Other loops were nightmares. One morning, in a show of confidence, Anthony sent me out with the club president. Little did Anthony know, thanks to the sun glare I'd lose sight of the president's first shot of the day. We combed the rough for five minutes, holding up a group on the tee. But we never found the ball. He went on to play miserably the entire round. Afterward, one of his buddies told Anthony never to pair me with them again. Needless to say, they weren't exactly generous with their tip.
As time went by, I felt more at ease about not having a "real job." I was living a different life, far removed from the one I'd left riding a packed subway to work and hunching over a keyboard in a midtown office. To be sure, carrying golf bags and raking sand traps for a living was often grueling, boring and demeaning. But it kept me afloat during a difficult time and reconnected me with the game.
No matter what kind of week I was having, there was usually something to look forward to: Provided the club wasn't hosting an outing, the course was closed to members on Mondays—and open to caddies. It didn't take long to find out who among us could really play. I was a rusty nine-handicap, which at this club put me near the top rung.
Pretty soon, I had a regular foursome. There was Rudolfo, who caddied during the winter at Casa de Campo in his native Dominican Republic; on Sunday afternoons, he'd practice by chipping balls in the trees beside the range, out of sight. There was Jose, who would bring football-sized tortas, or Mexican sandwiches, that we'd eat between rounds (invariably we'd play thirty-six holes). Our fourth was Miguel, who drove a newspaper delivery truck and played on a couple hours' sleep.
The game was skins (three dollars a hole) and much of the round was conducted in Spanish. "No sangre," I'd say when we halved a hole, setting up a carryover. One evening, Miguel and I—evenly matched, or so I thought—decided to play a five-hole match for twenty bucks. I won the first with a par. Then, with his short, wristy swing, Miguel birdied the next two holes and finished me off with a par on the fourth.
Afterward, we stood in the darkened parking lot and talked about how each of us learned the game. He'd picked it up by eye in his late twenties when, after arriving from Mexico, he started caddying to supplement the meager cash he was making as a busboy. By comparison, I came from privilege: a country-club membership as a kid, junior lessons, a spot on my college golf team. The more we played together, the less our differences mattered. When we'd see each other in the caddie yard, we shared an unspoken bond. Each of us was hoping for an easy, well-paying loop and daydreaming about the next time the impeccably groomed course would be ours.
Two years later, the economy has picked up and I'm back at a computer, in an office, earning a decent living in my "field." My old girlfriend has moved out (caddying didn't exactly boost my stock), but my parents are relieved about my new job, and in many ways so am I. My back no longer aches from carrying doubles up and down the Westchester hills; a sunburn doesn't pinch my nose. By and large, I'm intellectually challenged, and I get a paycheck every week, rain or shine.
But each year when the dormant fairways start to awaken under foot and the scent of freshly cut grass perfumes the air, I'm taken back to that timeless summer. When my shoulders were strong and my golf swing was grooved. When advancing my career could wait. Was I thirty years old or twenty or seventeen?A caddie or a country-club kid?The beauty of it was, it didn't seem to matter.