Some of you guys know me from the BST on GolfWRX and many others know me just from lurking around the forum, but today I wanted to share my experience on Wednesday (23 August 2017) at the Northern Trust Open hosted at Glen Oaks in Westbury New York.
I got the opportunity as an active duty service member (Marine) through Birdies for the Brave to caddie for a professional on the 10th hole as many times as I wanted. I immediately expressed that I wanted to be put out as much as possible and meet as many professionals as I could – and you won’t believe how my day went.
After getting the brief from our point of contact, we were going to find out who we would start caddying for. There were only two spots at the time and the two professionals were Rory and Matt Kuchar. The other service member (Coast Guard) and I decided we would just tell each other who we would rather go out with, even though either was an incredible opportunity. We both said Rory of course, but I expressed that if nothing else I would like to be there to meet him so I could get a picture for my wife (she’s a big fan). He was nice enough to give me the opportunity since my wife and I are such big fans – thanks dude.
So here I am walking from the Patriots Outpost on my way to literally meet my golfing role model. Of course I felt like I was going on my first date - thinking to myself – “what kind of questions will I ask, is it wrong to ask for a picture, do I just play it cool and act like he hasn’t accomplished so much in the game of golf?” It all subsided when I walked up to the practice green near the 10th tee box at Glen Oaks to meet Harry.
Harry as most of you know is Rory’s lifelong friend and is filling in on the bag until another (if there is one) replacement is found. I introduce myself to Harry while Rory warms up his putting before the round (by the way – new putter in the bag which I was hit on later). We have some small talk, I ask about the warm up and other golf related subjects, before Rory walks up and introduces himself. I extended my hand, played it cool and off to the 10th tee box we went. Once we arrived to the tee box we were also greeted by another 3 caddies who would join us from the Caddie for a Care Foundation (great organization). We all shook hands and got a quick picture in before the round. I stayed out of the way at first, while one of the other caddies carried the bag as Rory and I walked down the fairway. This is the start of what would 5 full hours (yes, 5 hours of inside the ropes, up close kind of experience) of me picking Rory’s brain and video taping literally every swing of the round.
Now – I know what most of you are thinking, “what the hell did you guys talk about?!” well my friends – as a proud member of this fine golf fanatic forum…I started with equipment questions. Immediately I had his attention – his eyes lit up like I had just asked an alcoholic if they wanted free booze. He started explaining how he just changed from the .580 Ribbed Multi Compound’s to the Tour Velvet .580 Rounds because, “I felt like the club was too much in my fingers, which ultimately would make it easier for me to lose the club either inside or outside in the take away”. Holy s*** – Rory McIlroy is explaining to me his grip change – oohhh do go on. “I’ve been working really hard on making sure my take away is perfect because if it’s screwed up there you’ll see me have to reroute the club on the downswing” – jaw hints the floor.
By now we’re getting close to his tee shot, when he suddenly changed the subject to me – where I was from, if I played golf, how I liked the military blah blah blah. Rory really wanted – or at least seemed – to know me. Of course I’m thinking, “hey man, stop talking about me...I want to know why you went to the new putter – why is have a Scotty Cameron Matador grip, how was the transition to the new ball, the wedges…tell me about the wedges!!!”…all in due time my friends. I explain who I am, how I got there and how the opportunity came about.
As we continue to walk down the fairway I try to get Harry involved as well, since he is who I met first. Seriously, what a great guy – Harry was super friendly and didn’t waste any time before starting to bust my balls. What was so cool about this opportunity, at least from my perspective, was to really hear and see what goes on in between shots. These guys were just two friends shooting the s*** and talking about what normal dudes talk about either at the bar or on the links. Yeah yeah, get back to the golf – okay okay.
His second, was a 125ish uphill 2 yard draw to a back left pin (that was just beautiful to watch), lands 6-8 feet from the hole, - okay cool now we have to walk to the shot…more questions. “I noticed you went from the Juno to a Proto Mullen – what made you switch?” Well, he replies, I’ve had it for a while and it resembles the Cameron I was using at the end of last year (of course I know this), which helps in a few areas I was struggling. (holy s*** again, here is arguably one of the most talented golfers to walk the face of the Earth telling me about his putting woes. I’m hooked).
