The USPGA Tour – Yet Another Great Adventure

John Lister – who gave me the opportunity to caddy in the US

After three seasons in Europe, my caddying in 1976, 1977 and 1978 had been restricted to Australia and New Zealand and, even then, on a part time basis.

Although there had been several highlights, including three consecutive wins by John Lister in New Zealand in late 1976 and early 1977, a runner-up finish by Lister at the 1977 Australian Open and the match against Seve Ballesteros in 1977, I was beginning to look further afield to satisfy my caddying appetite and lust for travel.

I had worked in various roles including a period in 1978 on a horse stud near Auckland and while the thoroughbred breeding industry was, and still is, a field in which I have had interest, the lure of caddying on the PGA Tour contained more appeal.

I talked with John Lister at events late in 1978 and it was decided that I would caddy for him in the US in 1979. John had been on the PGA Tour since 1971 and given the good rapport and success we had experienced together in New Zealand and to a lesser extent in Australia we were both keen to join forces in the US.

It was too good of an opportunity to turn down. After all, the prospect of caddying on the holy grail of professional golf was, to a caddie, what playing that tour was to a professional golfer.

John’s Lister’s best performance in Australia – runner-up against a strong field at the 1977 Australian Open

It was decided that I would not leave until late April of 1979 and join John at the Byron Nelson Classic in Dallas.

I needed a job to tide me over until departing for the US and decided to head to Nelson in New Zealand’s South Island to spend time with my close friend Corals D’Ott and her boys and seek work there.

I looked for work in the hospitality industry and managed to secure bar work at the Wakatu Hotel, a popular watering hole and a very enjoyable but brief period in my life it was. I loved Nelson and dependant on how things worked out in the States felt sure I would return there at a later date.

Sydney based New Zealander, Bob Moore, was keen to head to the US also. I had met Bob caddying in Australia and New Zealand and, after time in Sydney amongst the SP gambling industry, he was keen to escape to a friendlier and less stressful environment and so we headed to Dallas, Bob to caddy for American Mark Lye and myself for Lister.

Despite my extensive travelling experience, I had only spent a limited time in the US and so caddying on the USPGA Tour was an adjustment but one I thoroughly enjoyed despite Lister’s lack of success there in 1979.

Following the very first event in Dallas, John was ineligible for the tournament at Forth Worth the following week and so he, his then wife Diana and I drove the lengthy road trip to their home in Clearwater near Tampa on the west coast of Florida where we stayed for a couple of weeks.

If you had to spend time off anywhere, Clearwater was not a bad place to do so. John was an avid fisherman and he loved nothing more than heading down to the nearby Dunedin beach and encouraged me to join him fishing from the shore and, sometimes, up to our waists in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

It was the first of two periods of stay at the home of John and Diana and their hospitality during such a great adventure to the PGA Tour is something I will always be thankful for.

We re-joined the tour in Charlotte in North Carolina for the Kemper Open and from that point on I got to visit some great places and some fine golf courses and, as a 25/26-year-old, had a lot of fun.

John was unable to reproduce some of the heroics he would so often display against, admittedly, weaker fields in New Zealand and it remains a mystery to me how the amazing talent and skill set he so often displayed at home was unable to be replicated in the US.

He had won the Quad Cities Classic in 1976 but his best finish in 1979 was at the Greater Milwaukee Open in Wisconsin where he finished 5th behind Calvin Peete and his career in the US never saw the true talent of the real John Lister.

From that point of view the season was a disappointment but I loved my time on the PGA Tour, my knowledge of the game, professional golf and the golf industry in general building on what I had developed while caddying in Europe and Australasia.

Amongst the places I visited while caddying in 18 events that season were courses such as Pinehurst #2 for the Colgate Hall of Fame Classic, Inverness in Toledo in Ohio, where Hale Irwin won his second US Open, Glenn Abbey near Toronto for the Canadian Open and Westchester Country Club north of New York City where the wealth of the American country club set became apparent.

I would revisit Pinehurst 15 years later to caddy at the US Senior Open and fall in love with the place even more, the reason to be expanded on in another memoir.

