Pairing Walker Cup players with home-course caddies leaves both with great memories

David Cannon/R&A via Getty Images

Pairing Walker Cup players with home-course caddies leaves both with great memories

Amateur

Pairing Walker Cup players with home-course caddies leaves both with great memories

LOS ANGELES – What’s the coolest thing about the Walker Cup?

The world’s greatest amateur competition – as winning U.S. captain Spider Miller called it on many occasions – proved once again that it’s golf’s classiest expression of team match play. Throw in the understated pageantry, galleries giving equal post-shot applause regardless of country, and the Walker Cup has remained the gathering its founders envisioned.

But cool?

While Miller redefined the increasingly silly spectacle of high-profile captain cart driving by staying in the background during a 19-7 thrashing of Great Britain & Ireland, there was really no cooler component than the unusual matchmaking of Walker Cup players and the home-course caddies.

Instead of being allowed to bring their own sidekicks, the 20 Walker Cup players are assigned a local caddie to prevent any kind of stacking of local-knowledge bias.

“I think it’s a great thing we do,” Miller said. “The caddiemaster here assigns the caddies that he feels are the best, and it’s a reward.”

Besides a nice stipend of $1,200 and multiple gifts, the Walker Cup caddies this year got a chance to be needled by a former President and even got cell phone pictures taken of them by the members who normally are asking them for yardages. There is also the obvious added cache of becoming a former Walker Cup caddie, no doubt a brand-builder at a place like Los Angeles Country Club, where the club oozed with pride hosting the event.

Ultimately though, this crash-course in bonding is about the rapid-fire relationship they must build with a young player who they must guide around a course the caddies know, while also helping the lads with the inevitable Walker Cup nerves.

“The caddies this week didn’t get enough credit, they’re absolutely fantastic,” U.S. team member Maverick McNealy said. “It’s an amazing group of guys, and we were really privileged to get to know 20 of them this week.”

So when McNealy was introduced to LACC looper Cesar Baltazar, the Stanford grad quickly learned everything he needed to know about his caddie.

“First question I asked him is, ‘How long have you been here?’ The correct answer is longer than I’ve been alive,” McNealy said. “He’s been there, done that.”

With 25 years on the bag and no shortage of members buying him beers after guiding McNealy to a 4-0 mark, Baltazar says it was a career highlight.

“I’m still dreaming,” he said, though Baltazar was quick to point out he is nowhere close to enjoying seniority on LACC’s caddy crew. “There are 20 guys who have been here longer than me.”

McNealy was grateful for the wisdom and experience.

“Cesar was so helpful. He’s seen every shot. I don’t think anyone’s seen the golf course play like this, and we had a lot of fun out there.”

Baltazar’s trademark sense of humor came in handy at the outset when McNealy and Doug Ghim opened Saturday’s foursomes session.

“I was shaking,” McNealy said. “My legs were shaking, my forearms were shaking over that putt and thank God I made it.”

The only LACC regular to have caddied in majors and on the PGA Tour Champions is Cecilia Olmedo, who was given Scottie Scheffler’s bag and ended up brokering a putting lesson from Ben Crenshaw.

When Scheffler struggled with his stroke in a Saturday foursome-session loss, player and caddie were on the practice putting green when Crenshaw spotted Olmedo from their Tour days. After a quick hug, Cecilia revealed that his player was struggling with the flat stick and asked Crenshaw if he’d take a look at Scheffler’s stroke. It doesn’t hurt that Scheffler plays for Crenshaw’s alma mater and that they’ve met. But an evening lesson, at the Walker Cup, in front of LACC’s members, by one of the game’s greatest putters? It wouldn’t have otherwise happened if not for Olmedo.

Nor would have some key made putts in Scheffler’s 1-up win over Connor Syme in Sunday singles.

“Cecilio was pretty much helping me read every putt,” said Scheffler, who pointed out that even his sister and regular big-tournament looper, Callie, who played at Texas A&M, isn’t called upon to read many putts. Calling Olmedo an “awesome guy,” Scheffler was humbled by the week and by his trusty assistant.

“He put up with me for a week, so he deserves some sort of medal,” Scheffler said.

How tight is the bond the players build with these bag-toting associates they are randomly paired with for the week of a lifetime?

“My caddie from Lytham, Kevin, sent me good luck e-mails over the course of the week,” said McNealy, who played on the losing U.S. team at Royal Lytham in 2015.

And what a week it was in Los Angeles for both players and their randomly newfound friends.

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