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Inside the Ropes

Can a 67 year old man carry a 25 pound golf bag for five miles?

by Basil Waine Kong

In the twilight of my years, I find myself adding up my blessings. According to Eric Erickson, after 65, we become what we were. Here is my list: I have never been sick and continue to enjoy excellent health, married to an incredible woman who I love dearly, fathered four fantastic children who completed all the education they wanted and have fabulous careers and six beautiful children of their own, visited 100 countries, arrested just once for demonstrating against apartheid in front of the South African Embassy in 1989, enjoyed a career that as a lawyer and psychologist, included being a college professor, Dean of Students, vice president of a hospital, executive director of a medical research organization, CEO of the Association of Black Cardiologists and Executive Vice President of the Heart Institute of the Caribbean. Since my retirement, I have been focusing on the further nurturing of my family, reducing the ravages of cardiovascular disease as President of the Heart Institute of the Caribbean, participating on various Board of Directors, writing and improving the human condition in Jamaica.

As an athlete and sportsman, I was the boys sports champion at Springfield All Age School when I was fourteen years old, set a 440 track record at Madison High School in New Jersey, earned 7 varsity letters in not only track, but wrestling, soccer and cross country, as well as earned an athletic scholarship to Simpson College in Iowa. Every time I watch a cricket match, I remember the feeling after I hit a six when I was fourteen years old playing for the Boys Brigade. At some point, I have tried just about every game and sport that I encountered including “Elephant Polo” in India. My other hobbies include swimming, skeet shooting, tennis, ping pong, bridge, bid whist, badminton, and racquetball. I work out regularly at a gym and can still do 35 push-ups. Jamaica taught me to be adventuresome and to pursue excellence.

However, for fifty years, my passion has been golf. I started playing at sixteen year’s old when a kind member of Springbrook Country Club in Morristown, New Jersey, gave me an old set of clubs and as a caddie, I was allowed to play on Mondays. I have returned the favor giving several sets of golf clubs to caddies over the years. I once played to a nine handicap but that was as good as I got and now play to a fifteen. Golfers do not necessarily get better with practice or experience. It is a fickle game and as Mr. Peter Lindo says often: “golf does not live in anybody’s yard.” It is amazing to me that from day to day, there can be a 20 stroke difference in our scores. I live in envy of professional golfers who can effortlessly hit such great shots.

During the week-end of August 23-29, I accompanied my wife while she was doing some work at Taylor Memorial Hospital. Coincidentally, it was the week-end of the Annual Hooters Classic at the course where I usually play when we are in Hawkinsville, Georgia. Since the course was occupied with these professionals, the most adventuresome thing I could think of doing was to volunteer to caddie for Mr. David Wax, a 23 year old phenom from Los Angeles, who shot an incredible 16 under par after four rounds but did not win. On the other hand, I lost 5 pounds and my bones were aching and tired but I felt proud and accelerated. It was a true test of my endurance and no successful climber of Mt Everest felt more accomplished. Contrary to the professional tournaments I have watched outside the ropes, I was lock step with my player and was right in the middle of the action.

Did I make any mistakes? Well, at one point, David handed me his four iron and I thought I had placed it back in the bag while I was walking. As he was walking behind me, he merely picked up the club and told me that I missed. On another occasion, I gave him his sand wedge and prematurely walked to the back of the green so he had to hit up to the green without checking the sheet that he kept in his bag to learn the contour of the green, so he only made par. On another occasion, I walked ahead to make sure that I could locate an errant shot. I lost track of the ball as it sailed toward the white fluffy clouds in the background and it came crashing down near me. If it had hit me or his bag, he would have been charged a two stroke penalty and my wife would have been asking if my body could be buried at Southern Hills Country Club. For those of you who see players tossing balls to their caddies and caddies tossing balls back to their players, if they miss and the ball roles on the green, it could be a two stroke penalty for testing the green. I lived in fear that I would not catch the ball or misthrow it, so while David threw me the ball, I would always hand it back to him after I wiped it nice and clean.

This is another one of my memories and hope I can do it again. Thank you for the opportunity David. Good luck to you in your quest to join the PGA Tour. You are a fine golfer and gentleman with a great future.

