This weekend, at the P&G NW Arkansas Championship, Irene Cho asked me to loop for her for the second time this summer. The last time we were paired together, at the Safeway Classic in Portland, we finished tied for 12th. Here is a recap of a weekend that didn't turn out the way we wanted.
On Tuesday night, at the Embassy Suites hotel bar, where a bunch of caddies were taking full advantage of the hotel's dollar beer special for happy hour, I started chatting with a regular looper on tour. He noted that he'd seen me in Portland and asked the question I got a few times this last week; "Is this going to turn into a regular gig?"
The answer I gave him was not for now, but Irene and I had a great player-caddie chemistry on the golf course and she wanted to see where that might take us. I wanted to see it as well. That's when the caddie made an incredible point that really gives you an idea of what this job really is.
"Any third grader can step you off a distance, read a putt or rake a bunker. What you need is a person to make you feel comfortable, happy, and forget that 'Yes, this is a professional golf tournament with a $2.5 million purse.'"
And so I went, with a little hop in my step, knowing that somehow, someway, that might be me with Irene. Maybe I was the answer to all the demons on the golf course! Maybe my positive attitude had helped her find a near gear! Maybe I was something more special than a guy with two legs and a shoulder!
That was still true after the first day, when Irene shot a 1-under 70 that could have easily been 67 if a few great putts had decided to drop. She hit the ball magnificently all day and her play had her exactly where you'd expect with a score like that; in 20th place, well within striking distance if Saturday produced a low number.
Something I hadn't thought of the entire week was where 70 left us in the other direction. If we came out flat on Saturday, a mediocre second round might leave us behind the cut line. It was something that, if I had been playing, would have crossed my mind all night long, but as a caddie, on the bag of a person that hardly misses golf shots, I didn't even consider it. It was like thinking a unicorn might come out and cheer us on in Betonville. No way, no how.
But then you remember that golf is still golf for everyone. In the second round, we made an understandable bogey on our second hole. A birdie on the third got us back to even par and ready to pounce on this golf course, but that was where our magic ended for the week.
It wasn't anything more than a couple of loose swings on our first nine that got us in trouble. As we all know, those things happen. A pulled 6-iron from a fairway bunker here, a miss-club 8-iron into a wind there, and you're 5-over for the day and staring up a hill that you must climb to make it to Sunday.
It's the Cut Line Sashay, a little dance you have with a number that isn't even concrete yet. As we moved to our second nine, we knew we needed some birdies, and that came quickly as Irene nearly holed her second shot on the first for an eagle. Tap in birdie there got us back to 3-over for the tournament, and we were thinking the cut would be 2-over.
The problem is, nobody besides us two wanted us around on the weekend, it appeared. A putt on the second rolled the lip for birdie. A putt on three for birdie hit more bumps than a Louisiana interstate.
But Irene kept her focus and made birdie on the fourth, getting us to 2-over.
Then came the fifth. The nasty, nasty, mean, gross, disgusting fifth hole. Irene pushed her tee ball right, near a hazard that had been drained and now was just thick grass, similar to the rough at Pinnacle Country Club. If the ball hadn't stayed up, it would surely be in that area and playable for sure to the short par-4. But it wasn't. It wasn't anywhere. The Titleist Pro-Vx that Irene had teed off with decided to exit stage right for the day without our permission, and as a battalion of golfers and volunteers searched the area, we couldn't find it.
That bogey was devastating, and although Irene had a putt on our 17th hole that grazed the edge of the hole for birdie to get us back within the cut line, it just wasn't meant to be.
It's a weird feeling leaving a golf tournament before it ends. People do it all over the world that play this game, but it's never fun. You are tossing your clubs in your trunk while others are grinding on the range and the putting green for the final round. You're checking flight changes while their checking standings. You are hoping not to run into anyone while they're out to dinner with others that will be taking home a check that week.
It is the other side of professional golf, and a nasty side that nobody likes. Sure, you didn't do what you wanted to do at this event, but there is another one in a few weeks where the cut line is still invisible. Go out, try to recreate that magic, and forget about this round as best you can.
That's what the hope is, and hopefully, that's what happens.
As we were driving out of Pinnacle for the final time, Irene was visibly frustrated. I tried to console her as best I could. Like my buddy said, it isn't just about holding flags and making sure the bunker looks tidy. This is a relationship, and you have to take the good with the bad.