Jimmy, Old Course Caddie St. Andrews 1991

We’re Puttin’ for an Eagle!!

“Then he began to speak. ‘Golf recapitulates evolution,’ he said in a melodious voice, ‘it is a microcosm of the world, a projection of all our hopes and fears.’”

“The game is a mighty teacher — never deviatin’ from its sacred rools, always ready to lead us on.”

“Gowf rewards us when we bring them all together, our bodies and our minds, our feelin’s and our fantasies — rewards us when we do and treats us badly when we don’t.”

“Tryin’ too hard is the surest way tae ruin yer game.”

“Ye’ll come away from the links with a new hold on life, that is certain if ye play the game with all your heart.”

All quotes from ― Michael Murphy, Golf in the Kingdom

One afternoon in 1958 my dad picked me up from little league baseball practice.  As we drove home, he said tomorrow he wanted to take me to the golf course, and he had arranged a golf lesson for me.  My 10-year-old reaction was, “Dad I don’t want to play golf, I am a baseball player!”  His response was quiet and caring as he said, “Son, baseball is something you can do now while you are young, but golf is a game that you will be able to play the rest of your life.  I want you to give it a try.”

It’s now over 60 years later, and guess what?  He was right.

I was fortunate to be growing up in Florida during an era when famous golf pros would do exhibitions at some of the local public courses.  I remember following Arnold Palmer around at a number of those events.  At the end of his match the pocket of my shorts held 4 or 5 cigarette butts Arnold had dopped by the greens.  Those went right into my treasure box along with my special baseball cards.

I kept up with the game and by high school made the golf team.  In college I played with friends and fraternity brothers.  My biggest hurdle was my ego.

Judging myself self-worth by my golf game was not a good idea.  This inner struggle made me quit golf for a decade.  I absolutely would go nowhere even close to a golf course until around 1986 while visiting my parents who happened to live on a golf course in Florida.  My dad took me into his garage and there was a bag of brand-new golf clubs.  “These are for you son; let’s go play tomorrow.”

I was terrified.  That next morning, we went out with the shiny new clubs.  I had not hit a golf ball in over 10 years.  That day I played with no expectations and had a surprisingly decent round.  It felt good to be back on the course. It had been fun.  I looked forward to getting back out the next day.  Unfortunately, the old ways crept right back in.  I woke up deciding I would better what I had done the day before.  It turned out to be a humbling experience, and at the end of the round a mild depression set in.

Then a dear friend recommended a book titled Golf in the Kingdom, by Michael Murphy.  The book completely changed my thinking about the game of golf.  It turned what could be a frustrating sport with moments of spectacular highs and deep lows into a spiritual journey of self-discovery.

Not long after reading the book I found myself on a golf tour of Scotland. The first stop was St. Andrews.  We stayed just down the road from the Royal and Ancient Club

It was getting close to our tee time and the old course starter summoned a group of caddies to be assigned to our foursome.  Mine was a fellow named Jimmy I had seen Jimmy earlier on my way to the course, with a group of caddies gathered outside a nearby pub soaking up the warmth of the morning sun.  The introduction was made and we shook hands.  We looked each other over, and I am sure both of us were wondering how this was going to turn out.  To paraphrase an old saying, “If you want to really get to know someone, learn about their honor and character, then play a round of golf with them.”  This holds true not just for the players but the caddies as well.

We teed off and the quest began.  I remember him watching my swing closely.  I was energized about teeing off from this site of ancient history.  I was trying to keep my mind positive, visualizing my first drive going down the fairway, avoiding the gorse.  The first few holes were respectable, a bogey and a par.  Nothing shameful.  It felt dreamlike meandering the sacred hallowed ground passing through the seaside heather and gorse.  I was surprised to see townsfolk out strolling the links, some with their dogs, and it was perfectly normal for that use as well for golf.

On the third hole my nerves had begun to calm – and then I found myself deep down in a pothole bunker. The way forward was over a 12-to-15-foot wall.   Jimmy handed me the sand wedge and said, “Hit it backwards lad, and take your medicine, trying to go the other way lies madness.”  Jimmy began to have a feel for my game. His reading of the greens, course knowledge, and help with club selection began to build my confidence as we navigated our way through the front nine.  He rolled his cigarettes right out there in the wind, lit up, took a few puffs, and let the rolled cig dangle from his mouth as we walked.  I suddenly realized it is not just me out there alone, there is someone pulling for me and trying to help.

The round continued with more challenges out in the rough, more bogeys and pars, when suddenly a magical moment occurred.  I could feel the transformation into a true team effort come about.   It was not “you” should hit here, or “you” use this club, it was “we” will hit a 4 iron here, or “we” will not use the driver on this hole.

Our alliance was welded when a par 5 was reached in two shots.  I had hit a 3 wood as clean and square as never before in my life!.  Jimmy put the club back into the bag.  He slapped me on the back, and then began jogging uphill toward the green with the bag flopping on his shoulder.  He turned with a big twinkle in his blue eyes and yelled, “We’re puttin’ for an eagle!!!”

He was right. The ball was lying 2 on the top edge, but it was also about 50 feet away on the giant fast undulating St. Andrews green.  I gave the first putt a good rap and no eagle, leaving the ball 7 feet past. Second putt just missed, sliding by on the left 10 inches past the cup.  Third putt in for a par.  Jimmy took my putter as we walked off the green and said, “Good work, making a par on this hole is like a birdie on any other. Let’s move on, we’ve got plenty of golf ahead”.

As we came into the 18th our group had all become familiar with each other.  We had shared a great adventure together which I will never forget.  It was my good fortune to get to know Jimmy, who turned out to be a worthy coach.  I still remember him saying “Slow down lad, let the club head do the work, just enjoy making the swing, don’t worry so much about where it goes.  You traveled along way to be here, have fun.”

That morning before the round, I had pondered whether I should put a camera in my bag, knowing there might be no time for stopping and taking photos out on the course  I stuck the camera into the bag anyway.  I was happy to have it, as after the round I made this portrait of my favorite caddie of all time.

As we left the final green, I asked how long he had been a caddie. Over 20 years, he said, with some time spent on oil rigs in the North Sea.  We shook hands, I gave Jimmy his pay and with a big smile he looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Well done today.  Good to meet you.  When you come back don’t forget to ask for Jimmy.”  He began walking away, then stopped, turned, and hollered, “Remember to swing easy!” He then headed back toward the pub where he had been lounging as the day began.

Over the years I came to feel that meeting Jimmy was no coincidence, as many of his ideas and adages resembled the values conveyed in Golf in the Kingdom.  I began to stop worrying so much about the score, to enjoy hitting some good shots, sharing the camaraderie* of friends, and seeing the beauty of nature out on the course.

E. McD August 26th, 2022