Bullet Columnist Basil Waine Kong has written several pieces for this journal and especially likes to expound on his favorite subject: his beloved Jamaica. He is a former Atlien (resident of Atlanta GA), and was the CEO of the Association of Black Cardiologists (ABC) for 22 years before his retirement in 2008 to return to Jamaica. This article is reprinted with his permission from his blogsite; Coming in From the Cold… Bob Marley

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1 Comment on "Inside the Ropes"

  1. I was caddying for Mark Rhode at the Greater Milwaukee Open back in the early 1980 s, and we had a very, very early tee time. The lurxuy hotel that I was staying in for about $18 a night did not have an alarm clock. I had no car and no ride to the golf course in the morning. But I had to show up to keep my job. So after I left a local watering hole after last call, I walked and hitchhiked my way to the golf course and for there about 3:00 AM. I found a golf cart, and went to sleep. I was awakened by the sound of the mowers and the smell of the morning dew. I was on time for our pre-round practice session. It was definitely not the best sleeping accommodations, but it ranked right up there with the YMCA in White Plains for the Westchester Classic, the $5 a night (Canadian) dorm room at Sheridan Nurses College for the Canadian Open, and Bruce Edward’s (Tom Watsons long-time caddie) van in a hotel parking lot. At least I never slept in a bunker at the golf course. Such was the life of an aspiring, wet behind the ears caddie on the PGA Tour back before the creation of the all-exempt tour, Tiger Woods, and the huge purses we see on the tour today. Nowadays a caddie can earn a pretty nice living on the tour. The only problem is that it is much harder for caddies to get a long-time bag to work. As long-time caddie Butchie Vail told me at the Nationwide Tour’s Athens Regional Foundation Classic last spring, it is really brutal out there. My experiences were limited to three summers in college because I decided trying to make money as a caddie was a heck of a lot more fun than working as a dishwasher in a local hotel restaurant (that job lasted three days). During those summers, I met some of the most unforgettable characters I have ever known, and had the time of my life. I told myself that I should right a book about it someday. Of course I didn’t. But Greg Piddler Martin, longtime caddy of veteran tour player Dan Forsman, has taken the plunge. (Triumph Books, 171 pages, ISBN-10: 160078190X, ISBN-13: 978-1600781902, April 10, 2009), released this past spring, is a collection of stories and anecdotes from a number of long-time tour caddies. For me, it was a very interesting read because I know many of the caddies offering stories for the book, or referred to in the book. Because I caddied alongside and against some of them, I am a perfect audience for the book. People like me will know immediately who Woody Blackburn and David Thore are, and this gives context to the stories about them. But for today’s mainstream golf fans, the book may be a disappointment. Despite the title and cover picture, you may not get the stories you want to read. For the stories that are told, there is no real point of reference for the reader. A whole chapter talks about caddie’s nicknames. However, there are no photos of the caddies, so a golf fan could not distinguish them from any other caddie if they are at a tournament. You are not going to read about how and why Mike Fluff Cowan got fired by Tiger Woods. You are not going to come across any really juicy tidbits about the big players (or even the not so big players) or the marquee caddies like Steve Williams. You are not going to get information on how much they get paid today. The reason is simple: fear. Throughout the book, caddies talk about getting fired, how many times caddies get fired, and some of the silly reasons for getting fired. There is no way they can be as candid as people would want and still hope to get and keep a bag on today’s tour. The money is too good to pass up. That is their very simple reality. If you want to read stories from what many would call a bygone era of golf, i.e. before the PGA Tour created the all-exempt tour and the purses grew to obscene levels, when players actually had to grind out a living, then the book provides some, but limited, insight into the men (mostly men anyway) and the experiences they have lived. There is one story in the book that, at least for this reader, is pee your pants funny. Without going into detail, it is about a caddie that really gave a shart (and then some) to make sure he was to work on time. While the book hints at potential greatness for the casual golf reader, it falls short by not telling the full story (or as Paul Harvey would say, the rest of the story ). For example, there is a story of a Tour player (one who I have always liked and is a fan favorite) who’s wife sent a letter out complaining that Tour caddies were making too much money. What the reader does not know is that this player’s first wife was often his caddy in an effort to

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