Although I can’t absolutely verify the factual accuracy of the following “claim to fame,” if I’m not the only person who had the unique opportunity to caddy for Jack Nicklaus both before he won his first professional major (1962 U.S. Open) and after his last (1986 Masters), I’m certainly one of the very few fortunate enough to do so. And, although I’ll be 70 years old on my next birthday, I recall both (with the help of some very old notes) as if they happened yesterday. Here is how both transpired:
I was 14 years old on the weekend of Sept. 23-24, 1961 in Pleasant Ridge, an old suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio, where I was born and raised and near where my ancestors had lived since 1853.
I started caddying at Losantiville CC at the age of 8-10, as soon as I was big enough to lug clubs around 18 hilly holes, because it was a better option than the other jobs available for a kid to pick up some spending money and I had tried them all: mowing lawns, washing cars, bagging groceries, setting pins and delivering newspapers. Caddying was like a paid walk in the park compared to the others and the money was better, $1.25 for nine holes or $2.75 for 18, no tips permitted.
On a good weekend you could get two loops of doubles, which came to $11, and all your money problems for the following week were solved since Dad’s $5 a week allowance was mandated by parental authority to be used solely for weekday lunches at school.
Losantiville was a private country club and 95 per cent of the golfers were hopeless hackers – except for one foursome of single digits: Milt Schloss, Bernie Dave, Louie Gutmann and Dick Marcus – and it’s amazing I still recall their names.
If you didn’t get one of the “Big Four” you knew it was going to be a hackarama and the best you could hope for was a lady golfer wearing a black bra under a white golf shirt.
However, every September, near the autumn equinox, the club hosted a small Pro-Am, which was big enough and good enough to attract PGA pros and their amateur partners for a two-day 36 holer, which we caddies anticipated every season as our only chance to make big money before the course closed for the winter.
All the caddies had numbers, based on their attendance the previous season and got to select the players they wanted, starting, of course, with #1.
There were about 30 pros entered, and my number that season was 33, which meant I would wind up with an amateur and be lucky to make $10 for the weekend.
Sure enough, all the pros were taken when #33 was called so I logically selected the best available amateur in the field, Jack Nicklaus from just up the road aways in Columbus, Ohio and the current star of the Ohio State golf team.
Nicklaus was also the reigning U.S. Amateur Champion at the time and a bit of a young hero in Ohio. Everybody pretty much knew he would eventually become a good PGA pro someday, but I doubt if anybody expected him to become the greatest golfer of all time.
From my myopic point of view, I was sorely disappointed to be stuck with an amateur since the pros were well known to pay as much as $25 to a caddy if they scored well and you did a good job for them. There weren’t any stories around the caddyshack of anybody copping a good payday from an amateur, even if he was the best amateur in the country.
But a funny thing happened on Sept. 23, 1961. At the end of the first day, we were winning and I was thinking about getting excited, except somebody came up to Jack when he putted out on 18, whispered in his ear and he took off like a comet heading back to Columbus. His wife, Barbara, had just given birth to their first child, or perhaps had gone into labour, and I went home that evening feeling like I was a jockey who rode his horse to first place at the halfway point then watched as he threw me onto the ground and skedaddled back to the barn.
To this day I don’t know if Jack got any sleep that night, but he was back in Cincy for our Sunday tee time and continued his prodigious pulverization of Losantiville. This time as the proud father of his first of five. And my chances of making $25 for the weekend were looking better, too, because he was doing things to my golf course I didn’t know were possible.