Rude: Being Evans Scholar is life-changing opportunity

To this day, our Jeff Rude gets emotional in thinking of Tom Watson's push for his young caddie to get an life-changing Evans scholarship.

To this day, our Jeff Rude gets emotional in thinking of Tom Watson's push for his young caddie to get an life-changing Evans scholarship.

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LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Tom Watson had just won the first of his 39 PGA Tour victories. It came at the 1974 Western Open at the difficult Butler National Golf Club in suburban Chicago. A new Evans Scholar, I happened to be standing near the 18th green for the victory ceremony. I remember the moment as if it were yesterday because Watson’s speech brought me to tears that still return – every time, never fail – when I recount the story, even now almost four decades later.

Watson told the crowd that his local caddie that week, Bobby Maibusch, was applying for the Evans Scholarship and had asked if Watson would write him a letter of recommendation. The young touring professional then said he would do one better. He turned to Chick Evans, the program founder who was seated in a chair by the green, and advised that Maibusch receive a scholarship.

That scene hit the heart because I knew what it meant. I had just received one several months earlier, on reapplication after being turned down initially while in high school. So I knew the anticipation, hope, value, joy and life-changing aspects involved with being selected. It follows that, just today here at the BMW Championship, I broke down three times in front of a television camera when retelling that tale and talking about the Evans Scholarship.

Maibusch would receive one, matriculate to Michigan State and today is the superintendent at Hinsdale (Ill.) Golf Club. Watson would go on to win eight major championships and become a shoo-in for the World Golf Hall of Fame. I would go on to carve out a living telling golf stories like this one, though any tale involving the Evans program tends to evoke more emotion at the word processor because of the deep personal bond.

The day I received the scholarship was the best day of my life to that point and remains in the top handful. Thousands of others feel the same way. To get an idea of how vast such joy is, consider that more than 10,000 deserving young caddies have earned four-year tuition and housing grants since Evans, the Hall-of-Fame golfer, founded the program in 1930. And I’d venture to guess than every one remembers exactly where he or she was when receiving the good word.

You may know that the Western Golf Association’s Evans Scholars Foundation oversees one of the nation’s largest privately-funded college scholarship programs. You may know that today 840 Evans Scholars, including about 25 percent female, attend college. You may know they matriculate primarily in the Midwest, residing in 14 Evans fraternity houses. You may know that all proceeds from the BMW tournament annually help fund scholarships.

But you may not know how much of a game-changer it is for so many. The difference between going to college and not, particularly now when tuition costs more than houses did during my youth. The lifelong friends and influential contacts you make. The cool, warm feeling you have being known as an Evans alumnus. The pride.

Other than having a son who has made his mark in the business as a highly-regarded producer at the Golf Channel, the highlight of my golf career, without doubt, was being asked to emcee the Evans Scholars 75th anniversary banquet at the 2005 Western Open. That was big stuff for a kid from a low-income family in blue-collar Waukegan who got rejected the first time because his grades and test scores weren’t high enough.

You also may not know that there are really three phases involved with an Evans Scholarship.

First, there’s the caddieing at a country club. A young looper doesn’t know it at the time, but he’s really getting an education in so many different areas when carrying golf bags for local captains of industry.

You learn psychology and sociology and physical fitness. You learn money management. You learn street smarts in the caddie shack. You learn when to talk and when not to. You learn how to get along with teenagers and adults and all different kinds of personalities. You learn how to tell a joke and hit a golf shot. You learn what swearing and needling sound like. You learn how to compete. And you learn the value of being nice to people.

Second, there are the college years. That means more learning and friendships and memories that last to this day. That means not being burdened with college loans for years.

Third, there’s aforementioned glow of being an alumnus, of being part of a big extended family, of feeling warmth every time someone says, “Oh, you were an Evans scholar?” Family means this: When my mother died last summer, two high-ranking members of the Evans foundation attended her wake.

I also owe a debt of gratitude to one man who helped all the good dominos line up. His name is Jim Bertoni. He was the superintendent at Knollwood when I worked on the grounds there in 1973. He talked me into reapplying and strongly recommended me to someone with influence. A few months after I received it, Bertoni, then at LaJolla (Calif.) Country Club, put me in touch with Chuck Courtney, a PGA Tour player who helped me get a job caddieing the Tour in the summer of 1974.

That led to a career in golf journalism, to having covered the Tour for more than a quarter century, to having reported at 77 consecutive major championships and almost 100 total.

In other words, being a caddie not only altered my life, it created my livelihood. And it seems the same could be said about Bobby Maibusch.

So while we don’t know who will hoist the BMW trophy this week at Conway Farms, we do know who the ultimate winner is. The Evans program wins every year.

(Editor’s note: Golfweek senior writer Jeff Rude caddied at Glen Flora CC in Waukegan, Ill., and was an Evans Scholar at the University of Missouri, graduating in 1976.)

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