U.S. Am champ Gossett, caddie reunite at Pinehurst
PINEHURST, N.C. – Their bond was forged over seven days of a golf championship nearly 15 years ago. But even though that U.S. Amateur ended triumphantly for David Gossett and his caddie, Andy Martinez, it does not define their relationship.
Friendship and faith aren’t so superficial.
“He’s my brother in the Lord. It’s a connection we have,” said Martinez, who has been a professional caddie for more years than Gossett has lived on this earth. The number for Martinez is 45, the age for Gossett is 35, and when his friend and caddie embarks upon a conversation, the young golfer just opens his ears and soaks it all in.
PHOTOS: 2014 U.S. Open (Monday)
Here are some images from Monday's practice round for the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 in Pinehurst, N.C.
“He’s a friend,” Gossett said. “Andy Martinez is extremely experienced. He’s a Hall of Fame caddie and has a wealth of knowledge.”
Gossett and Martinez. Together again, and the one-time “can’t-miss kid” nods his head.
“We have good experience together. Good vibes," Gossett said before showing a big smile.
“The last USGA event he caddied for me, we won.”
That’s an irrefutable fact, because what’s cemented into the USGA record books is Gossett’s dominating 1999 U.S. Amateur championship victory against Sung Yoon Kim that many thought would be the springboard to greater things. Martinez does not deny that he was in that school of thought.
“I felt quite confident that he would make his mark,” Martinez said. Then he paused and added: “And you know what, he still has his chance. There are a lot of guys who’ve played their best golf at the age of 35 or more.”
Maybe, maybe not, but that’s for down the road. For now, there is this week, the 114th U.S. Open at which Gossett has arrived as one of the most heartwarming qualifiers.
From those glory days of collegiate success (he was once NCAA freshman of the year at Texas) and USGA triumph (the ’99 triumph at Pebble Beach) to PGA Tour magic (he won the 2001 John Deere Classic, his first PGA Tour event as a pro), Gossett embarked upon what he calls “a roller-coaster ride,” though truth be told, the journey has stalled in recent years, rarely finding it out of the valleys.
“I got my wires crossed trying to get better,” Gossett said when asked how his career got derailed. It was the short answer to an explanation that would take him days to expand on. But let the record show that after having piled up $2.1 million in earnings from 2002 to '04, Gossett lost his card and his way; he played in just 16 PGA Tour events from 2005 to '10 and for the past few seasons has scraped by with some Web.com Tour tournaments and mini-tour existence.
Far from the glamour of the PGA Tour, yes, but never has he been close to quitting.
“Never took any job interviews or anything. I’m more wired to say, ‘OK, what am I going to do next? When you get punched, how are you going to handle it?” Gossett said. “I have an inner belief I can do it.”
One thing that keeps him connected to that inner belief is his friendship with Martinez. They have kept in touch over the years, not because they won that 1999 U.S. Amateur, but because they share an unbreakable faith. The phone calls and the talks have always left Gossett upbeat, and never has Martinez felt that the kid was going to pack it in.
“What I respect about him is his toughness and his spirit, his love for the game,” Martinez said. “He’s got an indefatigable attitude. He’s a guy who is going to give you all he’s got. There’s a bond between us because that tournament he won was one of the biggest thrills of my career.”
Their initial connection was one of happenstance, having been hatched at the 1999 FedEx St. Jude Classic. Martinez, working, of course, for Tom Lehman, knew that the U.S. Amateur would be at Pebble Beach three months later, so when he met Gossett at a pro-am, he asked the collegian if he had played the famed layout.
When Gossett said no, Martinez offered to line up one of Pebble’s very best caddies, Casey Boyns. A two-time California State Amateur champion, Boyns would have been a massive bonus to Gossett, but things didn’t work out, as Boyns had lined up another bag.
Feeling that he had let the kid down, Martinez offered his services, and Gossett jumped at the chance. A Northern California native, Martinez prided himself on his knowledge of Pebble Beach, but when Gossett went out in 42 the first day, there was not much talk.
“We’re walking to the 10th tee and I’m saying, ‘Well, Mr. Hot Shot Caddie, you sure have helped this guy a lot,” Martinez said.
What unfolded was one of the more remarkable USGA success stories – Gossett shot 38 on the back, added a 71 at Spyglass, and sneaked into match play. From there, it was the David Gossett Show, with victories against Chad Collins, Robert Gerwin II, Robert Smith, James Driscoll, then utter domination on the weekend, 7 and 6 over Ben Curtis, 9 and 8 over Kim.
“He really, really impressed me with his demeanor and his professionalism, even though he was an amateur,” Martinez said.
Though there were a few PGA Tour tournaments in 2004 when Martinez caddied for Gossett, mostly the veteran caddie has followed the young man’s slide from afar. Surprised at the struggles? Yes. But shocked? No.
“This game never ceases to amaze me. If you ever think you know everything about this game, you’re wrong,” Martinez said.
Last fall, during a “just-to-keep-in-touch” phone call, Gossett mentioned that he was going to do a Monday qualifier for the Frys.com Open. Martinez didn’t wait to be asked; he offered his services. Gossett didn’t make it, but he was in contention.
“He showed me enough,” Martinez said. “His work ethic was still there. The problem was, the driver. He kind of had a two-way miss, and when you’re playing at this level, you have to know where your miss is going. But watching him play, everything was good about his game.”
When Gossett earlier this spring got word that he had made it into a U.S. Open sectional as an alternate, he asked Martinez if he’d be available for Pinehurst, should he make it. Martinez promised he would be, but concedes he didn’t rush to book his travel plans.
“I didn’t think he would make it, because I’m a numbers guy, a probability guy. Only 10 percent of the guys make it,” Martinez said.
The self-professed numbers guy was wrong. Gossett – he of the Adams Golf Pro Tour status – made it through a PGA Tour-heavy site in Memphis. The 1999 team was back in the ballgame, even if it did present a bit of a mad scramble. Martinez, who was due to be on a two-week break from Lehman’s duties on the Champions Tour, said he has living arrangements for a few days but might have to re-assess things as it goes forward.
But that’s getting ahead of things. Right now, Martinez is just enjoying his return to Pinehurst, where his memories date to 1974. His boss, Johnny Miller, won the World Open at Pinehurst No. 2 in a playoff over Jack Nicklaus, Frank Beard and Bob Murphy. The fact that the return is alongside Gossett is a priceless bonus.
“I’m thrilled to be here, but I’m on a mission here,” Martinez said. “That is, to do everything in my power, to use the experience and what I know about this game, to give all I have to help him get a good result this week.”