Steve Bogira and TW
Steve Bogira and TW Credit: Andrea Bauer

Last week I came out of caddie retirement, carrying a bag in the BMW Championship pro-am on Cog Hill’s Dubsdread in southwest-suburban Lemont.

Caddying has been a big part of my life. I caddied throughout my teen years, at Ridge Country Club on Chicago’s far south side, and attended college courtesy of a Chick Evans caddie scholarship. I also caddied in four PGA tournaments. But that all was ages ago; before last week, I hadn’t caddied in 35 years.

Golf on TV fools viewers into thinking that caddying is a highly tactical job, which chiefly involves reading greens and helping pros decide between the seven- and eight-iron. For the vast majority of the nation’s caddies, however, it’s mainly grunt labor: you haul around a heavy bag, or one on each shoulder, and wash balls, replace divots, rake traps, and tend pins for golfers struggling to break 100.

The difference between the two kinds of caddying—and the two kinds of golfers—is never clearer than in a pro-am. Pro-ams are held the day before nearly every PGA tourney. Amateur golfers spend large sums to play a round alongside a tour pro, with the money going to charities. The BMW pro-am, like the tourney itself, benefits the Evans scholarship, which has put more than 9,400 caddies through college since 1930. Evans alums caddie for free for the amateurs in the pro-am so that the scholarship fund can net more from the $8,000 each amateur pays to play.

I was assigned a golfer who I’ll call TW to protect his identity, which I’m doing because I’ll be touching on his golf game. TW are his actual initials, but no other similarity to Tiger Woods was apparent.

A 61-year-old native of Springfield, Missouri, TW is the chief operating officer of an empire of auto parts stores. He and two auto parts colleagues were paired with Charley Hoffman, an easygoing 34-year-old from San Diego with long, wavy blond hair, who’s in his sixth year on the PGA tour. Hoffman has won almost $1.5 million this year, ranking him 51st on the tour. He usually drives the ball 300 yards, in the fairway. In a typical tournament round he birdies four holes and shoots a 71.

TW often reaches 300 yards by his second or third shot. He prefers the more challenging lies behind trees in the tall rough to the undemanding fairways. If he birdied four holes in an entire golfing season, I believe he’d be ecstatic.

Steve Bogira and TWCredit: Andrea Bauer

Because sunny skies were forecast I’d come in short sleeves, but it began raining before we teed off. Rain turns caddying into an engineering test: the caddie, wishing for an extra pair of hands, uses a large umbrella and a beach towel in a vain attempt to keep his golfer, the clubs, and himself somewhat dry.

Dubsdread is a long walk, 7,616 yards. That’s the distance from the back tees; the amateurs play a slightly shorter course. But whereas Hoffman, like most pros, took a direct route to the green, TW favored a more serpentine path. This was especially tiring for me because his bag was poorly balanced—I suspected he had a DieHard battery in the bottom.

Dubsdread is also studded with 98 ample bunkers. “There’s a lot of sand in there,” Hoffman cautioned his playing partners after blasting out of a trap early in the round. The sand wasn’t merely deep, it was also heavy from the rain. “My advice about those bunkers? Stay out of them,” Hoffman told the amateurs.

TW was unable to heed the advice, and there was significantly less sand in the bunkers when he’d finished with them.

TW had an amiable nature, and apologized to me repeatedly for his performance. Like most golfers, he was blessed with a poor memory. “This is the worst I’ve ever played,” he claimed.

On his final drive, he blasted a scud at a grove of innocent trees on the right. The thunk resounded through Dubsdread as the ball ricocheted to the other side of the fairway. “You got good wood on that one,” Hoffman said with a grin.

After holidays in two more bunkers, TW reached the green and holed out, at last ending our miseries.

Once I got home, and was finally warm and dry, I conceded to myself that even with its trials, it had felt good to be caddying once more. I’m eager to do it again in another 35 years.