LAKE ORION, Mich. – Lance Ten Broeck, the 56-year-old journeyman who leads the U.S. Senior Open at the midway point, is a classic underdog.
He played in 349 PGA Tour events without winning. He has no exempt status on the 50-and-older Champions Tour.
He is a full-time professional caddie, paid to carry a big, heavy bag while someone else swings the clubs from that bag.
If we were watching David vs. Goliath, Ten Broeck would be David. With one arm tied behind his back.
If we were watching a movie, he would be Forrest Gump, undersized but stubbornly ready to take on the world.
If we were watching a sporting event, he would be the Chicago Cubs, fruitlessly dreaming of a World Series title.
But he is Lance Ten Broeck, the man with one distinction that is likely never to be matched. In 2009, he became the only person to caddie and play in the same PGA Tour event.
That was the Valero Texas Open, where he caddied for Jesper Parnevik and also earned a last-minute spot as a player. He was eligible for that spot because he had made 150 cuts on the PGA Tour.
Actually Ten Broeck carried Parnevik’s bag for 31 holes, while his son, Jonathan Ten Broeck, looped the other five holes to allow his father to warm up.
Neither player made the 36-hole cut, Ten Broeck shooting 71-70 and Parnevik posting 70-74. At least he beat his boss.
Jonathan, now 26, is caddying for his father here. In 36 holes, the old man has hit 26 greens in regulation. He has found 18 of 28 fairways. Overall, with an unwavering short game, he has been more consistent than any other player in the field. He has made just three bogeys, along with one eagle and seven birdies.
“I am very happy with the way I am playing,” Ten Broeck said. “It’s not like I prepared for this by hitting thousands of golf balls.”
Although he played twice in the week before the U.S. Senior Open, he estimates that he plays just 25 rounds a year. When he hits range balls, it’s “usually about 30 or so.”
He would like to earn exempt status on the Champions Tour, but so far this has appeared unlikely. Of course, winning the U.S. Senior would immediately change his career path.
Right now, Ten Broeck caddies on the PGA Tour for Tim Herron. In the nine weeks before the U.S. Senior Open, Ten Broeck caddied in eight tournaments and made his only Champions Tour appearance of the year in the Principal Charity Classic. He tied for 71st.
For 10 years, he caddied for Parnevik. Then came a year and a half for Robert Allenby. Now Ten Broeck is Herron’s guy.
Would this week’s performance surprise Herron? Hardly.
“We’ve played a lot of golf together,” Ten Broeck said. “He knows I can play a little bit.”
Tom Kite, who surrendered his U.S. Senior Open lead to Ten Broeck, made much the same observation: “He’s been a very talented player for a very long time. I played a bunch of golf with Lance when he was at the University of Texas.”
Ten Broeck grew up in Chicago, the youngest of eight children. He learned to play golf at highly regarded Beverly Country Club. Older brother Rick Ten Broeck is a regular competitor on the national senior amateur circuit.
Reputations frequently misrepresent the people to whom they are attached, so Ten Broeck’s notoriety as a hothead is often exaggerated.
Still, when asked if he gets nervous while playing, he answered decisively, “I don’t really get nervous. I just get mad.”
What has he learned from all his years as a professional caddie?
“Course management, strategy,” he said. “And I can tell you this: I’ve seen it over and over that players can get a string of bogeys just as easily as they can get a string of birdies. You make one bogey, you try too hard to get it back, and suddenly you’ve got three or four bogeys in a row.
“So I’m trying hard to be calm out there. If I make a mistake, I just keep playing my game. So far, it’s worked pretty well.”