The Barracuda Championship Week
Day 2 of my journal caddying for Mark Baldwin at the Barracuda Championship
By Ryan French
Yeah, we took a bunch of free snacks for the bag. Yeah, Mark got 10 new gloves. Yeah, Mark got three dozen new balls. Yeah, he will probably get a new 3-wood and maybe get his clubs regripped. Yeah, life on the PGA Tour is pretty, pretty good.
Mark sent me a text at 2 a.m. on Tuesday saying he was restless and was going to sleep in after a long day Monday. At 9:51, he texted to say he was up. We climbed into his rental and headed for the Old Greenwood course at the Tahoe Mountain Club, the site of the Barracuda Championship. I went to register in the caddie tent, and he went to player registration. As he came down the ramp, a rep from Srixon pulled up in a cart and asked if Mark needed anything. He told Mark he would have balls and gloves for him, along with his favorite type of hat. This was in the first five minutes we were on site. Yeah, life on the PGA Tour is pretty, pretty good.
Mark purchased two yardage books—one for each of us—and a green-reading book. The cost was a mere … $285. Let that sink in. (That part about being on Tour wasn’t so great.) As we turned to find the range, a driver in a cart was right there to take us there. Several large garbage cans of balls were on the range; all new and all different brands. There were even types of balls within a brand. Mark found the Srixon Z ball, and we took a bucket to the perfectly manicured expanse. Yeah, life on the PGA Tour is pretty, pretty good.
After hitting a bucket of balls and some putts, we decided to eat lunch before starting our practice round. Again, a shuttle picks you up and takes you there. Mark went into player dining. (Caddies aren’t allowed there.) I went to caddie dining, and the food was delicious. There was salad, pulled pork, cornbread, coleslaw and cookies. There was also a selection of protein bars, and it would be putting it mildly to say I stocked up. Yeah, life … oh, you get the point.
We then shuttled back to the practice area and headed for the 1st tee. There aren’t any practice-round tee times on the PGA Tour (and all PGA-sanctioned circuits); you show up and find a place. No one was on the tee, so we stepped up. When we were about to tee off, a player walked up and asked to join. It was none other than Olympian Thomas Pieters. (His clubs were still in his Belgium Olympic bag.) He and his caddie both apologized that they weren’t going to talk much. They had flown from Tokyo and were exhausted after 24 hours of travel. They were both very nice, and Thomas played well, considering the circumstances. They called it a day after six holes.
We played the 7th hole alone before catching the group of Bill Haas, Nick Watney and Rafael Campos. They asked if we would like to join them. They had already hit their tee shots at the reachable par-4 8th, which required a shot between a small chute of trees. Mark took out his 3-wood and cut it perfectly between the trees and into the front bunker. From there, he hit a crisp bunker shot to about two feet. Watney turned and said, “That was really good,” but the tone was more like, “Who the heck is this guy?” We then headed to the 9th, a dogleg par-4 that required less than a driver off the tee. The other three players all hit 3-wood. Mark and I discussed it, and with his length, we decided on 2-iron. He hit it perfectly, and it went as far as the 3-woods. His 9-iron from the center of the fairway ended up about 10 feet away. After some chips and putts around the green, Haas, Watney, and Campos all headed out. Before he left, Haas said to Mark, “Keep hitting it like that; that was really impressive.” We proceeded to the back nine, talking about how cool that was. I don’t think any of the three knew who Mark was, but they left impressed. We have to keep it going for the rest of the week.
We played the back nine by ourselves. Not many players were on the course as it got later in the day. When we finished our round at about 5:45, the parking lot was almost empty.
The course is gorgeous and challenging. Mark really loves it, but it requires some serious shotmaking. It’s tight; it will be a grind. We looked up last year’s scores and discovered that 5 points made the cut, basically around 2 or 3 under. We also had a lot of discussions about strategy because the Barracuda is played using a modified Stableford scoring system.
Albatross = 8 points
Eagle = 5 points
Birdie = 2 points
Par = 0 points
Bogey = -1 point
Double or worse = -3 points
The format rewards aggressiveness. For example, two birdies and two bogeys are better than four pars. If not for the scoring system, Mark wouldn’t try to reach a couple of drivable par-4s.
After our round, Mark went to player dining and then to his locker to grab what Srixon had left for him. (“I have a locker?” Mark asked after the Srixon rep told him he would leave his stuff for him there.)
It was an amazing first day, and it doesn’t take long to realize how great things are on the PGA Tour. There are the big things such as the course and its condition, but it’s also small things such as water at every tee, shuttles and great food.
Wednesday will be a practice day for Mark, as the course is closed to players not in the pro-am. We may walk the course later in the day to make some final notes.
Thursday can’t come soon enough.