Scott employs surfing buddy as caddie fill-in at Sony
HONOLULU – Even with confounding doglegs and sturdy ocean breezes, Waialae County Club was hardly intimidating Wednesday morning for the first player and caddie off the 10th tee in the morning pro-am.
It was more like a therapeutic four-and-a-half-hour walk for Adam Scott and his caddie for this week’s Sony Open, Benji Weatherley.
“We talked about that, the stress, and we laughed,” said Weatherley. “It’s the last thing with Adam; he’s like floating through. It’s pretty cool when you’re the caddie and you have nothing to worry about.”
The day before, though? Well, Scott and Weatherley challenged something far more ferocious than Waialae CC. They surfed “The Pipeline” on Oahu’s North Shore, which is not for the faint of heart.
“There was 8-foot surf with 15-foot faces, they were huge,” said Weatherley. “We did some body-surfing. It was pretty insane. But we did it just to give him a little psyche, to get his blood running.
“After that, everything (in the Sony Open) is going to be easy.”
Scott, a surfing enthusiast, could not have asked for a better guide to ride the surf up at Ehukai Beach Park in Pupukea. Weatherley grew up in the area and has been around surfing all his life. Though he now lives in Encinitas, Calif., Weatherley is back home this week to relieve Scott’s fulltime caddie, Steve Williams, who has returned to New Zealand for an auto race competition.
So far, so good.
“He’s a bogey-free caddie,” quipped Scott after finishing birdie-birdie to close out the first round of the Sony Open at 3-under 67. It’s probably the worst he could have shot, given that Scott was around the hole all day and only needed 28 putts, but if you think he enjoyed the day, you should have seen Weatherley’s smile.
“Had a blast, just incredible,” said Weatherley, who concedes he’s not exactly facing the terror of a 20-foot wave.
Instead, he basked the warmth of his native of Hawaii and watched Scott show why he’s the Masters champ. Perhaps the highlight of the day was at Scott’s 14th hole, the 467-yard, par-4 fifth.
“He hit it through the fairway, about 360 yards,” said Weatherley, shaking his head. “He was in the hazard (a dry ravine that cuts through the fairway). I figured he was going to take a drop.”
Scott laughed as Weatherley recalled the way it unfolded, because the Aussie went in and knew he could play the shot.
“He asked me, ‘Are you taking a drop?’ I said, ‘No, I’m hitting it out.’ He asked, ‘You hitting it out sideways?’ “
Scott took his 54-degree wedge and hit something forward about 100 yards and saved par with two putts from 45 feet. Weatherley laughed, but marveled at the sort of talent he witnessed, and was happy that Scott didn’t put much pressure on him.
“He can carry the bag. It’s all I need him to do,” said Scott, who has teed it up at the Sony five times, his best effort a T-2 in 2009.
Weatherley, 36, laughed.
“I haven’t dropped (the bag) yet. I’ve been pulling clubs for him and, surprisingly, they’ve been the right ones.”
Through a friendship with legendary world champion surfer Kelly Slater, Scott got to know Weatherley and they’ve enjoyed each other’s sports. Weatherley said he’s about a 7-handicap in golf. And Scott? “He’s more like a 12-handicap. He’s a good surfer, but not professional surfing. His surfing is like my golf game – some days it is awesome, some days not so.”
Weatherley, who is also involved in magazine and movie work within the world of surfing, praised Scott’s spirit, however.
“He’s capable of a good moment here and there. He goes out in 6- to 8-foot waves and can handle them. He’s not afraid.”
Scott, who has also ignited an enjoyment of surfing in his friend Nick Watney, clearly won’t be switching sports any time soon. Though he’ll continue to surf when the situation presents itself, he said he cannot even hang with Slater and company. “They drown me every time,” he said.
That’s not to say that Scott doesn’t enjoy the challenge; he surely does and his respect for those who ride the biggest waves is heartfelt. Surfing is a culture and those who are entwined in every aspect of it, like Weatherley, speak with great reverence for their heroes. Tom Curren, for instance.
“He was my favorite surfer,” said Weatherley of the three-time world champion. “He was the Freddie Couples of surfing, as cool as it gets. You just wanted to watch him walk down the beach. He had the same vibes (that Couples sends off). He’d walk down the beach and the way he did everything was cooler than everyone.”
Weatherley agreed that he senses some of that in Scott, except the 33-year-old Aussie “works so hard, he’s as hard a worker as I’ve seen.”
Gregarious and quite comical, Weatherley had fun with Scott’s pro-am partners, with marshals and spectators. But his conversations off the course with Scott have been about their involvement in professional sports. The pro surfing tour is similar to golf, “except we travel more, way more,” he said.
“We go overseas on every event, almost. There are only two big surfing events on the mainland. It’s South Africa, Australia, Portugal, France, places in Asia,” said Weatherley. “You’re moving on some 20,000-mile trips. It’s like being on the European Tour; that’s what we talked about last night, that the surf tour was like the European Tour, way more international.”
Nodding to Scott, who won his sport’s Masters last April, Weatherley tipped his cap to Slater who captured the Pipes Masters in December up on the North Shore, the final leg of professional surfing’s triple crown.
“It used to be 10-15 years (for a surfer’s pro career), but he’s 42,” said Weatherley. “I’m almost 37 and I’m still doing it. Things have changed. It’s your ability, not your age. It’s like golf in that respect.”
One distinct difference – when the pro goes into the surf, he does so without a caddie. It’s him and his board against the ferocity of an unpredictable ocean. That’s what Scott loves about surfing, the personal challenge, and ditto Weatherley. But he does think he can lend some assistance to Scott when the bell goes off in Round 1 Thursday at 7:50 a.m. Hawaii time.
“I’m not on the bag for the golf aspect,” said Weatherley. “I’m just more of a friend, to keep things nice and loose for him.”
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Check out Weatherley hitting some golf balls and talking surfer life in this YouTube video from TransWorld: