barracuda championship mark baldwin
Mark Baldwin and I discuss yardage during the third round of the Barracuda Championship

The Barracuda Championship Week

Day 6 of my journal caddying for Mark Baldwin at the Barracuda Championship
By Ryan French

Day 5 >

The ball flew over the green at the par-3 7th. It wasn’t close. Mark turned to me and asked, “How did that happen?” 

When we pulled into player parking on Saturday morning, we got a neat reminder that we had made the cut at the Barracuda Championship. The lot was half empty. It was a great way to start the day. Gary Woodland, Sean O’Hair and Branden Grace pulled into the lot about the same time. Decent careers among them. I acted nonchalant, but for a golf nerd, it was pretty cool.

We stuck to our routine of breakfast and then to the range. Mark was using his massage gun, as he often does. Players are always sore or hurt—just part of the deal. Mark uses his gun religiously, on his legs mostly, but also on his back and neck. Even as we walked to find a spot on the range, Mark continued to use the gun. He took some Aleve for “a crick in his neck.” There weren’t any excuses or complaints, just part of the deal as a pro golfer. Something always aches.

We headed for the 1st tee after warmup and met Davis Thompson and John Huh. (I’ll have more on the pairing in the podcast.) For the third straight day, Mark hit a perfect opening drive. A wedge to about 15 feet and two putts resulted in a par. It was a good start, but we couldn’t get anything going. Close misses and poor chips left us one over through 5, which in the modified Stableford format meant we had minus-1 point. On the reachable par-5 6th, Mark popped up a three-wood, but a great 2-iron got us to the front of the green. A crisp chip and a holed three-footer put us on the positive side of the points for the first time in the round.

We had the honor on the par-3 7th hole, and Mark stepped up to the tee pretty quickly. Typically, he and I calculate our distances separately and then confirm with each other. Mark had already done the yardage when I arrived, and we chose a club right away. I didn’t know it yet, but I had made my biggest mistake of the week: I never confirmed the yardage. As soon as the ball left the club face, I knew it was gone. It flew the green by 15 yards. Mark looked at me and said, “How did that happen?” We did the calculations again and came up with a 10-yard difference. I took full responsibility and felt horribly. It was a quiet walk to the green. Mark was mumbling about what a stupid mistake we had made. He blamed himself, but this was all on me. I should have stepped in and told him I didn’t have a number yet. It resulted in a bogey, and on the way to the 8th tee, Mark said, “Lesson learned. We need to take our time.” 

It was a costly—if teachable—mistake, but we had to move on. Dwelling on it would have made it worse. On the next hole, Mark hit a perfect drive to the reachable par-4. The ball ran just through the green, but we got a bad break. It had rolled up against the collar of the rough, making the chip a little harder. Those kind of breaks seem to go against you when you are struggling. We made par, but it felt like a bogey.

We did birdie 10, though, a hole where we had made a bogey and a double in the first two rounds, and we knew we could make some noise on the back nine. The par-4 11th requires a difficult tee shot but it’s reachable, and I lobbied for the driver. Mark had already grabbed 6-iron. “I love 6,” I said, “but if we are going to push, this is a place we can. It’s the right pin to go after.” Mark considered it, but said, “Let’s stick to our game plan.” He hit the 6 a bit long for our landing number, and it rolled into the edge of the rough. Huh and Thompson both opted for driver (and would make birdie). As we walked to our ball, Mark said, “You were right. We should have gone driver.” He added a “fuck!” for good measure. 

I tried to get him locked into the wedge shot, but it was a difficult one from the rough, and he pulled it into the front bunker. A decent shot out of the sand left a 10-footer for par that slid by. Mark was pissed, and I let him blow off some steam, not saying anything. He wasn’t mad about the bogey, just that we didn’t play the hole correctly. “Two stupid mistakes today,” he said as we walked to the 12th tee. Bogeys happen, but we made two when we had control of things. That stings a little more.

Mark made a couple of birdies coming in to salvage a decent round—5 points, with four birdies and three bogeys—and keep hope alive for a top 10. (A top 10 would get him into the Wyndham Championship next week.) He’s at 20 points and in a tie for 31st, 8 points out of 10th. But in a format that rewards birdies and especially eagles, a player can surge up the leaderboard quickly.

The strong finish took some of the sting out of those two mistakes. On the last five holes, Mark found his groove again and was hitting it like he had the first two days. He said for some reason he thought about Cameron Davis’s takeaway on his swing and it helped. Davis recently won the Rocket Mortgage. Whatever works.

Afterward, we talked about our final-round strategy. It will be pedal down the entire time. We will be firing at pins. “Tomorrow is essentially a Monday Q for us,” Mark said. Perfectly stated. It’s time to take some chances and collect as many points as possible. If a player in Mark’s situation tells you he doesn’t think about the score needed for a top 10, he’s lying. We know exactly where we stand, and we discussed what we think we need to have a chance at a top 10.

We go off the 1st tee at 11:15 a.m currently T31 PT in a twosome with Joseph Bramlett. Let’s have a day. 

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