PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – “Pssst. Did you hear the one about the caddie who grabbed a club from his player, made a ferocious Dalyesque swing, sent the ball soaring into the air, and oh, by the way, scored a hole-in-one?”
Well, 25-year-old Erick Justesen didn’t exactly do all that, but the former professional caddie at Pebble Beach Golf Links did in fact make the 36-hole cut here at the U.S. Open.
Justesen, now a journeyman touring pro who plays the Canadian Tour, shot 74-74 at Pebble Beach to earn his ticket to weekend play.
This doesn’t surprise me one bit.
No other U.S. Open contestant, not even the remarkable Tom Watson, knows Pebble Beach any better then Justesen. That’s because he was a Pebble Beach caddie for three years, in 2003, 2004 and 2005.
OK, let’s see how many times we can use the word caddie in one sentence: Playing in the U.S. Open, where every golfer hires the best caddie he can find, this former caddie has another Pebble Beach caddie, Stephen Planchon, as his caddie.
“As long as I’ve known him, he’s been a good player,” said Planchon, also 25, “but his game has really taken off in the past year. He’s better than he used to be.”
The explanation is simple: Justesen has been working with golf instructor Justin Russo, golf coach at Monterey Peninsula College and director of instruction at Rancho Canada in Carmel, Calif.
“He has really helped me,” said Justesen, who lives in Sacramento, Calif. “I had reached a point where my short game was just killing me. So we focused on that, and then we got around to the full swing.”
That’s full swing, as in very full. Justesen is a bomber. He played a practice round here with Ian Poulter, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, and the Europeans marveled at what they labeled his “turbo boost 3-iron.”
Russo says his pupil can hit that 3-iron “280 to 300 yards in these firm conditions.”
In the first round of this U.S. Open, Justesen was 140 yards from the flagstick on the 502-yard second hole, meaning he drove the ball about 360 yards (it played downwind). The same day, he hit each of the three par 5s in two.
In a sectional qualifier for the U.S. Open, held at Dell Paso Country Club in Sacramento, Justesen shot 65-68-133 to win by three strokes. Pebble Beach, here we come.
Sure, Tom Watson won the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and knows this course like the back of his hand. Justesen, though, has caddied here so many times that he knows the layout like the back of both hands.
Actually, Justesen and Planchon was based at Spanish Bay Golf Club, one of the sister courses to Pebble Beach. However, because of the demand for high-quality caddies at Pebble Beach, both frequently ended up at the big course.
If Watson is in the Hall of Fame, Justesen should be in the Hall of Persistence. “I am so proud of him,” Russo said. “He bogeyed the first three holes he played (10, 11 and 12 on Thursday) and bounced back from that. He is resilient. He is tough.”
As any avid golfer knows, caddies tend to be like that.