As we approached the green I couldn’t help but remember the instruction given by the Birdies for the Brave contact before I walked to the tee box; “if the player asks you to stick around you are more than welcome to, however do not ask to” – no sooner as the thought goes through my head that my experience is almost over Rory kindly offers the opportunity to walk the entire 18 holes with him. UHHH YEAHHHH! I’m pretty sure I replied before he finished the offer, but hey who cares? He makes birdie and now I can’t help but think; this is so fu^&king cool.
Without going into hole by hole and shot for shot – which I will more than gladly do if you guys are interested – I wanted to share some of the more meaningful stuff – like more equipment, course management, and golf swing questions. A few holes letter we get down to the good stuff – his clubs – in detail. I talk to him about the beautiful RorsProtos – which by the way look even better in person – the driver and the wedges. We talked about the process of trying to figure out which wedges he would put into play and the why that went behind the decision.
I asked very specific questions like, “what are your iron specs” (standard length and 1* upright and swingweight d3), but the conversation really hit a good point when we got to talking about the ball. This was something that you could tell he had strong feelings about. Immediately he prefaced his response with – “I have always played the ProV, but the new ball is just too spiny.” He gave me an example for one of the rounds at the Masters this year. What holes we said I can’t remember, but he explained that two different shots with the same club (8 iron) due to the wind went somewhere around the total distance of 85 yards difference. “How am I supposed to trust a ball that spins like that, I can’t…so I had to find something different”. Now I have played both the TP5X and the new ProV1x, I’m no professional and don’t need to worry about that, but you could tell in his face he was dead serious and wasn’t just talking up the new ball. I won’t go into the detail he told me about the offers between the companies he was considering signing with, but I will tell you when he told me “it was all about the ball” I believed him.
One of the other really cool things that came out of the experience was seeing how involved Rory and Harry were in the yardage book and how much they wanted to explain to me. I remember Rory asking me to chime in now and then to make sure he was doing his job with it. Meticulously – both Rory and Harry would write down each shot and the conditions of each; wind direction, slope, club selection, distance to pitch, trajectory, full shot or not, shape, literally everything.
As we were finishing up the round we got on the conversation of my wife and I. We bought a house in Raleigh – she lives there – while I am stationed in Fort Dix NJ. Rory wanted to know more about what she did, how we meet, and how long we had been married. We had talked about his recent marriage (why his ball is number 22 – the date they got married) and said they just had their 4-month anniversary. That day (the 23rd) I told him that I too was having an anniversary, that Friday (the 25th). My wife and I are celebrating 5 years of being married. He congratulated me and asked if I would make sure I do something special for my wife – we both laughed and then the idea hit me. I didn’t want to ask, but I had to. My wife as I have stated is a BIG fan, and nothing would make her day than having Rory tell her Happy Anniversary.
I tried not to ask Rory for anything, but I had to ask if he felt comfortable recording a quick message for my wife. He immediately jumped at the opportunity – holding my phone he pressed record and said; “hey Susan, I just wanted to wish you a very happy anniversary and I hope you have a great day”. HOLY s***. Since Wednesday I’m writing this on Friday night, my anniversary and I can tell you my wife FREAKKKKEEDDDD.
There is soooo much more for me to say, but I really want to move in so you guys aren’t reading a novel. I do want to leave with this story by saying – Rory was a genuine guy, he cared about what I had say and never seemed like he wanted to withdraw away from the conversation. I am so thankful he and Harry let me stick around for the full 18 holes and it was an experience I will never forget.
After that experience I call my wife, tell her about some of the experience (but not the video) then head back to the Patriots Outpost for lunch and another spot to caddie. I was given another amazing opportunity to caddie for none other than Jhonattan Vegas. Seriously the day couldn’t get any better.
I was to catch up with Johnny and his caddie Ruben on the 10th tee box – their 10th hole of the day. As I waited on the tee box, Ruben shows up and we immediately hit it off and before we go any further – this guy is hilarious. Pretty much before Johnny arrived to the tee box I had already been invited by Ruben to finish the round with them – another 9 holes – of course I jumped at the chance. Johnny walks up – extends his hand – and Ruben introduces me to Johnny. I’m thinking to myself at this point “today must be a dream, this is so f*(&ing incredible”. Johnny sets up and sends the tee ball into what seemed like outer space and without skipping a beat we were off walking down the fairway. Johnny, Ruben and I begin talking about who I am, where I’m from and the normal small talk to begin a conversation.
