The day I met Lee Trevino, Jack Nicklaus and Johnny Miller
Mingling with professional golfers and carrying their clubs was quite a heady experience for a sixteen-year kid from a small town. I just happened to be that kid. For two straight years, I lugged the clubs of an amateur and watched in awe as the professionals hit shots that I had never seen. You see, I played golf too. I was the number one ranked golfer of my high school team. I actually thought I was good. That is until I watched the pros up close hit shots that had me blinking in amazement. My father worked for a company that sponsored the golf tournament. He was able to get me a job as a caddy, even though I had never caddied for anybody. However, I knew the game, and thanks to him, knew the golf etiquette. It was hard to focus on what I was doing. The professional in our group was Dave Stockton, who called everybody “partner” and putted lights out. Dave smiled a lot and talked mostly about golf, and all about putting. I listened intently. He made eye contact with me. I was in I thought, he likes me. His caddy even allowed me to carry Dave’s clubs a few times. After completing our round for the day, I wandered around outside the pro shop and near the locker room. Every few minutes another golfer would walk by, one that I was sure, I had seen on television.
I heard a commotion to my left and spotted Lee Trevino striding towards me. I backed up a bit and then saw a few other kids asking for autographs. Lee was talking to everyone and cracking jokes. He had a small band-aid on his left arm that my dad told me later, covered a tattoo that had the name of his ex wife on it. As I waited for Lee to sign my program, I realized I was a few inches taller then him. He was short and stocky but blessed with a god given ability to talk and amuse. All the adults were laughing as he signed and moved the sea parting as the man in the red shirt made his way to the locker room. Lee had scribbled his name on my program. I could make out the L and the T and little else. I was fine with that, I knew his scribble said Lee Trevino.
I moved away from the crowd and then stopped in my tracks as another golfer appeared. Other people had spotted him as well. He wasn’t just a golfer though, he was the golfer. The Golden Bear was right in front of me and he wasn’t moving. I walked over to him and said, “Mr. Nicklaus…would you sign my program”.
He smiled at me and nodded. I stood there watching him, noting the plaid pants and yellow shirt, the white shoes and long hair. More and more people were appearing, asking for his autograph. He asked me some questions in which I have no memory of answering. I was totally in awe. He winked at me after signing my program and moved away. I asked if I could take his picture, he nodded easily. I gazed at his autograph. It was more than a scribble.
The Golden Bear, the greatest player in the game and maybe the greatest player ever to swing a golf club, had signed my program.
I couldn’t wait to show my dad the autographs. There were benches along the way, spaced out about every forty feet. In front of me, I could see another golfer and his caddy. The golfer was sitting while the caddy was turned away and looking at something. I recognized the golfer on the bench immediately. Johnny Miller, one of the best golfers on the planet. His face was youthful and unlined. He was sitting rim rod straight on the bench. I stopped, thought about it, and then walked over to him. I was feeling good; one more autograph would be awesome.
I had my program and pen ready.
I said “Mr. Miller could I have your autograph?”
He looked at his caddy and smirked, and then he looked at me and said “Why?” I blinked a few times but decided to forge ahead. I tried again “Mr. Miller could I have your autograph”? He glanced again at his caddy who was now chuckling. I was starting to get angry. Miller peeked at my program and then met my eyes. “Why?” he said again, tilting his head a little.
The caddy looked amused. Miller was smirking. I was steaming. I wasn’t sure what to do. My eyes drifted to the program and Jack Nicklaus’s signature. I took in some air and made my decision. “Well forget it then” I said and walked away. Behind me I could hear Miller and his caddy conversing.
I didn’t look back.
Many years later as I thought about this encounter, it struck me how different the three men were. Lee Trevino, seeming to glide as he quickly made his way through the crowd. Jack Nicklaus, kindly stopping and signing, the word classy coming to my mind. Then there was Johnny Miller, the brat as some called him, living up to his nickname.
My time as a caddy was an unforgettable experience, even if Johnny Miller’s childish behavior was a disappointment.
Tags: Golf , Lee Trevino , Jack Nicklaus , Johnny Miller , Caddy
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