Drinking cost me my job on the PGA Tour. How did it happen? It’s like that Hemingway line: “Gradually, then suddenly.”
I always thought I had a safe relationship with alcohol. My first beer was in college and it’s not like I was vertical on a keg every weekend. I might have a six pack every Friday and Saturday night. I know it qualifies as binge drinking now, but back then, and compared to many other college students, it was considered moderate.
After graduation, one of my high school friends tried to chase his dream on the mini tours. I didn’t have a job yet, so I figured I’d caddy him and put off growing up as long as I could. He didn’t last a year before quitting when he realized his game was nowhere near what it should be. I wasn’t ready for an office job, so I found another bag, which led to another bag, and two years later I was on the PGA Tour.
When I started, the leading money winner on the tour made less than $2 million and only 20 or so guys made $500,000. If you were a caddy and you weren’t with a star, you were doing it, and for the first five years it was me. Still, I loved it. I was single and didn’t need much. As much fun as I had, life on the road can be tight when you’re on a budget. One of the cheaper things to do is drink.
It didn’t help matters was being with other caddies every week. Everyone else also drank almost daily. Again, I enjoyed myself, but it’s not like we were bombarded all the time; on most nights I would only have two drinks to unwind.
Yet there were other times when we drank much more. I don’t care how practiced you are at putting them back, heavy drinking catches up with you the next day. The fact that our job requires being outside, often in the heat, did not make those days easy. Still, when you’re in your late 20s, even early 30s, you can manage those days—or at least hide them.
Then I got pretty bad at hiding them. I know because my player’s agent told me he was worried because I kept showing up to the pitch hungover. By then I was close to 40. Two of the guys I had been routinely hanging out with were no longer touring, and two others had started to merge with another group. I still couldn’t afford to spend the night alone, but I never made an effort to get to know the new caddies I was with on a weekly basis. I often drank myself, sometimes 10 beers in the evening before falling asleep. The agent was right; I was a mess. I wish I could tell you that I came to my senses, but I didn’t. Two weeks later I was wrecked before a Saturday round and on the course my player gave me one What did you do load night? staring
How was my work messed up? I didn’t give my player bad reads or targets. It’s not like I wanted to pass out in a bunker or throw up on the course (although sometimes both seemed like good options). Honestly, my player didn’t need much from me. The biggest thing he wanted was a loose atmosphere. Usually that meant talking baseball or making him laugh. I’m not going to lie, we had one of the best reports on tour. But looking back, when I was hungover I tended to be quiet or my energy level wasn’t where it needed to be. There were no dramatic incidents on the field, but my drinking affected my player’s performance.
However, there was a disappointing moment off the field. Not long after the agent’s warning, I got hit by my player. His parents were in town and before a round his dad told me afterwards that I should join the group for dinner. A few hours later, as we’re shutting it down for the day, my player says to me, “I don’t think you’re going to come tonight because I need your best tomorrow.” He said it gently but sternly. The implication was clear: if I got out, I would drink, and I would drink too much.
Here’s the worst part: In two of the next 10 rounds we had, I showed up hungover. He knew it too. I was sick for another round, but given my track record, he probably thought I was in the bag that day too. Those were the last rounds we had together because after the season he fired me and told me if I wanted to stay on tour I had to take my job seriously.
The first months I waited by the phone. I had been touring for more than a decade; someone would need me. While I waited, I drank, but the phone never rang. When the US Open came, I still didn’t have a job. At that point I knew word was out as to why I was getting canned and the phone wasn’t going to ring anytime soon. That’s when I stopped drinking: no programs, no divine intervention, didn’t go cold turkey. Instead, I wiped myself out for a good two months, and it was weird—drinking not for fun, but to get my body ready to let go—but I had to do it. I wanted to go back on tour and the first step back would be to put the bottle down for good.
I had to return to what was then the Nationwide Tour to find a bag, and while I never lasted more than a few tournaments, I found a semi-regular job back in the big leagues. My old player had given me a recommendation. We’ve never fully reconciled – player-caddie breakups tend to be that way – but I’m forever grateful that he did me that favor.
It’s been 10 years since I’ve been back and I’m actually relaxing. It hasn’t been easy. The temptation is still there to drink. There is still a lot of downtime, and even though the money is so much better now than it was when I started, my budget is still tight. Drinking is a cheap, easy to get thrill and when I hang out with other caddies there are at least a couple of them enjoying their spirits. I mostly step next to a full-time bag because I’m newly married and want to be more at home with my family. To be honest, drinking also played a big part in the decision because it wasn’t easy to quit and this caddy life only makes it harder.
Undercover Caddy suggests visiting alcohol.org if you’re struggling with alcoholism.