Out of the loop
AUGUSTA, Ga. – It isn’t quite like Danny Lee has reached into his bag and opted to play hickory and balata, but bless his heart for helping revive a piece of Masters flavor we’ve been too long without.
And what makes it even sweeter is the fact he thinks he’ll be all the better for it.
“A good caddie is really important to me, because I have to control my anger out on the golf course,” Lee said. Then the reigning U.S. Amateur champion – a young man who is days away from turning pro and realizing a great fortune – smiled and confirmed that maintaining composure is a challenge at times.
“I do (have a temper), but a good caddie can control that for me.”
Enter another young man with a zestful personality and a great grasp of the opportunity he’s been blessed with. Matt Fuzy is in his seventh year as a caddie at Augusta National Golf Club, but when he walks to the first tee for a 1:41 p.m. tee time in Thursday’s opening round of the 73rd Masters, the hallowed place will feel, smell, and look so different.
“It’s a dream come true, man. A dream come true. I still can’t believe it,” Fuzy, 27, said of his chance to caddie for the heralded Lee, 18.
In another era, such a pairing of player and club caddie wouldn’t have earned a second look. After all, up until 1983 players had to take local caddies, which is why so many delightful stories made their way into circulation, none more entertaining than the one involving Arnold Palmer, his wife, and a legendary Augusta caddie.
Seems Winnie Palmer took charge of paying caddie Nat “Iron Man” Avery after her husband’s 1958 Masters win, but was so caught up in the moment that she added an extra zero to the check. Iron Man tried to cash the $14,000 check (it should have been for $1,400) in the clubhouse and it’s part of Masters folklore.
Sadly, club caddies working the tournament is not.
“It’s too bad, too, because I know (young and inexperienced Masters competitors) are missing out,” Carl Jackson said.
A towering man of great dignity and a quiet demeanor, Jackson was 14 when he caddied in the 1961 Masters and he’s been part of this April spectacular ever since. His 48th Masters will be his 33d for Ben Crenshaw and Jackson seemed genuinely pleased that Fuzy and another local caddie, Stan Moore, have bags, although he doesn’t understand why more players don’t choose club caddies.
Neither do a lot of other veteran players like 1979 winner Fuzzy Zoeller, who earned a victory in his first trip here thanks to a local caddie by the name of Jariah Beard. Fuzy, who was born in New York but raised in Augusta, can appreciate Zoeller’s perspective.
“I definitely think players can gain something from a local caddie,” Fuzy said. “That was one of my goals, to change that mentality this year. It’s a definite advantage to have a local guy on the bag. I mean, why wouldn’t you want somebody out here who has seen thousands of golf shots, thousands of putts?”
Fuzy, who played high school basketball and is a 5-handicap golfer, said he works seven days a week, seven months a year, so if you do the math across seven years, you arrive at the sort of experience he talks about. When a club member suggested his name to Lee for consideration, Fuzy figured he was on a tryout.
That was more than a week ago and apparently Fuzy aced the test, because Lee never asked to work with another local. Yes, the realization hit home with Fuzy, but it’s not like he’s along for a joyride. He really feels this will be about teamwork and great two-way conversation.
“He’s a kid who will listen to me,” Fuzy said. “He’s not just somebody who thinks he can read all the putts and hit all the shots. He’s actually willing to listen to me and use my knowledge. You can’t ask for more than somebody who can hit it and somebody who will listen.”
When they become engaged in conversation, often times it is as Lee mentioned, caddie reigning in player’s aggression.
“He wants to hit driver on every hole,” Fuzy said. “That’s where I come in and try to settle him down a little bit. He likes to hit driver and he likes to fire at flags.”
But there is, offered Fuzy, this side of the story, too: “He’s the real deal. I couldn’t ask for somebody better to caddie for.”
So many of the men who wore the Augusta National GC white overalls before him were given special nicknames – Stovepipe and Skillet, Burnt Biscuits and Marble Eye – that they were known by, but Fuzy hasn’t inherited one.
“People just have fun with my last name and pronounce it all sorts of ways,” he said, and for the record, it’s FOO-ZE. But if you chop it up and perhaps make it sound like Zoeller’s first name, well, that’s OK. He’s just happy to be inside the ropes and a part of golf’s greatest tournament and as Fuzy and Lee headed to the range on a cold, wind-swept day, Jackson nodded his head in approval.
“There are things most people don’t really know,” Jackson said. “There are still some little secrets out there.”