May 04, 1981
May 04, 1981

Table of Contents
May 4, 1981

Fernando Fever
Too Tall
Gerry Cooney
19th Hole: The Readers Take Over


Caddies for the top players on the PGA Tour have discovered that even reflected glory pays nice dividends

Normally his pace is quicker, but the fans asking him to sign autographs or pose for pictures impede his progress. At length he reaches the entrance to the practice putting green, where he carefully sets down the green and white golf bag that belongs to Jack Nicklaus. He's Angelo Argea, Jack's caddie, and now, as he waits for his boss to appear, he signs his name to a picture that shows him laughing it up with Gerald Ford at a recent pro-am. Nearby, young John Cook, who won the 1981 Crosby, stands alone and unnoticed.

This is an article from the May 4, 1981 issue Original Layout

Chuck, the sports guy from the six o'clock news, has his man, and it's just a matter of seconds, while the crew checks out the lighting and sound, before the camera rolls. Chuck smooths his hair and makes certain his blazer with the emblem is buttoned. "Ready?" he's asked.

Chuck nods. "Hi," he says into the camera. "I'm here with Bruce Edwards, Tom Watson's caddie, and...."

Counting retakes, the interview lasts only 10 minutes, which is good. The man from the local newspaper is waiting.

It's the week of the Bob Hope Desert Classic and Phyllis Diller is in Cecil's, a Palm Springs night spot, when a young man asks her to dance. He looks like a dream, only better, and to Diller's delight, he dances like one, too.

"I could make you a star," she says when the music stops. In Dennis Turning's world, he already is. He caddies for the PGA Tour's No. 4 money-winner in 1980, Andy Bean. For obvious reasons everyone calls him Disco.

Caddies—or bag rats, as they call themselves—aren't yet the stars of the show, and not one of them has an agent. They're still definitely second-class citizens on the tour. They don't ride in courtesy cars with the players. They aren't allowed to enter clubhouses which, indeed, were off limits to the touring pros some 50 years ago. Nor are they allowed in locker rooms. And while their pay is improving, especially for those who carry top bags, they must still shop carefully for lodgings and share them. Motels offer rates to players but not to caddies. Getting to and from a course means riding a bus, or four to a taxi, or even hitchhiking. Clubs provide free food for players; caddies aren't so favored, and hot dogs at tournaments go for $1.50.

But it's true that a growing number of caddies are emerging as personalities, and that several of them have become better known to those who follow golf than many of the players. This is partly because so many golfers on the tour look so much alike—whereas caddies don't—and partly because many player-caddie pairings have become as permanent as good marriages. Also, in its quest for new and different ways to cover golf, television has given prominence to those caddies fortunate enough to be in the spotlight week after week.

Argea, unquestionably the most celebrated of his calling, has auditioned for a Lite beer commercial, appeared on Good Morning America and coauthored a book—The Bear and I—about his years with Nicklaus. He's asked for his autograph no less than 50 times a day, often by club members and marshals of the tournament he's working in. Johnny Miller's reemergence has put Andy Martinez, his caddie for more than a decade, back in the winner's circle, too. During the last round of the L.A. Open, CBS wired Martinez so that viewers could overhear the dialogue between the caddie and his man.

Emil Smith—known as Smitty on the tour—works for Ben Crenshaw and receives residual payments from Buick for appearing, if ever so briefly, on Crenshaw's car commercial. He could have been in his boss' Canon camera commercial, too, but he didn't like the numbers. "They only wanted to offer up-front money," Smitty claims.

Sammy (Killer) Foy, Hale Irwin's caddie for nine years, is famous for his hats, as TV viewers who watched February's Hawaiian Open, which Irwin won, can attest. Foy's hats come in all shapes and colors. How many does he own? "Aw, I don't know," he says.

"You got 28 of them," says a pal, eavesdropping. "Tell the man."

"But I don't get paid to wear them," says Foy. "I'm a free-lancer."

Killer figured in another sport some 20 years ago. In his prime—he admits only to being in his late 40s—he claims to have been a good middleweight boxer. Foy's smile, which reveals an absence of teeth on the upper right side of his mouth, would seem to authenticate that—or at least indicate that he took part in numerous battles of a more informal sort.

