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BILL PLASCHKE

Caddie Shuck? Count on It

Woosnam should have accepted responsibility for penalty at British Open, and other pros should lighten up.

July 25, 2001|BILL PLASCHKE

Greg Puga, the Bel Air caddie who played in this year's Masters, understands life from both sides of the bag.

So it was that he shouted and shuddered Sunday upon watching his two worlds collide.

It was the final round of the British Open. It was the second hole. It was a blunder as big as all Bill Buckner.

Ian Woosnam, a co-leader, discovered he had 15 clubs in his bag, one more than the maximum allowed. He was given a two-stroke penalty. He never led again.

Miles Byrne, Woosnam's caddie, was humiliated. Woosnam was furious.

Woosnam pulled the extra driver out of the bag and angrily threw it to the ground. Byrne looked as if he wanted to crawl under a head cover and die.

"I was coming out of the shower and saw it on TV," Puga said. "I screamed, 'You idiot!' "

So did the rest of the golf world, including the golfers serving as TV commentators.

Everyone yelling at the caddie.

Puga yelling at the golfer.

"Isn't the golfer ultimately responsible for his own clubs?" Puga said. "I mean, c'mon!"

Really. C'mon.

These guys hitting buckets of criticism at the caddie since Sunday's incident have bunkers for brains.

This is a sport that defiantly refused to give Casey Martin a cart because it supposedly would make the game too easy for him.

Yet now it is criticizing a human bag-holder because he's not making the game easy enough?

This is a sport that proudly claims it is different than other sports because its competitors honorably call penalties on themselves.

Yet those same competitors are now dishonorably lining up to pass the buck.

Curtis Strange, on ABC, said that he would have fired Byrne on the spot.

Steve Elkington, on a national radio show, called Byrne an "idiot" and said he should have been fired.

Blaine McCallister, on another national radio show, ripped him for several long minutes.

Big men, all.

"The pros, they never do anything wrong," Puga said from Niagara Falls, where he is preparing to play in the Porter Cup amateur tournament. "They are all high and mighty. They are perfect. The caddie is always the fall guy."

Puga has caddied for stars and played with stars. When he was among five amateurs to qualify for the Masters last spring, he captured the national attention of the golf world.

You know what Puga did before teeing off at Augusta? He counted his clubs. He said it would have been outrageous to ask someone else to do it for him.

"I was not going to trust something so important to anyone else," he said. "Are you kidding me?"

Woosnam, a 5-foot-4 Wales native who has won a Masters title, disagreed.

"I suppose I should have checked the clubs, but that's what you pay the caddie for," he said.

Which makes you want to ask Wee Woosie, what exactly do they pay you for?

Top golfers are given shoes, pants and shirts. They are given clubs. They are given balls. They are driven to the course, escorted to the tee, empowered to order everyone around them to stand still and be quiet.

Once there, they can't even be bothered to look in their bags?

Pretty soon they're going to want somebody to swing for them too.

Just as long as Casey Martin stays out of that cart.

"Who put the extra club in there in the first place?" Puga asked. "I guarantee it wasn't the caddie."

And what was Woosnam doing with an extra driver before the final round anyway? Isn't that sort of late to be trying out a new club?

Speaking of late, how does a guy with one of the latest tee times manage to arrive at the first hole with only 30 seconds to spare?

That's why he didn't notice the extra club, of course. And that was probably Byrne's fault too.

"He will have a severe bollocking when I get in, but I won't sack him," Woosnam said. "He's a good lad. I imagine he's feeling as sick as a parrot."

That's one of the most creative quotes of the year. It's also one of the most misleading.

Woosnam fired a caddie just last year. He probably will fire Byrne too.

Pro golfers not only talk about their caddies like mules, they also treat them that way. Despite the changing face of our new national obsession, inside still lies the heart of a snob.

Two years ago, when Jean Van de Velde blew a three-stroke lead on the final hole of the British Open, his caddie was blamed for bad club selection.

Christophe Angiolini was so distraught, he said he drank vodka and didn't sleep for a week.

Later that summer, he was fired.

Van de Velde has been through four caddies since, and hasn't won a tournament with any of them.

"That's how the rich pros deal with things," Puga said. "It's never their fault. It's always the caddie's fault."

Of course, not that any of his peers would ever follow Strange's advice and fire their caddie in the middle of a round.

What, and actually carry the clubs themselves?

*

Bill Plaschke can be reached at bill.plaschke@latimes.com.

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