Caddying seemed like a natural summer job for J.T. Surlis. He is the nephew of a golf pro and he lives close to Southward Ho Country Club. Chances were, he could save a little money for college. He just had no clue how far it was going to take him, or that it was going to pay for his entire four years at Northwestern University.
“Whenever I tell people about it, they are pretty dumbfounded,” the Bay Shore High School graduate said the other day about having been named a winner of the Chick Evans Caddie Scholarship, a national honor that provides a full ride to college for each of 900 recipients.
Surlis will leave for school around Labor Day and will study physics, math and/or economics. He is not sure yet. What is certain is that he will live in a dorm built exclusively for Evans scholars and that tuition, room and board all will be paid for.
“This is a life-changing event for him,” said Jack Druga, head pro at Shinnecock Hills and Surlis’ uncle. Druga had encouraged his nephew to begin caddying as a ninth grader and last year suggested he apply for the Evans scholarship, administered by the Western Golf Association after having been founded in 1930 by Evans, the first player to win the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Open in the same year.
“I think John Kaczkwoski, their executive, and his guys are doing an amazing job of changing lives, raising money and seeking out the best of the best,” Druga said.
Surlis might not have qualified as the best caddie when he began as a ninth-grader. “But he hung in there. He didn’t quit,” said Paul Forker Jr., the caddie master at Southward Ho in Bay Shore. “If there is one quality that stands out about him it’s perseverance. I give him the utmost credit.”
Forker didn’t give up on the youngster either, sending him out on loops so he could get more experience. “J.T. is a great kid. He tries, he hustles,” the caddie master said.
There are subtleties a caddie has to pick up, Surlis said, such as knowing where to stand, how to handle a golfer’s bag, recognizing which members like a caddie to chat and which do not. He related his experiences during a climactic interview in Manhattan, which was the final stage in the Evans scholarship process. “We had to go into a large library and there were 100 people there. It was more like a press conference,” he said. “It was pretty daunting.”
He broke the ice and drew laughter from the crowd when he spoke of the time he carried for a member’s guest who spent the round regaling the group with stories about “Goodfellas” types he had known. Surlis added that most golfers are the type to give you good life advice.
For a caddie, winning an Evans scholarship is like winning the lottery, which makes this streak more impressive: After never having had a winner before 2012, Long Island clubs have claimed six in the past five years (three from North Shore Country Club, one each from Shinnecock Hills and Garden City Golf Club before Surlis).
“The trickle-down effect is amazing,” said Druga, who began his career at 14 as a caddie at Oakmont Country Club in Pennsylvania. “It encourages kids to think about caddying, whether they’re golf nuts or not. They realize how much the can learn in the caddie yard, the life lessons they get from being around successful people.”
Surlis said, “When I first started, I thought it was a great job. But that was all it was. I didn’t expect to get so much more out of it. It’s sort of ridiculous, it’s such an amazing deal. Obviously, I’m blessed to have gotten it.”
Habitat for Humanity of Suffolk will host the Roger Metcalf Memorial Golf Classic on Sept. 25 at Southward Ho Country Club, Bay Shore. Visit habitatgolf.eventbrite.com.
Stu Wiener, Smithtown Landing CC, 11th hole, 177 yards, 5-iron
Jim Burns, Timber Point White, sixth hole, 125 yards, 9-iron
Tom Cosenza, Spring Lake GC, sixth hole, 159 yards, 6-iron
Stuart Weiss, Woodside Club, 14th hole, 146 yards, 9-iron
Joanne Sentner, Woodside Club, 17th hole, 130 yards, driver
Mark Freedson, Woodside Club, eighth hole, 185 yards, 5-wood
Patty Lessard, Pine Hollow CC, second hole, 157 yards, driver
Edward Stripeikis, Great Rock GC, ninth hole, 171 yards, 7-wood
John Campbell, Brookville CC, 11th hole, 149 yards, 7-iron