Good caddies have a knack for finding things, such as having found their way to the job in the first place. For instance, Darryl Conklin began 40 years ago, walking 40 minutes from Malverne Junior High School to Middle Bay Country Club in Oceanside to shag range balls for 75 cents a bag. He still is caddying.
Romel Velasquez immigrated to Hempstead from El Salvador when he was 11 and used to tag along when his dad worked on the greens crew at Garden City Country Club. Soon, he was caddying. "It's a great opportunity, you're outdoors. It's just awesome," he said. "Good money, too."
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Eric Harvery moved from the island of Jamaica to Uniondale and heard from a buddy that caddying was worthwhile. Now Harvery is known for having the best eyes at Cherry Valley Club in Garden City, for the way he reads greens and finds stray golf balls.
One of his Cherry Valley peers, who goes only by the name G-Man, could not keep a straight face when he said, "I was born to do this." He added, "Seriously, it's a weird story. I went to Hempstead High School and one day I jumped over the gate and I was at Hempstead Country Club. I got in trouble there - and the following week I was caddying. I guess it was kind of a curiosity."
The point is that caddies still come through courses' gates, every which way. Carrying bags, raking bunkers, offering advice (and knowing when to shut up), watching where tee shots go - these are not lost arts. And the people who perform them are not taken for granted. Once a year, clubs send their caddies to Cherry Valley for the Keith R. Cerrato Memorial Tournament - a de facto caddies championship.
So this past Monday, the caddies weren't carrying clubs. They were swinging them. Club members and head pro Ed Kelly were waiting on the caddies, who all were sponsored as part of a scholarship fundraiser in memory of Cerrato. He caddied at Cherry Valley from eighth grade through Hofstra, from which he was about to graduate when he was struck and killed by a car. His father, John, said it was gratifying to learn that one of last year's recipients said the scholarship was vital in letting her continue her education.
The tournament is a moving tribute to Cerrato. "I knew him. He was a great kid with a good personality," G-Man said. "It's an honor to be here. This is definitely a blessing. It's for a great cause. We appreciate what the members and the pro have done for us."
It also is a salute to caddies. In what might be considered a good omen for golf, the tournament field Monday was generally young, symbolized by 20-year-old champion Chris Kuber of Garden City. Kuber's family never belonged to a club, but he was drawn to the game so he used the caddie job as his entree.
He has been doing it since the eighth grade at Hempstead, Cherry Valley and now Garden City Country Club. He watched and copied club pros, crafting a game that managed a 67 Monday. He is moving to Florida next week to go to a golf professional training school, and he plans to play in Hooters Tour events. "Being a caddie has opened up a world of opportunity," he said.
For others, being a caddie is itself an opportunity. Willie Colson grew up in Tallahassee, Fla., then he moved to Palm Beach and started doing loops. "That really got me into it," he said, adding that he went on tour and worked for British Open champion Peter Thomson, LPGA player Judy Dickinson and others.
During the 1993 U.S. Open at Baltusrol in New Jersey, people at the club noticed him and asked him to stay. "I worked there for seven years, then the hills got to be too much for me so I decided to come over to New York," said Colson, who caddies at North Hempstead Country Club.
There is an art to it, said Eric Lewis, 20, of Bellmore, who works at Cherry Valley. "A good caddie is one who listens real well," he said. "You have to know your player by the first hole. You know on the first tee if your member is going to talk a lot or if you should just be quiet. If he says, 'Eric, what do you think of this?' I give him my opinion. If he thinks differently, then that's OK. We go with what he thinks."
Velasquez said, "Spotting the balls, that's the most important thing, I'd say. And just helping the golfer have a good round, an enjoyable day."