Waste Management Phoenix Open serves as a unique experience for caddies, too

Waste Management Phoenix Open serves as a unique experience for caddies, too

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Waste Management Phoenix Open serves as a unique experience for caddies, too

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by Katherine Fitzgerald, USA TODAY Network

For Justin York, the trip to the Waste Management Phoenix Open was a short drive, but quite literally down memory lane.

York is a Phoenix native, lives in Scottsdale, and his high school, Paradise Valley, is less than six miles down the road from TPC Scottsdale. On top of that, York caddies for Chez Reavie, an Arizona State alum, on the PGA Tour, and the two received a lot of love from the locals last week.

“It’s awesome,” York said. “A lot of faces, having to get a lot of tickets for a lot of buddies — it’s a lot of fun. Other than maybe the U.S. Open, this would be number two in my book of tournaments to win. And definitely, it’s fun to attend, a lot of family around, so it’s a good week.”

Caddies are woven into the game of golf, and the excitement of the Phoenix Open carried over to them. But last weekend, caddies ended up being a bigger part of the conversation.

On Friday, Denny McCarthy was penalized two strokes because his caddie, Derek Smith, stood behind him during practice swings. On Saturday, late in the afternoon and exactly 18 holes later, the two discovered that the PGA Tour had rescinded the penalty.

For the time in between, Smith replayed the hole in his head and on video over and over again.

“It was probably harder for him than it was for me,” McCarthy said. “I mean, I was obviously upset, but he was really upset. I told him there’s nothing we can do about it, it’s a freak incident.”

The PGA Tour released a statement, and PGA Tour vice president of competition Slugger White broke the news to McCarthy and Smith.

Caddie Eric Larson comes out of the tunnel on the 16th hole during the Monday pro-am at the 2019 Waste Management Phoenix Open at the TPC Scottsdale. Photo by: Tom Tingle/USA TODAY Network

“I told Slugger, if he wasn’t sitting down, I’d give him a hug,” said Smith, who was still emotional recalling the “weird 24 hours.”

But McCarthy and Smith, who have a good relationship, didn’t let the emotional roller coaster affect their overall tournament experience. Both hoped the discussion of the rule will lead to a better understanding for everyone on the Tour.

But caddies also consistently help their golfers in other ways. Take Branden Grace for example.

When Grace was eyeing the green on the seventh hole on Friday, a discussion with his caddie, Craig Connelly, made all the difference.

“I thought it was a 7-iron, and my caddie, Craig, said he thinks it’s a perfect number for an 8,” Grace said Friday. “And I wanted to hit it pretty much at it, and, if anything, it’s going to finish just past it. And he thought it was just a normal flush 8-iron. And I said, OK, if that’s what you think, then I’m going to go for it.”

Grace was right to put his trust in Connelly. The 8-iron was good for a hole-in-one. The crowd erupted as Grace’s shot fulfilled Connelly’s prophecy.

Of course, at the Phoenix Open, like the golfers, caddies experienced a slightly different atmosphere.

“It’s almost not even close to compare it to anywhere else,” York said. “You have to be very cognizant of the crowds, moving around people in positions, a lot of yelling, so having to deal with that is a little bit of a challenge at times, but it’s a lot of white noise out here, because there’s a lot going on.

“But it seemed to be pretty good and being a local guy, they give us a little bit more a little bit more leniency of yelling, but every once in a while you gotta yell at somebody.”

On Friday, he and Reavie heard a fan yelling “Noonan!” in a nod to “Caddyshack” as Reavie tried to putt.

Smith said his group “didn’t experience anything outrageous,” but if something came up, he didn’t think it would faze him.

“Especially as a caddie, everything you do, you have a basic way that you go about every shot,” Smith said. “And anything that some screams or something is not going to affect that at all. I don’t think it really affects players either, but it would be much more likely to affect them than to throw a caddie off.”

The experience for caddies has seen some tweaks. The caddie races to the 16th hole have been phased out. York knows the fans in Phoenix turn out to party hard, but he also sees them watching the game a little differently.

“Every year just gets better,” York said. “It’s the biggest party, and they decided to have a golf tournament at it in the background. It does get wilder and more people every year, but people seem to get it a little more every year that these guys are actually out here working, and we’re trying to do a job.”

This job and this golf course just come with a few more hazards.

A closer look at how they get those cool videos at the Phoenix Open:

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