.
We made birdie on 13; it was the start of five consecutive 3s. We were rolling. When things are going well, we have to concentrate on not moving too fast or getting too excited. We stuck to the same routine as much as possible.
Caddying for Mark is so much fun. He doesn’t like to grind between shots. We talked about Dave Chappelle, our families, anything. It’s all business when we get to the shot—no better example than when we were on our ninth hole. Mark hit a wedge to about eight feet. As we headed toward the green, Mark said, “Are you going to replace any divots today? John (Greco) has replaced more divots for me than you have so far.” It was funny but also accurate. We had a good laugh, and I started replacing divots.
We made the turn at 5 points. The 2nd hole (our 11th) is a 621-yard par-5. Mark hit a 393-yard drive and a 255-yard 7-iron to the back fringe. (Holes are measured to the center; this was a back pin, so that explains the added distance of Mark’s second shot.) We made an easy birdie and got to 7 points.
Two holes later we faced the only tough spot we got into. Mark hit his 8-iron over the green, and it left us with a tough pitch down a steep slope. We talked about taking double bogey (or minus-3 points) out of play. His pitch ran just through the green, but it left a straight uphill putt from about 25 feet for par. He didn’t make it, but with a bogey being only minus-1 point, it was the right play. Avoid making worse than bogey.
We bounced back with a birdie at the par-5 7th, and for the first time we saw Mark’s name on the leaderboard. It was a cool moment. The biggest gallery we saw was on that hole, and his bunker shot to about a foot brought some cheers.
On our finishing hole, Mark hit a perfect drive, leaving a wedge in. When the wind died in his backswing, he tried to take a little off mid-swing and basically laid the sod over it. (Not like us, but as bad a wedge as a pro will hit.) That left him with a difficult chip over a false front. He ran it 10 feet by. His putt never left the hole and fell in perfectly. It was a great way to end the day. We gave each other a fist bump. Five birdies against two bogeys: a solid 8-point day.
We were T10 when we walked off the course and T21 after the afternoon wave had completed play. Mark said he wanted to hit some balls, but we decided to grab lunch first. We shuttled to the dining tents and repeated the routine from the morning. He hit about 30 balls, but the wind was blowing so hard he decided to call it quits.
What a day. I loved every second of it. Now we have to do it three more times.
After leaving the course, we ran some errands, and I tried my best to leave golf at the golf course; we discussed the games of our playing partners and a few things about the day, but for the most part we talked about anything but golf.
We returned to the apartment, watched some Netflix comedy specials, got dinner, and headed to bed.
It looks as if the cut will be around 7 or 8 points, so we have to keep the pedal down on Friday. We are off at 1:30.
Parting shot: A few people have asked about the yardage book, so here is some explanation. I circled a few numbers with different colors to try to help explain what each is.
Pink: This is the number to the front edge. This is the most important number to a pro and why it is the biggest. Then he adds the number of yards the pin is on the green (that yardage comes from the pin sheet, which is handed out daily), and that is how players and caddies calculate the yardage to the pin.
Green: This is the number from the tee to that point; it gives you an idea of where the ball would land, depending on how far a player hits it off the tee. Or it helps decide on the club needed off the tee.
Red: This is the number on the sprinkler head in the fairway, so you can find the one you are closest to. The number doesn’t mean anything to pros besides measuring from the correct sprinkler head.
Purple: This is the plus/minus in elevation to the green. In this picture it’s down 1 yard, so the pro takes one yard off the total he calculates. On holes where the green is well above the fairway, that number could be plus-9 or so.