Sunday, February 6, 2011

Hangin' With the Caddies

Michael Thompson and his caddie Victor Velasquez
by Roz Roberts III

A couple of weeks ago the Thompson Tide crew were lucky enough to get to hang out at the Farmer's Insurance Open at Torrey Pines to watch and cheer on Michael Thompson. While we were there, we learned one very important thing: if you need something at a PGA tournament, go ask a caddie.

I managed to get my tickets for the week stolen on Tuesday - a near catastrophic event but with the help of Michael and his caddie Victor Velasquez we were able to salvage the situation. Victor told Randy "They call me 'Peoples' because I always take care of my peoples!" Good thing he adopted us so that we became some of his peoples too. He was able to tap his network of friends and scrounge us some tickets. Victor has been a caddie for 23 years and has caddied for the likes of Stewart Cink and Seve Ballasteros. He knows everybody out on tour and he is so nice and likable that there's no wonder his network of contacts is so vast.

In addition to scrounging tickets for us, Victor performed another really important role for Michael for the week: he basically kept us out of Michael's hair. While Michael was busy with the business of golf, which included finalizing clothing deals and getting some practice in, Victor was more than willing to entertain us with food, drink and stories.

While out at Torrey Pines I also met Danny Neil. He caddied for Michael at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Danny is a professional PGA Tour "Looper" and provides caddie service to players whose regular caddies can't make it to certain events. Like Victor, Danny is a really likable outgoing guy who's more than willing to share stories and entertain you for as long as you have the time. If he's not caddying for a touring professional, he caddies during pro-ams and helps out with TV coverage as an on-course spotter. Have you ever wondered how the television announcers know what club a player is using on a hole that they can't see? The spotter is either radioing in the details to the television truck or they are using hand signals to let the on-course color commentator know yardages and club selection for each player in a group.

After a round is over, the PGA Tour players are typically grabbing food at the Player's Club House while the caddies head out to the traveling "Caddie Trailer" which is an RV modified into a diner. The prices are low and the food is good. Your typical diner food can be had: tuna melts, chicken sandwiches, hamburgers, turkey sandwiches etc. {Thompson Tide Note: Try the banana pudding. Yummy!} The caddie trailer offers the guys a place to put the bag down, surf the web, hang out and eat at one of the plastic tables outside, or grab a booth inside and watch ESPN or The Golf Channel on one of the two small flat screen TVs.

The caddies usually have to pay for their own food but at Torrey Pines, PGA Tour pro Robert Garrigus paid for all of the working caddies' food for the week. Randy and I ate lunch in the traveling "caddie shack" with Victor who was nice enough to buy lunch for us.

Once a tournament starts winding down on Sunday, the Caddie Trailer, along with all of the equipment trucks, start packing up and heading to the next tournament. In a lot of ways, the PGA Tour is like a traveling circus with huge amounts of equipment and facilities to move every week to a new location, with lots of hard working men and women working behind the scenes to make it all happen.

If the PGA Tour swings by an area near you I highly encourage a visit. Unlike a lot of professional sports, you can get very close to the players and most of them are willing to sign autographs and say 'Hi' during practice days or on tournament days at the end of their rounds. I personally witnessed Bobby Gates and Michael Thompson sign things for every single person who wanted an autograph after their rounds on Saturday. You don't see that sort of thing going on in a lot of other professional sports. And if you go out to a PGA Tour event, don't forget to say "Hi" to the caddies - you're sure to get a friendly response and maybe even a "behind-the-scenes" tour story or two.

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