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Elite Black caddies, once key advisors to Masters winners, have faded from spotlight

AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 1971: Charles Coody, left, and caddie Walter Pritchett react to victory during the 1971 Masters.

Charles Coody, left, and caddie Walter Pritchett react to victory throughout the 1971 Masters at Augusta National Golf Club. (Augusta National / Getty Images)

It wasn’t the steamy Georgia warmth that prompted caddie Walter Pritchett to drape a golf towel over his head and below his cap throughout the ultimate spherical of the 1971 Masters. He was involved in regards to the tv cameras educated on his golfer, Charles Coody, who ought to have been a non-factor within the event however was a shock chief.

The gangly Pritchett, an angular assortment of knees and elbows nicknamed “Cricket,” had taken a sick day at his different job as a bus driver in Atlanta, and he was terrified his boss may acknowledge him on the grainy broadcast. Perhaps it was that cat-and-mouse sport that stored Coody free — he was unflustered by the nice Jack Nicklaus on his heels — and he went on to gather his greatest profession victory by far. His caddie may cover not.

“He was supposed to be in Houston,” recalled Coody from his dwelling in Abilene, Texas. “He’d told his boss that his grandmother was sick, and he had to go into disguise. I just about broke up. Then he said, `’I didn’t expect you to play this good.’”

Masters champion Charles Coody walks to the 18th green with his caddie, Walter Pritchett, in front of a large crowd in 1971

Masters champion Charles Coody walks to the 18th inexperienced along with his caddie, Walter Pritchett, in entrance of a giant gallery throughout the 1971 Masters event at Augusta National Golf Club. (Augusta National/Getty Images)

Fifty years later, golf has achieved what Pritchett couldn’t. Those profession caddies at Augusta National Golf Club, the one aggressive function Black folks had been allowed to play within the storied event, have disappeared from sight. A guidelines change in 1983 cleared the way in which for golfers to carry their very own caddies to the occasion, as opposed to relying completely on club-provided locals, and that has advanced into the highest PGA Tour gamers touring with private groups that embrace nutritionists, cooks, psychologists, and swing coaches.

With a number of occasional exceptions, these Black caddies had been relegated to historical past after that guidelines change. Most of them have died and are finest remembered by their wonderful nicknames — Iron Man, Cemetery, Cigarette Jones, brothers Do-Hickey and Do-Funny — whereas some are nonetheless round, with a number of of them spending their days enjoying throughout city at Augusta Municipal, a public course affectionately generally known as The Patch.

“The Masters is not like when we was caddying back in the day,” mentioned Buck Moore, who began carrying luggage as a youngster in Augusta and ultimately labored greater than 30 Masters tournaments. “We was geared up for it. The Masters coming this week, everybody knows what they were going to do. We were going to have parties and all that. It ain’t like that now. It’s kind of like you gotta stay in your lane.”

Caddies Buck Moore, left, and Jariah Beard, right, show some of the tricks of their trade at Augusta Municipal Golf Course

Caddies Buck Moore, left, and Jariah Beard, proper, present a number of the methods of their commerce at Augusta Municipal Golf Course, a public course a number of miles from the hallowed grounds of Augusta National. Each grew up caddying and frequently labored the Masters earlier than the tour professionals started bringing their very own caddies. Beard gained the event with Fuzzy Zoeller one yr, and Moore and Bennett have every had golfers end within the high 10. Bennett was on the bag when Tiger Woods made his Masters debut as an novice. (Sam Farmer / Los Angeles Times)

The subject is in sharp aid nowadays amid heightened racial tensions across the nation, Georgia’s controversial new voting legislation, and renewed efforts by Augusta National to tackle inequities in its previous. Lee Elder, who in 1975 grew to become the primary Black golfer to play within the Masters, was honored Thursday throughout the ceremonial first tee shot to open the event, and Augusta National has partnered with AT&T, Bank of America, IBM, and different corporations to make investments tens of hundreds of thousands of {dollars} into underprivileged neighborhoods of the state’s second-largest metropolis.

“It’s a delicate time,” Moore mentioned. “The eyes of the world are on you.”

And the eyes of those caddies set them aside. They knew each blade of grass on that pristine course, as a result of their on a regular basis job was carrying golf luggage for members, generally incomes extra in a day than their dad and mom would make in every week. It’s customary for caddies to be paid 10 p.c of their gamers’ winnings, which suggests Pritchett would have made $2,500 for profitable with Coody.

How a lot caddies had been relied upon for his or her enter assorted from participant to participant. Coody appreciated the companionship and wanted somebody to carry his bag, after all, however didn’t need any assist making membership picks or studying greens.

“You would converse on some things with your caddie, but it wasn’t like it is out there today,” Coody mentioned. “These days, it’s like the caddie is giving the player a lesson sometimes. It really blows my mind that a player is standing there and he can’t throw up some grass and figure out which way the wind is blowing. He’s got to throw it up and watch the grass blow away, and then he asks the caddie, ‘Where’s it coming from?’

“The caddies in the old days were good, hard-working people, and they worked hard out there on the tour. They’d go out and walk the golf course to find out where the pins were, before the PGA would give you pin sheets. They would have an awful lot of information that you didn’t have. But it wasn’t all the conversation that it is now.

“There was a phrase that used to be used, and it was about six words: Show up, keep up, and shut up. In other words, if I ask you something, then give me an answer. But you’d better be right with your answer.”

Gary Player, who gained three inexperienced jackets, mentioned the most effective caddie he ever had was Ernest Nipper, who first carried the bag for him in 1959.

“He was a very good golfer. He lived here. He knew his greens inside out,” Player mentioned.

