Day in the Life: PGA Tour caddie
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – It started just like any other Tuesday morning for James Edmondson and Ryan Palmer. Up at 7 a.m., breakfast by 8, arrive to the course around 9 – caddie and player together at the Children’s Miracle Network Classic, the final PGA Tour event of 2008.
But then things changed when they stepped onto the driving range.
“There’s going to be a lot of ribbing going on,” Edmondson said, while setting Palmer’s bag next to a stack of range balls. “They’re going to wear him out.”
Just two days earlier, Palmer had rolled in a clutch 10-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to break out of a six-way tie at the 2008 Ginn sur Mer Classic and win his second PGA Tour title. And now he was going to hear about it.
For the next 30 minutes Palmer’s routine looked like this: Swing, stop, turn around, shake hands with player/caddie/agent/club rep, joke, laugh, handshake, swing. Edmondson’s wasn’t much different: Clean club, stop, handshake, joke, laugh, answer cell phone, clean club.
It was tough to find any other caddie-player duo having more fun or flashing more smiles on the range. And it was easy to see why, especially after hearing where they’ve come from and understanding how their bond was formed.
The pair met as high school kids in Texas, and forged a connection in 1994 during Edmondson’s senior year and Palmer’s junior year when their schools competed in the Texas high school state tournament. They stayed in touch through college (Edmondson at the University of Houston, Palmer at Texas A&M) and while playing various mini-tours. Edmondson quit his professional career in 2001, and when Palmer needed a caddie at the finals of PGA Tour Q-School in 2002, he called his old buddy. Despite failing to earn his card, Palmer got full status on the Nationwide Tour and the pair was off to Australia that February for the season’s first event. A week later, their lives changed.
After missing the cut in his Nationwide debut, Palmer cruised to a three-shot victory at the Clearwater Classic in New Zealand. Instantaneously, a dynamic duo was formed. Of course, the $110,520 payday didn’t hurt either.
“I think that was the most money we’d ever seen,” Edmondson said. “We didn’t fly out until the next day, so you can imagine (our celebration).”
Now in their sixth year together, the pair jokes that they might know each other’s idiosyncrasies better than their wives do.
“It’s a friendship first,” Edmondson said. “And that’s rare. There are 128 guys out here, and there are probably three or four that have had the same caddie for six years. We’re in a unique situation.”
The journey hasn’t always been a smooth ride, however. Edmondson remembers the early days when he didn’t have health insurance and lived in small apartments, considering selling furniture in order to pay bills. And then there was the time spent away from his wife, whose schedule as a flight attendant often didn’t jibe with Palmer’s tournament schedule.
In Palmer’s first full year on the PGA Tour in 2004, he won the Funai Classic and in each of the next two seasons earned over $1 million. But by the summer of 2007, Edmondson said he and Palmer hit rock bottom. The U.S. Open that year was Palmer’s 10th event in a row and his tank was on empty. He shot 84-84 and finished dead last. At season’s end, Palmer was 144th on the money list and Edmondson was getting offers to loop for other players. The team had come to a crossroads, and Edmondson wasn’t sure which way to go.
“I put all my faith into him,” Edmondson said. “I wanted to be loyal. Just because we had one bad year, I wasn’t going to jump ship. I knew he’d win again.”
With Palmer reinvested in his game and Edmondson the steady presence at his side, the duo set out for a challenging 2008. Without full status on Tour, Palmer and Edmondson had a tough start. They had to enter five Monday qualifiers and missed seven of their first 11 cuts.
By the time they reached the Ginn sur Mer Classic in November, Palmer and Edmondson needed to make something happen. At No. 143 on the money list, the team was staring at another season on the Nationwide Tour. But after two rounds on Florida’s Atlantic coast, Palmer had the lead.
That Friday night, Edmondson tossed and turned, scrambling to find the perfect thing to say to his boss before teeing off the next morning. Finally, moments before their round Saturday, it came to him.
“I told him, ‘We’re just out for a walk in the park, but we’re packing heat and we’re going to take everyone down,’ ” Edmondson said. “I was trying to give him the killer instinct.”
Palmer hit his best drive of the week off the first tee Saturday morning, made birdie and went on to win the tournament the following day.
“I probably leaned on him more than I should, but that’s the beauty of it,” Palmer said.
Now with a two-year exemption on Tour, Edmondson and Palmer have plenty to look forward to. Still, the pair is staying grounded knowing where they came from and how quickly it can all change.
As Edmondson walked off the range that Tuesday at Disney with Palmer’s bag on his shoulder and a cell phone on his ear – Tag Ridings, Jason Bohn and Harrison Frazar were going to meet them for a quick nine holes before lunch – he laughed as Palmer continued to shake hands and get congratulated.
“This will be a fun Tuesday,” Edmondson said. “But when the whistle blows on Thursday, that’s go-time. I love it.”