Golf came to the land of the $95 seaweed facial and the $14.95 tuna salad plate last week. It came to the swank La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, Calif., for its yearly herbal wrap and mud pack among the high-pinky set. But golf found out that even among the laughably rich, life just ain't what it used to be. Rumors had La Costa's occupancy rate at record lows, proving that the once hefty market for the $24 steam bath has just about dried up.
Not all of golf's plates have come with an orchid on them lately, either. To get into La Costa's Infiniti Tournament of Champions you had to win a PGA Tour event in 1991. Then again, who didn't win one last year? With the stars of the European tour dominating the golf headlines and nobody in the U.S. dominating much of anything, this year's T of C was mostly a Golfers Anonymous meeting.
Not buying it? Let's call the roll. Greg Norman? Not here. Hasn't won since May 1990. Curtis Strange? Not here. Hasn't won in the '90s. Hale Irwin? Not here. Not since June 1990. Tom Watson? Fall 1987. Ian Woosnam? Skipped it. Payne Stewart? Skipped it. Seve Ballesteros, Josè-María Olazàbal, Bernhard Langer? No, no and, again, no.
So maybe that's why it was so delicious that the guy who made out the best at La Costa was a chubby caddie who lives much of his life in a motor home, a guy with too many kids, too big a heart and too small a paycheck. All right, all right. Steve Elkington won the actual tournament with an 10-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole, but everybody knew who really won. Gypsy.
January 20, 1992
Gypsy Joe Grillo, a looper on the Tour for 16 years, finally quit three years ago. Quit caddying, that is. He never quit the caddies. When he stopped carrying a bag, Gypsy, an accomplished chef, rigged up a motor home and began cooking decent meals for sale. Most of his customers are caddies, a downtrodden group of workers if there is one. Caddies can't go into clubhouses, can't stay at the pricey hotels where the players stay, work ridiculously long hours and are usually fired when the boss screws up. "When I make a bad shot," Ballesteros jokingly tells his caddies, "your job is to take the blame."
So Gypsy, 40, as lovable and friendly a man as has ever traveled 18 holes, decided to help them out. His rolling soup kitchen, as Elkington calls it, hits the Tour 28 weeks a year and features the same stuff the players get on china—shrimp scampi, coq au vin, hearty omelets and pancakes. Only this stuff comes on Chinet and runs the recipients less than a La Costa cantaloupe half—about $4 a meal. You know what coq au vin runs you at Pebble Beach? Call your installment loan officer.
For this, Gypsy earns next to nothing—whatever tiny profit he can scrape out of the bottoms of his pans. In October, Gypsy had another kid—his fourth—and soon diaper money was getting a little low. It was just two days before Christmas when Elkington picked him up. "I know you could use some help," Elkington told Gypsy. "So how about taking my bag?"
Hey, Elkington needed some help, too. Gypsy keeps more golf under his hat than some veteran players have ever known. He has caddied for all kinds of pros, from Strange to Jim Simons. The 29-year-old Elkington is at times a dazzling player—his peers voted his swing one of the three prettiest on the Tour—but Elkington is not exactly a Deion Sanders of self-confidence. A native of Australia, he admits he's less famous there than here, and he's not even 15-minute famous here. He won the 1990 K mart tournament and last year's Players Championship and not much else. After the T of C, a few of the players were going to the Palm Meadows Cup in Australia, but not Elkington. "Those guys get more appearance money than I do," he said.
So the match was made. Still, it didn't look as if Elkington's self-esteem was going to rise at La Costa, especially after he blew a two-shot lead going into Sunday's final round with a double bogey into a creek on 5 and a bunker bogey on 8. Suddenly, he'd gone from three ahead earlier in the round to two shots back of the new leader, Billy Andrade. It was Andrade who had looked ahead to Sunday from a seat in the press room on Saturday night and said, "We'll just see who doesn't throw up on themselves tomorrow."
As it turned out, it was Andrade who pulled the George Bush. He was leading by one on the 12th when he skulled a 20-yard wedge over the green and made bogey. Then on 15 he made another bogey. He never quite got back in it.
The guy who got back in it was Elkington, who now lives in Houston. He birdied the 9th, thanks to an ungodly sweet five-iron mailed in from the rough to within eight feet of the flag. That put him one stroke back. He birdied the 12th to lead by one and drained a 30-footer on number 14 to lead by two.
But that's when Elkington's evil twin tried to take over. He knocked the ball in the sand on 15 and had to make a terrific save for par. Then he buried a shot in the sand on 16 and had to make another hellacious save for par. On 17 his clubs said, Forget it. He hit his drive up against a tree, pitched out and made bogey. Now he was tied for the lead with Brad Faxon, who had just birdied 17, and that's how they remained after Elkington parred 18. Here were two tall redheads, Faxon and Elkington—both having won tournaments only twice in their lives—bound together in a playoff.
This is where Gypsy came in. He made his man laugh. He told him, Dang, he wished Elkington had made that birdie on the last hole. "I don't want to walk down there [to the 10th tee] again," said Gypsy. "I'm tired."
Elkington had never been in a playoff as a pro. Gypsy had been in seven. Gypsy knows. Loose wins.
As the two players struck their drives, Elkington was as loose as a guy just getting off work for some twilight golf. He even admitted later that he chatted to Faxon about this and that as they walked to their balls. Golf combatants chatting? Ben Hogan must be weeping.
Unfortunately, golf tournaments require somebody to win, and if somebody had to win, it might as well be the Tex-Aussie and Gypsy. Besides, Gypsy told him, "Little Joey needs new shoes."
Faxon drove perfectly on the 10th but left himself with a 45-foot birdie putt, which he missed. Meanwhile, Elkington found the rough from the tee. But his second shot was sweet. Then he stepped up to a 10-footer, stroked it with feeling and watched it curl into the center of the cup. Let's see, Elkington's prize was $144,000. Gypsy could get as much as 10%. That would be $14,400, plus his $600 weekly fee. How many pairs of shoes you need, Joey?
The 6'2", 190-pound Elkington turned and hugged the 5'7", 195-pound Gypsy. They were separated by Gypsy's bountiful spare tire and a few tax brackets, but not much else. True, Elkington was happy for himself—"Hey, I'm back for all the massages next year," he said—but he added, "I think my caddie is the happiest guy in the history of the world."
His caddie? Everybody's caddie. The good cats are back.