“I vividly remember getting on the fourth hole, and I had a putt of about six foot for a par from the left-hand side of the putt and the flag was back left, and I said, `’Nipper, this is left lip.’

“He says, ‘Black Knight, this is on the right lip.’

“I said, ‘`It’s not, it’s on the left lip.’

“He says, `’If it’s not on the right lip, you don’t have to pay me.’

“I said, `’Now I’m convinced.’”

In 1979, Jerry “Bubba” Beard caddied for Fuzzy Zoeller, who led the event wire-to-wire and have become simply the third participant in historical past to win the Masters in his first look. The different two got here in 1934 and ’35, inside two years of when Augusta National was based.

“Ask Fuzzy,” mentioned Beard, 80, who has the trim physique of somebody half his age. “He said he played like a blind man with a seeing-eye dog.”

The Patch is a favourite hangout for Tommy Bennett, who in 1995 caddied for a 19-year-old novice named Tiger Woods, enjoying in his first Masters. Woods would tie for 41st and make a PGA Tour lower for the primary time in eight begins, however Bennett was certain the child was making a rookie mistake when his bag was conspicuously mild on golf balls.

Sign posted on spot called Sand Hills, where Black caddies congregate near Augusta National Golf Club.

Sign posted on spot referred to as Sand Hills, the place Black caddies congregate to play playing cards, swap tales and honor those that got here earlier than them and likewise served at Augusta National Golf Club. The caddies plan to add a memorial to the realm to pay respects to those that have handed. (Sam Farmer / Los Angeles Times)

“We go to the range, then I go in his bag to take the putter out, and he’s got three golf balls,” Bennett mentioned. “I’m searching, and dang. He comes up and says, `What’s up?’ And I said, ‘`Man, listen, you ain’t got but three golf balls.’ He said that’s all he needed. It’s Augusta National. I started sweating and I’m like, `does this kid know what he’s doing?

“He played with two golf balls that day, and after 18 he had one left. He said, `I told ya.’ Never lost a ball.”

Bennett was generally known as “Burnt Biscuits,” as a result of he suffered burns on his legs as a child when he tried to steal his grandmother’s freshly baked biscuits. He was a ok caddie to maintain his job even after tour professionals stopped utilizing locals, working for Raymond Floyd, Tommy Aaron, Al Geiberger, Andy North and others.

Some caddies weren’t as fitted to the job.

“My experience here is I came here the first time in 1959, and I had a fellow that actually came from — I don’t know how much he caddied here, but he caddied here — from Atlanta named Pon. And Pon, that’s all I knew him by, caddied for me the first year, and I played decently but didn’t make the cut,” recalled Nicklaus, the Masters’ solely six-time winner.

“The next year I came back, and I remember Freddie, the caddie master, said, `Pon, Mr. Nicklaus is here. He’s ready to get out and go play.’ He said, `’Well, I don’t want to caddie for Mr. Nicklaus.’

‘`Why don’t you want to caddie for Mr. Nicklaus?’

`’He worked too hard.’ He says, `He comes too early and he leaves too late. I don’t want to do that.’”

So Nicklaus switched to Willie Peterson, who first caddied within the Masters at 16 and by no means labored the event for a similar participant twice. In that all-white caddie jumpsuit, with a cigarette dangling from his lips and a towel swinging over his head, Peterson was on the bag when Nicklaus gained inexperienced jackets in 1963, ’65, ’66, ‘72 and ’75.

When Nicklaus drained a twisting, undulating 38-foot putt on the par-three sixteenth gap on his method to profitable the event in 1975, Peterson was leaping with euphoria even earlier than the ball dropped within the gap. Legendary Sports Illustrated writer Dan Jenkins likened Nicklaus and Peterson to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers with the way in which they gracefully labored the inexperienced. Peterson and Nicklaus had been in synch, but had fully totally different personalities.

“Willie was unbelievably outgoing, like a guy at a baseball game waving his towel when there’s a home run,” mentioned Ward Clayton, creator of “Men on the Bag: The Caddies of Augusta National.”

“He’d go make these stupid wagers with people, because he was confident, he was cocky. Really a personality. Whereas Jack was very reserved when he played golf. Jack didn’t want him to read putts, didn’t want him to club him. It didn’t matter who was caddying for him. Jack was his own guy. But at the same time, Willie kept him loose. He was a psychologist, almost.”

Of the four major championships, by the late 1970s, the Masters was the only one that did not allow competitors to bring caddies from outside the club. There was more money in golf, the purses were more lucrative, and players wanted caddies with whom they worked on a year-round basis.

“Can you imagine being in a position where you work all year long with a partner, and then one week in one of the biggest tournaments of the year you’re not allowed to work with him?” Clayton said. “They kept pushing Augusta to let them bring their own caddies.

“Then in 1982, they had a rain delay in the afternoon, and there was some confusion about what time they were going to resume the next morning. A couple of the caddies didn’t show. A couple of the guys had to carry their own bags for a little bit, or had a wife or a friend caddie for them, and that was the last straw. It was going to happen anyway, but that was sort of the breaking point.”

Beginning in 1983, Nicklaus joined the trend of tour pros who began bringing their own traveling caddies, and he parted ways with Peterson, who died in 1999. Last year, when Nicklaus learned that Peterson was buried in an unmarked grave in downtown Augusta, the golfer paid for a marble headstone.

“For years and years, nobody knew these men by anything but a nickname,” Clayton said. “You didn’t know what their real name was. You didn’t know what they did, other than caddie. That’s always intrigued me, trying to find out who the people were behind those caddie suits.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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