Wednesday, October 30

'I'm Going to Try My Very Best to Beat Him' and Other Life Lessons From the Caddie Yard

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By Tom Coyne

Tom Coyne is a former boyhood caddie at Midlothian Country Club and was a longtime university vice president.

CERTAIN HOLES AT A COUNTRY CLUB bring back special memories — and not always for their beauty or complexity.

For me, one such hole was the 6th at the Midlothian Country Club, about 30 miles south of Chicago, where my brothers and I caddied, starting with me in the mid 1940s and with them to the late 1950s.

As a golf test it wasn't anything special, a 433-yard par 4. The tee box was nestled back in a corner where the club's entrance road met 147th Street. The players hit over a deep valley (well, deep in memory) uphill to a rolling surface past the forecaddie station. The second shot was the tough one, down to a postage stamp green surrounded by three small bunkers. A metal chain link fence, sparsely covered with vines, separated the 6th fairway from the former country road.

Caddying for Mrs. Bradshaw one Sunday afternoon, a car went speeding down the road and from it a voice, surely a current or former caddie, called out "Hi Madge." The not-so-young Madge Bradshaw smiled gleefully and waved. She always was a classy lady.

But the area was less a golf hole than a meeting place. The nearby 7th and 17th tee boxes were side by side, slightly askew and separated by a refreshment stand. Adding to the mix was the path bringing the players off the 16th green.

Adding to the mix was the path bringing the players off the  green. With that many members around, there was lots for caddies to see and hear.

Golfers don't usually realize it, and they certainly haven't signed up for the job, but they are, in fact, teachers, especially for young caddies.

They aren't teaching the secrets of the game. They are teaching life and how one lives it. Caddies, consciously or unconsciously, are always observing and absorbing how adults act and talk. Perhaps even more than from their parents, they are learning from their players how to move into adulthood.

"He treats everybody with friendliness, courtesy and respect; his kids, other members, me, the refreshment girl."

"He really swears a lot. I guess that is the kind of language grownups use, regardless of what the nuns say."

"What a stupid mistake I made…and it cost her. It was really nice the way she explained what I had done wrong and how to fix it."

"She talks a lot about what other people do. It must be OK for me to talk about the other guys."

"He really has a lot of bad things to say about (name your group). So that is what those people are like."

In the late 1940s and early 1950s there were only young boys to hear these comments. We didn't have female caddies then. However, I don't doubt the observations of the young ladies now would be much the same, with the obvious addition:

"Wow! I wouldn't want to be married to him."

Other life lessons were sometimes more direct, not just overheard.

To this day I remember when I caddied for Norbert Shanahan in the First Flight finals of the club championship. We were playing Pat Shea. Pat was a World War II vet and missing a right foot. He walked around the course on crutches, hitting the ball and putting while standing on one leg. And he did those very well indeed.

Before the match started, I asked Mr. Shanahan, "You are going to take it easy on Pat, aren't you, Mr. Shanahan?"

“No, Tom," he said. "I'm going to try my very best to beat him. He deserves that respect."

I have never had a better example on how to relate to people with handicaps, treating them with equality. Mr. Shanahan won the match, but I got far more from him that day than a good tip.

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