Though he keeps his comic talents hidden from the public and press, other caddies insist that Herman Mitchell—Mitch to everyone—can be even funnier than his boss, Lee Trevino. Star material, they say. Should have his own network show. Mitch is built along the lines of Sydney Greenstreet, and one fears that the strain of carrying his own weight plus Trevino's 50 pounds of bag and clubs will someday exact its toll on an uphill par-5.

All caddies accompany their bosses to the practice range after a round. Some, like Edwards, become active participants, checking on some aspect of the golfer's swing. "Knuckles O.K.?" asks Watson.

"Good, good," replies Edwards.

Other caddies pass the time during practice by merely sitting on the golf bag, rising only to bring a new club to the golfer. Mitch usually finds himself a chair and collapses into it, Trevino's bag beside him. When Lee wants a club, he comes to Mitch so that the big man doesn't have to discomfort himself.

Argea, on the other hand, is always on the go—at least his mouth is. He'll chat with anyone—fellow caddies, players, club members, fans, reporters and television folk. In fact, getting a moment alone with him around a clubhouse is virtually impossible. He's instantly recognizable, partly because he has for more than 18 years carried the bag of perhaps the game's greatest player, but mostly because, tall and slim, with a swarthy complexion, a head of frizzy gray hair and a luxuriant mustache, he looks as if he should be somebody important, an Italian movie director, perhaps, or a couturier. The only thing marring the image is the pair of horn-rimmed glasses he must now wear to follow the flight of the ball, a concession to his 51 years.

Argea—a shortening of his original Greek name, Argeropoulos—had been bumming around Las Vegas for some years before he met Nicklaus. "Essentially, he has been retired since he was 21," Nicklaus says. In early 1963, one of the owners of the Desert Inn asked Argea to caddie for him in the Hope pro-am. Argea agreed and drove to Palm Springs only to find that because of a caddie shortage all available bag rats had to sign up with pros, whose names were listed on a sheet. Argea put his name next to Nicklaus', not with any sense of destiny—this was only Nicklaus' second year as a pro—but because he had read that Jack was suffering from a hip injury and might not play, and Angelo figured he could then go back to his Desert Inn friend and a larger paycheck.

But Nicklaus did play and did win, and the long-standing relationship was begun. In those days caddies rarely toured, so Argea worked for Nicklaus only in the West, but his batting average was remarkably high—five wins in six outings. And Nicklaus is a very superstitious fellow; if his wife, Barbara, serves him a cheese omelet for breakfast on the first day of a tournament and he shoots 67, it's cheese omelets the rest of the week. Seeing a good-luck charm as well as a good caddie, Nicklaus signed Argea on full time in 1968. Eventually, Argea moved to Florida and bought a townhouse in Palm Beach Gardens. "It cost $34,000, and it's worth $62,000 now," he says with a trace of pride. His place is a five-minute drive from Nicklaus', so he's available whenever Jack needs him. Argea also caddies on occasion for Nicklaus' children, most often Jackie Jr., who's on the University of North Carolina golf team. But contrary to popular belief, that's all Argea does. He doesn't double as chauffeur, handyman or valet.

Unlike all other tour caddies, Argea works for a straight salary, in his case thought to be roughly $35,000. If the boss wins a tournament, Argea gets a bonus. If the tournament is a major, the bonus is larger—which means that when Nicklaus won both the U.S. Open and PGA Championship, 1980 became a very good year for Argea. But if the boss misses winning by only a single stroke, Argea gets nothing extra. Nicklaus pays all his caddie's expenses on the road. "He's very good to me," Argea says. "Last year he gave me a 33% raise in expenses."

At 41, Nicklaus plays at most 15 tournaments a year, and the day is fast approaching when he'll retire, except for appearances at a major or two each season. Then what will happen to Argea?

"He'll always have a job with me," says Nicklaus. Recently Golden Bear Inc. invested in a restaurant in a North Palm Beach shopping center and Angelo became the maître d'. "I saved $30 a day in food if nothing else," he says.

"You should have seen him greeting all those old ladies at lunch," says Barabara Nicklaus. "He'd be so charming." At one point Argea referred to the place as "his" restaurant. "So now it's his" says Barbara, rolling her eyes. Which may someday be true. Golden Bear Inc., while no longer involved in that particular enterprise, is searching for another restaurant. John Purcell, a friend of Nicklaus' who has a popular eatery in Vail, Colo., may try his luck in Florida. If so, look for Angelo out front. "Jack's annuity to his caddie," says a friend.

