NGLA caddies hold secret to match-play dominance

National Golf Links is the site of the 2013 Walker Cup.

National Golf Links is the site of the 2013 Walker Cup.

These competitions for golf cups may runneth over – from Ryder to Solheim, Curtis to Walker, Palmer to PGA – yet few are dominated quite like the Geary Cup is controlled by the caddies at the National Golf Links of America.

Officially called the John White Geary Memorial Caddy Tournament, it is a competition between the caddies at “the National” and those at Shinnecock Hills, which sits next door.

Played since 1995, the tournament features 12 caddies from each yard; they play six foursomes matches one day, then 12 singles matches the next day, with each course being used.

While the results have been lopsided – Shinnecock has won just once, there was one tie, everything else has been taken by the crew at “the National” – the passion remains very real.

“There’s a lot of pride, and a lot of run,” said National’s annual captain, a grizzled veteran named The Bear who has called this venerable club home since 1974. (For those who may wonder, the best caddie barns skip formalities of full names. Everyone is known by their nickname.)

For the past 18 years, The Bear has spent added time putting together his team for the Geary Cup and if you think there’s fierce competition to make Tom Watson’s 2014 Ryder Cup team, consider what goes on at this jewel of a golf course out on Long Island.

To make the 12-man team, you best be on your game “because we’ve got some good sticks in the yard,” said The Bear. Need proof? Well, there was a time when The Bear fashioned a 4.7 index “and I was between the eighth and 10th guy on our team,” he said.

The past few years, The Bear hasn’t even made his squad.

“Like I said, we’ve got a group who can bring some game,” he shrugged, and a highlight to this year’s team was the inclusion of Murban, who finally made the team after a few years of falling just short.

The Bear’s qualifying system to pare down a pool of 20-25 of the best caddie/golfers into a 12-man team is a series of scores you have to hand in. Since the weather can be wild out on Long Island, The Bear makes sure he picks out a variety of days with varying elements to see who can handle what.

Now, if you’re wondering how The Bear can get caddies to get in that many rounds, well, welcome to a massive slice of flavor at The National – caddies are free to play after 3 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursday.

The tournament is named after Jack Geary, who was a member at both clubs before his death. “His friends wanted a fun tournament in his memory,” said The Bear, and this one fits the bill.

Now The Bear wouldn’t provide a secret to his dominating success –although perhaps Captain Watson could do worse than ask for some tips. But he did suggest that the nature of The National was a big reason why his boys have dominated.

“The National,” he said, “is a match-play golf course; Shinnecock is a stroke-play course.”

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