Jazz Janewattananond of Thailand has many distinctions here at the PGA Championship. He is the only golfer with his particular first name, the only one who once spent two weeks as a monk and, most important with regard to his play, the only one with a Bethpage caddie.
Jack Miller of Farmingdale, No. 1 on the depth chart of loopers at the state park, got the assignment because Janewattananond, 23, didn’t bring his own tour caddie. The arrangement has worked splendidly so far, with the Black Course first-timer receiving reams of local knowledge and finishing the third round tied for second place. With help from Miller, his 3-under-par 67 tied for the best round on Saturday.
“It’s good, it’s good, it’s great. Sometimes I’m finding it hard to understand his New York accent,” said Jazz, nicknamed for his father’s favorite type of music, after shooting a 2-under 68 Friday. “But it’s good. [Miller] brought some crowd with him.”
Said Miller: “I had friends out there, I’ve got them all over the place here. I told them, 'All in for Jazz, he’s playing great, man.' They pumped him up. He loves that stuff.”
The caddie’s road to this major championship began nearly 50 years ago, when he first carried bags around the Black. “When you grew up in Farmingdale, everybody caddied here back in the day. I just kept in touch with it,” said Miller, 63, who is a frozen foods manager for King Kullen. “I remember the first Open that came here, somebody gave me a practice-round ticket and all I was doing was watching the caddies.”
He has been carrying regularly for 10 years and now does hiring and training for caddie master Dave Casper. “Jack has a lot of experience and he’s very good with tournament golf. It’s something you can’t teach,” Casper said, adding that he had no reservations recommending Miller when Dr. Jeff Poplarski, the tournament’s caddie chairman, reported that one pro was looking for a looper.
Janewattananond (pronounced Jane-what-a-NAN-ond) and the Long Islander had to get to know each other on the fly.
“I did a couple practice rounds with him so I’ve known him a couple days. But it did take a little getting used to, you know,” Miller said. “He’s from Thailand and he speaks very, very soft. I’m like, 'What?' He carries himself very well. He knows what he’s doing. I’m not going to tell him a million things.”
Jazz is, if nothing else, a quick study. At 14, he became the youngest ever to make a cut on the Asian Tour. He turned pro at 15, but didn’t achieve the first of his three victories until 2017 when he was 21. Evidently, he needed the peace he says he attained during two weeks as a Buddhist monk following the 2016 season. He shaved his head, wore a bright orange robe and prayed and chanted all day.
“He hasn’t shared that story with me yet,” Miller said.
The golfer is fine with the fact that this trip is far from serene. The 22-hour flight was too far for his parents, so he traveled solo and found accommodations on his own. “We’ve got the internet now,” he said, adding that he was “wowed” by a visit to Manhattan. “Maybe I didn’t get over that yet, that’s why I didn’t feel the pressure on the golf course.”
He admitted he would be “wowed” out of his comfort zone were he paired with Tiger Woods, who is half Thai and is a major celebrity in Janewattananond’s home country. The young golfer’s friends urged him to find out what Woods’ Thai name is (it’s Tont).
But Jazz didn’t work up the nerve to do anything more than shake Woods' hand before the tournament and congratulate him on his Masters win. In the process, did the world’s most famous golfer know who he was? “No. No idea,” Jazz said. “Just some random kid on the range.”
Woods missed the cut and did not last as long this week as that "random kid." Thanks to the caddie who knows his way around the Black Course, Janewattananond is now a big name in Bethpage.