Chad Reynolds started to shake his head and chuckle.
The veteran caddie, who has toted for World Golf Hall of Fame member Vijay Singh, Nick Watney and is currently on Keegan Bradley’s bag, needed little time to think when asked about the difference between looping at Augusta National Golf Club during the Masters and any other tournament.
“Well,” he said with a smile, “it’s the only golf course where you lay up on a putt. And, no, I am not kidding.”
The event’s storied history is full of chapters of players talking about the unique challenges of playing the first major of the season, how the slick greens, stressful precision and taxing pressure that is intrinsic with trying to win a green jacket is akin to walking a 7,500-yard tight rope between skyscrapers.
“Mark Calcavecchia always said it was his favorite place to get to and his favorite place to leave,” said John Wood, who has caddied for Calcavecchia, Kevin Sutherland, Lian-Wei Zhang, Hunter Mahan and Matt Kuchar in his 15 appearances in the Masters. “That tournament does funny things to you and just wears you down.”
Now pick up a 40-pound bag and walk that tight rope, for Calcavecchia may as well have been talking for caddies, too. In addition to carrying that load around the former nursery that is one of the toughest walks in golf, its elevation changes testing the heart, fitness and stamina of all who wear the fabled white overalls, caddies must deal with a distinctive burden during the Masters. Coupled with the pressure that Amen Corner and the other 15 holes stimulate, caddies are on edge, too.
“I don’t know if you have enough space to write about the differences,” said Paul Tesori, who has caddied in 14 Masters for Singh, Jerry Kelly, Sean O’Hair and his current boss, Webb Simpson.
“Augusta National is one of the few places where we all know every hole and we’ve known them since we were 7 years old, yet we spend more time preparing on that golf course than any other golf course. I’ll walk that course 8 hours to make sure I know as much as I can. … That course makes you work your mind overtime. There are so many things that place can do to you. If you aren’t careful you will get mentally exhausted out there.”
Jim “Bones” Mackay knows this all too well. This year will be his 26th Masters, all as three-time champion Phil Mickelson’s wingman. Mackay said the Masters is the only week of the year he’ll wake his bones early to go watch play before his man tees off, often joining Joey LaCava, who was on the bag when Fred Couples won the Masters in 1992.
“The one thing that scares us players and caddies is how much the playing condition changes between Wednesday evening and Thursday morning because of the sub-air system. They can really do stuff,” Mackay said. “ ... It’s the only tournament that I’ll have trouble sleeping on Wednesday night. Because you are so jacked to get out there. I don’t get nervous on the golf course, but it’s really easy to get on edge out there. Because iron play is so important, distance control is so important, and you have all those goblins in the trees there, and stuff happens. It can bite you, it can get to you.
“You’re wound pretty tight that week.”
“You are borderline obsessed with trying to win that tournament because it’s such a cool event,” Mackay said. “There is more stress at that event than any other tournament we go to because there hasn’t been a major in several months and everybody is amped up.
“No one is trying harder than my guy and we’re all stressed, but on that first tee I’ll walk over to him about 30 seconds before he tees up and I’ll say something like, ‘How many times have you won this thing?’ ...
“There are certainly shots there you don’t see anywhere else. There are 85-yard shots there that are particularly difficult. The third shot on 15 is not your average 85-yard shot. We talk a lot but you’re basically reinforcing the good.”
Caddies are basically a rock to lean on from the first tee through the 72nd hole, a shoulder to yell at, and a reinforcement to call upon.
“Everyone is a little more frazzled, a little more afraid, caddies included,” Reynolds said. “You triple check your numbers that week. If you’re off by a step it could be the difference between birdie and being in Rae’s Creek making triple (bogey). Look at 9. If you’re not spot on there, you can have an 80-yard shot back up the hill after your approach. ...
“At Augusta, you try to keep everything as normal as possible, and that isn’t easy all the time. Your player is going to be a little more edgy. So there are a few more pep talks, so to speak, throughout the round, more so than any other week. We are the only ones they have out there. At the end of the round, both of us are wiped out.”
It’s a difficult puzzle to complete, Wood said.
“You have to control your adrenaline, your emotions, because you know your player can get emotional. You have to stay in a logical mindset all the time,” he said. “You have to be there for them when they start getting too high or too low. You say, ‘Hey, this is the same game, you’re good at it, let’s keep going and do what we always do.’ Because if you go on those rollercoaster emotional rides, you have no chance to calm them down.
“It’s part of the job.”
Tesori said he doesn’t get nervous doing his job. Except during the Masters.
“There is nothing like standing there on the 12th hole. Only a 10-mph wind, and you are literally scared. I remember my first time I went through there and Vijay said, ‘Paul, just to let you know, I play this shot faster than any other shot I play all year.’ He said one of the old guys told me if you get up there and the wind is right, get your 9-iron and hit it. Don’t think, don’t talk too long, just hit it. ... That doesn’t happen anywhere else all year.”
The caddie’s job, they will tell you, is harder these days because of the changes made to the golf course since Tiger Woods demolished it in 1997. The course was lengthened, trees were added, bunkers deepened and mounds flattened. The mowing pattern was changed so the grain is into the player; the length of the first cut is slightly taller.
Now there are far more approaches into par-4s with mid-irons.
“Before they made the changes I never wanted the week to end,” Tesori said. “You’re hitting driver and you’re hitting wedges into every hole. If a guy has 120 yards into the green he’s hitting wedge and as a caddie you don’t have to do much.
“Now your guy has 5-iron into No. 1 and you’re trying to hit it into a 2-yard wide area and there’s a lot of work. How short is the ball going, what’s the wind doing, and with the higher fairway cut you can catch it a little high on the club face. It’s a more complicated equation these days.
“It’s still a magical place. But come Sunday, I am physically exhausted and mentally drained.”
“Augusta National is one of the few places where we all know every hole and we’ve known them since we were 7 years old, yet we spend more time preparing on that golf course than any other golf course. I’ll walk that course 8 hours to make sure I know as much as I can.”
Steve DiMeglio, USA Today Sports