Edwards, for one, doesn't envy Argea. "I wouldn't want all the attention he gets unless it could be converted into money," says Watson's caddie. And yet, as the carrier of the hottest bag on the tour, Edwards is rapidly headed in that direction. His visibility the past few years has been far greater than any other caddie's. All he lacks is some readily identifiable physical characteristic, say Mitch's girth or Argea's coiffure. As it is, Edwards is simply an engaging young man of 26, trim and 6 feet tall, with a winning smile not unlike the one that's his boss' trademark. In fact, with only a slight adjustment, such as putting the bag on Watson's shoulder instead of Edwards', one could double as the other.

Edwards was 18 when he joined the tour as a high school graduate with no ambition of going to college. He had been traveling from tournament to tournament, working for the likes of Bob Shaw, Ron Cerrudo and Artie McNickle, when on the Tuesday afternoon before the 1973 St. Louis Golf Classic, he was stretched out under an elm, talking with a friend. A young player who had finished 79th on the money list the year before came out of the locker room. "Ask him if he needs a caddie," the friend suggested. Edwards did. Watson tied for sixth in St. Louis and Edwards thought "Oh, oh, this guy can play a little." The two have been together ever since, Edwards once having even survived the caddie's nightmare, missing tee-off time. After staying up far into the night playing poker, he awoke at 9 for a 9:01 start. Watson took the lapse in good humor.

Like most caddies, Edwards works for a small salary—typically $200 a week—plus a percentage of his player's earnings. A normal percent is five, which, if applied to Watson's nearly $1 million in earnings over the past two years, would mean that Edwards has raked in $50,000, plus his salary. Only Bruce, Tom and Linda Watson—who writes the checks—know for sure. Both Watsons are encouraging Edwards to attend college, but he's in no hurry. "I feel as if I've invested in a good stock on Wall Street and now it's paying off," he says. "I'm not going to get out now." He did take a semester of classes at North Texas State last fall, a slack time on the tour, and now that he has a steady girl, a breathtaking blonde named Laura Jones, the tour has lost some of its luster for him. "It's still a learning experience," he says. "A stepping-stone into society. One day I'd like to be in radio or TV and I talked to Bryant Gumbel about it recently at a pro-am. There's no way you're going to find me out here at 40."

Which is the way Disco Turning feels. He and Edwards were friends in Hartford, and when Disco joined the tour he quickly landed a solid, money-making pro in Tom Kite. But last year at the British Open he switched when Bean's bag opened up. Nothing personal, it's just that Bean earns about $100,000 a year more than Kite.

At 26, 6'3" and 180, Disco is already legendary for his ability to attract women of all ages. Like that of many caddies, his dress on a golf course is every bit as snappy as a golfer's, simply because one pro or another—in Disco's case, Pete Jacobsen—passes along his freebies. But Disco adds an extra touch, a gold chain with a pendant of a caddie lugging a bag. Off the course it's designer jeans, Yves Saint Laurent sports jackets and a different pendant that reads "10½." Forget it, Andy Bean. As Edwards says, "Disco goes top line."

But Disco too realizes that eventually the glamour of such tour stops as Palm Springs, Pebble Beach, Hawaii and Los Angeles will fade, and he's looking to the future. "G.Q. magazine has shown an interest in me as a model," he says. "And I think I might do well as a golf sales representative." All he knows for sure is that, like Edwards, he doesn't plan to be around when he's 40.

Many caddies are. "Once you're here it's hard to get away," says Ernest (Creamy) Carolan, who is 66 and has caddied for Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Ray Floyd. "Look at it down there. It's beautiful," he says. Creamy is standing outside, of course, outside L.A.'s Riviera Country Club, looking at the acres of grass and eucalyptus trees in the valley below. "There's something haunting about getting up at dawn and walking a golf course, checking pin placements. It's easy to lose track of reality."

PHOTOArgea, who has worked for Nicklaus since '63, has served as a maitre d' as well as bag rat for Jack.PHOTODisco doesn't consider working for Bean to be the ultimate hustle. He plans to give other jobs a whirl before he's 40.PHOTOEdwards remains Watson's faithful supporter.PHOTOLast month at the Tournament of Champions, Trevino and Mitchell proved to be a winning combination.PHOTOMiller and Martinez know four eyes can be better than two.