Monday, July 07, 2008

Golf caddies are also CEOs of course topography

By Carlos Monarrez, Detroit Free Press, Wednesday, June 25, 2008

RAND BLANC, Mich. - If Doug LaBelle II doesn’t hit any of his approach shots close to the pin during his morning practice round for the Buick Open, don’t worry. He’ll actually be missing on purpose.

That’s because the PGA Tour pro from Mt. Pleasant, Mich., and his caddie, Duane Bock, have a strategy in mind. The pair will be envisioning the pin locations from the first round of last year’s tournament.

"Just trying to find out where you need to put the ball based on where the hole location is and what the hole does," LaBelle said Monday on the practice range. "Basically, what club to hit off each tee."

It’s part of the process of preparation players and caddies go through before each tournament. It’s sort of the tournament before the tournament.

Monday at Warwick Hills Golf and Country Club, caddies practically outnumbered fans. Caddies usually are the first to arrive at the course. They pick up a yardage book that has been meticulously prepared by a veteran caddie. The book contains drawings of each hole and almost every imaginable yardage from the landing zones for drives, lay-up shots, chipping areas and the contours of greens.

But caddies such as Bock still have to double check those yardages. That means plenty of reconnaissance work. Bock arrived at Warwick Hills at 6:30 a.m. Monday and spent the next five hours writing copious notes in his yardage book. Despite the detail already provided in the book, Bock used a laser rangefinder to check elevation changes, carry yardages over hazards, and he also made note of wind direction.

"I honestly believe that my main job as a caddie is to provide information," said Bock, who used to play on the Canadian Tour with LaBelle. "And if I’m prepared with all my information, no matter what question he asks _ ’What is it to this point, to that point?’ _ I’m going to have it in my notes somewhere so I can tell him confidently, ’Hey, we have 130 (yards) to carry that bunker right there.’ So when he stands over it he has no doubts in his mind."

LaBelle is a precise player who prides himself on his course management. LaBelle even carries his own inclinometer to check elevations himself. But even LaBelle messes up once in a while.

That’s when JICYFU comes into play.

JICYFU is an acronym written into a yardage book that stands for Just In Case You _ well, you get the drift. The areas marked "JICYFU" in the yardage book designate yardages to the green for drives that have been sprayed left or right, where sprinkler heads aren’t available.

"Hopefully we don’t have to use those," LaBelle and Bock said in unison.

Of course, not all players and caddies fit the same mold. Woody Austin, the 1995 Buick Open winner who is playing the tournament for the 14th time, prefers a more straightforward approach. When he and his caddie, Brent Henley, played nine practice holes Monday morning, it was only to get a feel for any changes to the course.

"That’s too technical for me," Austin said of dissecting yardage books and using laser instruments. "When I go out and play tomorrow, tomorrow is just to see if anything’s different than what it’s been in the past.

"I try to be as simple as possible. I thoroughly believe there’s paralysis by analysis and there’s too much information. You get too much information, you forget how to play."

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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