Tuesday, September 12

Looping, Part 2: Angelo Argea, 'Rabbit' Dyer, 'Killer' Foy, 'Gypsy' Grillo and Other Caddie Characters

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Following is another installment in John Coyne's caddie series. Read Part 1.

By John Coyne

Copyright © John Coyne. Used with permission.

ONE OF THE FIRST CADDIE "characters" to emerge was Angelo Argea, the silver-maned Greek and former Las Vegas casino hanger-on, who began to caddie for Jack Nicklaus in 1963, Nicklaus' second year on tour.

Argea had gone from Las Vegas to California to caddie for one of the Desert Inn owners at the Bob Hope Pro-Am, but when there was a shortage of caddies the following day for the tournament itself he was asked to sign up for one of the touring professionals. Argea chose Nicklaus, having heard the pro was suffering from a hip injury and might not show so he could be on his way back to Las Vegas.

But Nicklaus did play, and won, and Angelo Argea found a new career and life away from the gambling tables of Las Vegas.

I ran into Argea when the 1976 PGA Championship was held at the Congressional Country Club near Washington, D.C. As a former caddie writing an article for the Washingtonian magazine that was published in 1976 and entitled, "Caddy Calls Gary Player a Donkey!", I naturally gravitated to where the caddies were gathered when I arrived at the club. They were sitting out in the sun near the putting green, watching their players practice.

Argea was entertaining everyone within hearing distance, talking to strangers, chatting up pros, kibitzing with all the caddies. He had by then developed a friendlier reputation than Nicklaus, who was always accused by golfing aficionados of not smiling enough, and also, of beating Arnold Palmer too many times.

There were other "characters" at Congressional that day. One was Hale Irwin's longtime caddie, Sammy "Killer" Foy, a retired fighter who once boxed at the middleweight level and claimed to have knocked out Sugar Ray Robinson. Killer was famous for his hats and he varied them, depending on the tournament. That day, though, he was out-flashed by Gary Player's caddie, Alfred "Rabbit" Dyer, who was known for his sweeping panamas.

As I talked with Bruce Edwards about how Watson was playing, Rabbit, a tall, slim, good-looking African-American, was discussing in detail the outfit he planned to wear at the next day's practice round, the only time that caddies could deck themselves out. Once a tournament started, they'd all be wearing official uniform bibs for the event, stenciled with the name of their player on the back.

If I had been 14 back in 1976, it is possible I might still have had a career
as a "Bag Rat," what caddies called themselves in those years.

Today, professional tournament caddies are mostly college graduates with families and careers. But it was not always that way. Joe "Gypsy" Grillo, who I met in 1988 at the PGA event at Westchester Country Club, started caddying in the mid-sixties, and remembered being considered a third-class citizen.

"We had no identification system," he explained, "could not even get on the course without our players signing for us, and never could get anywhere near the clubhouse or locker room."

Grillo at first bounced from bag to bag, caddying for whatever pro wanted him. Then he got lucky and teamed up with Jim Simon, who during the late seventies and early eighties finished in the top 30 on the tour several years in a row, earning over $100,000 in 1981.

Also coming on tour about that time was Mike Carrick. Unlike Gypsy, who had been a full-time chef before going on tour, Carrick had graduated from college in Canada and taught physical education before he joined the tour in 1971.

Carrick picked up whatever bag he could until 1980 when he got together with Tom Kite. Carrick would go on to become one of the best-paid caddies, thanks to Kite's winnings of nearly five million dollars over the next decade. Carrick, in 1989, took home somewhere in the range of $80,000 based on a percentage of Kite's winnings that year and his base salary.

Unlike the former "hoboes" on tour, professional caddies like Edwards, Grillo, Dyer, and Carrick brought to their players reliability and steadying influence during the tournament, as well as a knowledge of the golf course and their player's abilities. In the middle of the fairway, framed by a densely packed gallery, the player has only his caddie to turn to. A yardage mistake by a caddie can mean the loss of a championship and thousands of dollars.

Bruce Edwards told me the story of how he knew he was in tune with Tom Watson during their first weeks together. They were playing the No. 2 course at Pinehurst in North Carolina and Watson had just birdied the 15th, 16th, and 17th holes. On the second shot into the final green, Tom asked Bruce if it was a 1-iron or a 2-iron to the pin. Knowing how pumped up Tom was, Bruce was afraid he'd overshoot with the 1-iron; he told Tom to go with the 2-iron and Watson drilled the ball within 15 feet of the hole, then made his putt for a brilliant score of 62.

"I knew then," Edwards said, "that I was part of his team. He had taken my advice and I had been right."


John Coyne is a bestselling author who has written several books about golf. Learn more at John Coyne Books.

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