If any of you know me, which some of you do, you know I’m not very big – I’m scrawny 5’11” 130 lbs. As soon as I mention I’m a Marine, Ruben (like an old friend would have) starts needling me for being skinny and starts talking smack about me carrying the bag – jokingly of course. I retort, he and I laugh and this is the start of what would be – what was for me – a great round and an even better way to cap off the day. We were paired with other Pro Am partners who mostly stayed in their own bubble, trying to play well in front of the talented J Vegas. The 10th and 11th holes go by pretty quick and we had to wait on the 12th tee.
On the 12th tee box is where we meet Matt. Matt is Johnny’s agent, and we all get to talking about what I do in the Marine Corps. I’m a CH-53E Crew Chief and without going into a lot of detail they all seemed to be genuinely interested in what I did. After hitting his tee shot we start walking down the fairway and I ask Johnny what are the best and worst things about being on tour. Best was the travel and the golf, but the worst was always being away – this was something that both of us could relate to.
That was the second time in the same day where I was really surprised by the way these professionals think and feel. Sure they play golf, but they are away from their families 6 days out of the week and sometimes weeks on end. I had never really thought about it; I always thought it was play golf for s*** loads of money and work one week out of 4 – boy was I wrong. Johnny and Ruben really explained how much hard work and effort goes into performing week in and week out and what kind of toll it takes on not only yourself but also your family – something I know very well.
Johnny, Ruben and Matt really made me feel like I was part of their group. While I know very well I’m not getting invited to Thanksgiving dinner – what Johnny had then explained to me really hit home: “you wouldn’t believe how tough it can be on the golf course (120 acres or more) when the people your are playing with make you feel uncomfortable”. This went on to really show me that the better experience I had, they had. No one wants to play golf with a tool and no one wants to walk 5 miles with a blabbering idiot. Hopefully I was neither.
I carried the bag, cleaned the clubs, help read a putt here and there, talked equipment, but for the most part it was just 4 guys walking the course shooting the s*** while I got the chance to watch one of the best golfers in the world do his thing. Standing behind Johnny while he hit these towering high shots was stunning. His swing looked flawless and the sound of those MP-4’s smacking into one of those Prov1’s made a noise that frankly am not familiar with. Watching his short game was something out of a golfing textbook. All the while, Ruben was like an older brother – there to teach me what he is so successful at doing and making me feel welcome to ask about anything.
One of the things that I asked Johnny was about his equipment – why was he using the Mizunos, why didn’t he stick with those beautiful mp-18’s, what where his specs, was there anything new contract wise he was looking at? All questions he answered in full detail. I don’t feel like it’s my place to talk about his details with companies he is dealing with, but I do think it’s fine to tell you guys – he really likes the MP-18’s and did say he was looking forward to putting them back in play.
Coming to the end of the round I wanted to thank Johnny, Ruben and Matt for allowing me to tag along, and them all for being so open and willing to entertain my questions. I gave them both a squadron patch as a token of my appreciation. I will forever be a Johnny Vegas fan. As for Ruben, no matter if he is on Johnny’s bag, someone else’s or no longer caddies I will always remember and be a fan of how kind, caring, and humble he was.
Wednesday was probably the best day of my life and it wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for the Birdie’s for the Brave program. So even though they aren’t reading this I want to thank all the volunteers that make everything happen. I seriously can’t speak any higher of the men I have tried to give you guys insight into. If by any chance any of you do read this – thank you again for the amazing experience and I will always be a fan.
Hey Dan, thanks for sharing this here on the Community! I recall reading the thread on WRX and found it fascinating. What an amazing experience.
As an equipment rube down to the micro level, the part I enjoyed the most was getting details on Rory's grip change. @TK3309 and I are two of the biggest Rory fans around and we were stunned when he made the change given his long history with the NDMC. It was nice to get those details from your first hand account.
Sounds like a great experience! Thanks for sharing your story! I'm definitely a fan of Rory's!
And thanks for your service. My brother-in-law and several great friends are marines.
Awesome read. My interaction with Rory has been minimal but he and Vegas seem like two of the most down to earth guys on tour (though a lot of guys are pretty down to earth). Awesome experience, amigo, and thanks for sharing!
Well I would hope that Taylormade has gotten around to sharing my experience with Rors and his team by now. It would be really cool for it to be featured by the Taylormade Social Media team!!!
People say you should never meet your heros, so I always love the stories that blow that out of the water.
Rory seems to be one of the pros that is more genuine and has less of a corporate filter than most, so it is great to hear that he is like that in real life. Great content and if you're 5'11" it look slike he is about 5'8" in that last photo!