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FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — The truck won’t unload itself.
So every morning this week, Jack MIller has reported to his job as the frozen foods manager for a local Long Island grocery store. Starting as early as 4 a.m., he’s unbundled deliveries, called in orders and managed employees.
Then he’s made a beeline to his car and then to Bethpage Black, where the 63-year-old caddy is fulfilling a dream while helping write the most unlikely story of this year’s PGA Championship.
“I open the store and I do what I gotta do and then I get my butt up here,” Miller said Saturday.
Brooks Koepka may be running away with the tournament, but one of the golfers who still has an outside chance of catching him is Atiwit “Jazz” Janewattananond. The 23-year-old from Thailand is playing in just his third event in the United States and he didn’t have a caddy to make the trip so he asked the PGA to assign him a local one.
That’s Miller, a lifelong Farmingdale resident with a thick Long Island accent who made his first loop at Bethpage nearly 50 years ago. He was among the first caddies to officially return in 2009 when the reborn popularity of the challenging course created a market for their advice.
Heading into Sunday’s final round, Janewattananond is tied with three other golfers for second place at five-under, seven shots behind Koepka. He’s the only golfer not playing with his regular caddy, but it hasn’t mattered; he shot a three-under 67 on Saturday, the lowest round of the day.
The two make for an odd but popular couple at Bethpage. Miller’s status as a local has drawn the pair plenty of support while Janewattananond’s success as a relative outsider and fun nickname quickly made him a fan favorite on his own.
“He’s great and he’s easy to work with,” Miller said after Saturday’s round. “The first day we were a little uncomfortable. He speaks soft and he’s quick with the words and I’m like, ‘What? What?’ And then he was struggling with my New Yorker accent for a little while. But we’re going good now.”
The ironic part of the story is that this wasn’t even supposed to be Miller’s job. The PGA originally assigned Miller’s boss Dave Casper, Bethpage’s caddie master, to carry Jazz’s bag.
But Casper suffered a wrist injury last month and decided on Sunday night he wouldn’t be able to do the job.
Miller, who was planning on volunteering to pick up range balls for two days of the tournament to get a free pass the rest of the week, was given the gig instead.
He still can’t quite believe his good fortune.
“I’ve always looked at these guys from the other side of the fence,” Miller said. “Now I’m up close with them and eating with them in the restaurant.”
He’s doing more than just eating with them. Janewattananond said his trust in Miller was cemented on Thursday’s third hole, when Miller’s advice helped him save a tough par.
Miller’s counsel has also benefited another pro. South African golfer Erik van Rooyen used Miller for a couple of practice rounds earlier in the week before his regular caddy got here. He’s currently T-12 at two-under.
“Not too bad,” Miller said after noting that fact.
It all makes for a fun human-interest story, but there’s also a lot at stake. Janewattananond is currently ranked 72nd in the world and a strong finish would likely vault him into the top 60, which would secure a U.S. Open invitation next month. A top-four finish at the PGA also gets him into next year’s Masters.
There’s also the not-so-small issue of the check that Janewattananond could be cashing. A solo second-place finish at the PGA pays $1.188 million (about double his career earnings so far), while a top-10 finish would pay no less than $272,000.
How much Miller gets of that remains to be seen. Apparently having learned nothing from the Matt Kuchar controversy, tournament caddie coordinator Jeff Poplarski said the agreement Miller signed is for $100 plus a tip to be determined by the golfer.
Miller said he had a momentary thought about the money that might be coming to Janewattananond, but that he quickly shooed it out of his brain.
“That’s not what’s important to me,” he said. “I want to get him through this tournament and make him have a good time. ... It’ll all even out.”
Plus, he said, you can’t put a price on what he’s been able to experience. There was a time when he thought about becoming a professional caddy. But real life and bills beckoned. The grocery store was more secure. People always need food, they don’t always need a person to hand them the right club.
It’s funny how life works, though. Late Saturday afternoon, Miller found himself on the 18th green, lining up a 10-foot birdie putt with Janewattananond.
On the other side of the green, Katherine Thompson stood behind the rope line and watched with clasped hands. Her husband Bill had grown up with Miller and they’d all gone to Farmingdale High together. Miller was even in their wedding.
“You just need to know that this is Jack’s dream,” she said.
Said Miller later: “Everyone knows this is my dream.”
Up on the green, Janewattananond sunk the putt and the crowd roared. Miller pumped his fist. He saw someone in the grandstand and waved his fist at them. He did the same for someone along the rope line. He climbed the players bridge to the scoring trailer and waved at someone down below.
“I probably knew about 30 people around 18,” he said. “I couldn’t pick any of them out because the crowd was so big, but I could hear them screaming my name and Jazz’s name.”
With a later Sunday afternoon tee time at 2:25 with Luke List, Miller said it’d be easier to juggle his two jobs.
Yes, he’s still planning on working at the grocery store Sunday morning.
“Working isn’t going to be an issue,” he said. “I can go in later at my normal time.”
Miller said he’d take advantage of the later reporting time to enjoy his Saturday night, “eat something big — probably beef — and enjoy a few brews.”
“I really don’t want this to end. Can golf go overtime?”
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