A special memory was standing alongside the great, but enigmatic and eccentric, Moe Norman, while he was hitting balls on the driving range at Glenn Abbey. He was 50 at the time and visiting with one of the players in the Canadian Open and had been asked to hit a few.

He did so with very formal clothing on but I recall a series of 7 irons being hit almost on a string. I was aware of his reputation at the time but he was not all that familiar to me. I have subsequently become aware of just how much of a legend he was.

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Moe Norman – seeing him casually hit balls in Canada was a treat.

While the higher profile courses were interesting, in many respects just because of the fact they carried profile, it was often the less familiar places we visited that provided great opportunity for fun.

Columbus in Georgia, Pensacola in Florida, Sutton in Massachusetts, Davenport in Illinois, Milwaukee during Summer Fest, Valley Forge in Pennsylvania and Endicott in New York State, amongst others, all hosted PGA Tour events and rekindle memories of great times and experiences on and off the golf course the USPGA Tour provided.

The BC Open in Endicott in New York was always a highly anticipated week for the caddies as, on the Monday following the tournament, the caddies’ championship was held on the En-Joie Golf Club and sponsored by several of the players. Not that I played well in it but the chance to play a PGA Tour layout in tournament conditions for a bit of cash was a real attraction for the caddies.

On one two occasions when John Lister had either failed to make the field in the era of Monday qualifying or was not playing for another reason I had the opportunity to caddy for other players and one that sticks in my mind was when working for Gene Littler in Atlanta.

One of the game’s finest golf swings and what a gentleman – Gene Littler

Even at the age of 49 that week, Littler was a beautiful player and a fine gentleman. He would win 29 PGA Tour titles including the 1961 US Open and was beaten in a playoff on eight further occasions.

He was blessed with a magnificent, classical and uncomplicated golf swing and his capacity to plot his way around the golf course stuck in my mind. He made the cut that week but finished only midfield although to have experienced this iconic American golfer at such close quarters was one of the treats of my time on the PGA Tour.

Littler and I got on well and during the week I talked with him about the idea of playing in New Zealand. I had an ‘arrangement’ with Air NZ who had provided a little support for my visit to the US and the New Zealand Airlines tournament was to be played in Wellington later in the year.

I promoted the idea to him and he would eventually travel to New Zealand to play the event which of course was overshadowed when one of Air New Zealand’s fleet crashed into Mt Erebus in the Antarctic on the eve of the tournament, killing 257 people.

My time in the US would come to an end at the Pensacola Open in Florida and it would be another 15 years before I got back there when the opportunity to caddy for Graham Marsh on the then US Senior Tour presented itself.

I will write a piece on those experiences later but to have caddied on the 1979 PGA Tour was yet another eye-opener and played a role in providing the sort of experience that would lead to ongoing roles in golf as the years progressed.

As I write this I cast my thoughts back to Bob Moore with whom I travelled for much of the time I was caddying in the US. Bob was a great looking guy with a relatively carefree attitude to life and was fun to be around. His looks made him a very handy ‘Wingman’ when we ventured out at night.

On several occasions Bob and I would drive Mark Lye’s van between events and meet Lye at the next venue, one sleeping while the other navigated and drove his way through large parts of the USA.

John Lister also got me to drive his Lincoln Continental between events on one or two occasions, one a lengthy trip after dropping John off at O’Hare airport in Chicago for him to attend a corporate day and meeting him at Valley Forge near Philadelphia the next day. To say the least, driving alone and over long distances on the great US freeways provided a great sense of freedom and escape.

I was devastated to learn years later that Bob had passed away while living the high life in Hong Kong, having developed seemingly successful gambling software there and lived the life of a gambler. He was found deceased in his apartment with some reports suggesting suicide.

Never quite sure how he got to the point of operating in such circles in Hong Kong but he was a wheeler / dealer and gambler although, in my experience, a great guy to travel with. He was always a mysterious and intriguing character, his passing perhaps a reflection on the high life he was leading there.

I loved my time in the US. The caddies were generally very welcoming, the weather warm, although at times oppressive, each week a new adventure and the chance to see some of the greats of the game I had not always encountered in my time caddying elsewhere.

In a later memoir I will discuss my return to caddy in several events on the US Senior Tour in the mid nineties.