Aristotle pondered it eons ago (“Friendship is a single soul dwelling in two bodies”), and it has been explored, defined, romanticized and celebrated since. Even by “The Greatest.” “Friendship,” Muhammad Ali once said, “is not something you learn in school. But if you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven’t learned anything.”
Putting stock in Ali’s words, let us salute two PGA Tour gents who long ago proved that they hold Ph.D.s when it came to the study of friendship. Having met as teenagers nearly 25 years ago, Pat Perez and Mike Hartford – their personalities at different ends of the spectrum – remain in tandem.
“To me, they’re just completely different persons, so how they’ve kept this friendship for so long is just a mystery to me,” said Jon Robertson, who coached a Torrey Pines High School golf team in the 1990s that included the talented-though volatile Perez and the quiet-but-determined Hartford.
Admiring Perez (“One of the most hilarious kids ever”) and Hartford (“There isn’t a better human being than that guy”) for what they are, Robertson marvels at the story. Teammates then, teammates today, because as they take on the 2014 Farmers Insurance Open this week at Torrey Pines, where their friendship was cemented many years ago, Hartford has been the only caddie Perez has employed in his PGA Tour career.
He knows you think you know Pat Perez, 37, as a combustible enigma. But Mike Hartford knows you’re wrong.
“It should be obvious to people that if I’ve been working for him for all these years, he’s got to be a good dude,” said Hartford, 39, who was a year ahead in high school and joined with Perez for the 2001 Buy.com Tour season.
A year later, they were on the PGA Tour, and though there has been just one victory – the 2009 Bob Hope Classic – there has been consistency. Perez has maintained his card for 12 consecutive seasons, earned $14.4 million and piled up 41 top 10s.
“He’s a lot better than people realize,” Hartford said. “He’s matured. He’s trustworthy and honest to a fault. He keeps me laughing.”
Golf confounds. Pro golf gnaws at your gut. Opinions, of course, and so is this: The Perez-Hartford friendship is a beautiful thing, made so because in their own unique ways, they handle the rigors of competition by staying true to themselves and feeding off each other’s commitment.
“This guy has been with me through thick and thin, every step of the way,” Perez said. “He’d be with me whether I won 25 times or just the once. He’s loyal beyond belief.” Perez pauses, then adds: “How many players out here can say they once worked for their caddie?”
As a teenager, Hartford started a landscaping business and offered Perez a job. “He was my fastest worker. He used to practically jog behind the mower.” The furious pace was Perez’s nature, yes, but it had a purpose. The sooner he finished, the sooner he was able to hit balls or get onto Torrey Pines. Hartford understood. Golf connected them. So, too, did this: In an area saturated with private-club teenagers, Perez and Hartford were blue-collar kids who earned their playing privileges through hard work.
This is now: When his round is over or practice is done for the day, Perez is not likely to charge into “player dining,” especially at those clubhouses where the “No caddies” sign is hung. More often, Perez will head into town with Hartford to grab lunch or dinner.
“He doesn’t like the ‘No caddie’ signs,” Hartford said.
This was then: Having shown up at LaCosta just to watch PGA Tour and Champions Tour players combine for an end of-year event back in the early 1990s, 16-year-old Perez was offered the chance to be a marker alongside Gibby Gilbert.
“Can you get my clubs?” Perez asked Hartford, and the loyal friend stepped out of character. “If everyone drove like Mike, we wouldn’t need cops,” Perez said, but Hartford concedes he broke the speed limit for the only time ever.
Returning with Perez’s clubs, Hartford heard Gilbert remark, “Kid, you just better keep up.” Hartford laughed. “He didn’t know that, one, Pat was good, and, two, Pat was fast.” Perez beat Gilbert, who also couldn’t maintain the pace.
Equal as friends but not quite in golf, “Pat was always better,” said Hartford, though he is somewhat modest. While Perez went on to Arizona State, then right into pro golf, Hartford played at the University of California at San Diego and was NCAA Division III Freshman of the Year. Perez, however, had the goods. He left Tiger Woods in the dust when he won the World Junior in 1993 and two weeks later he won the Maxfli PGA Junior in Pinehurst, N.C.
“A prodigious talent, a big reputation,” Robertson said. “Maybe he rubbed some coaches the wrong way, but I knew Pat on an everyday basis. You knew where you stood with Pat; when he was on plane, he was a great kid, not full of himself.”
More than 20 years later, Robertson cannot separate Perez from Hartford, or Hartford from Perez. To him, they are an entry, polar opposites, but as one, even down to the fact they both reside in Scottsdale, Ariz.
“Mike was a serious kid, a great student, straight A’s,” Robertson said, “and Pat, well, he wasn’t much of a student. He was a live wire. He wanted to be on Tour.” He pauses, then says that above all there is this: “Pat could make Mike laugh like no one else, and I think to them, their friendship runs deeper than the business end of things. I think each other’s strengths fill up each other’s deficiencies.”