A Tour caddie since 1998, Damian Lopez ready to caddie first Masters this week
Damian Lopez will make his first loops around Augusta National this week in the Masters. The 47-year-old from Midland, Texas has waited over 20 years in his caddying career to get to this point. After all, this is the golden ticket in sports, and in golf.
So what does it mean for him?
“It means the world because of the way you’ve got to qualify,” Lopez said. “As a caddie who’s slowly gotten better as time has gone on, your players slowly progress. The first couple years I had all rookies all the time, and it’s tough. Then you get a veteran or a winner like Notah Begay, a talent like J.J. Henry or Stuart Appleby. Then to find a guy in the middle of his career (Michael Thompson), mid 30s that’s starting to progress and climb up the ladder and really feeling confident about winning again.”
Thompson’s win at the 3M Open in Minneapolis last July was the first win of Lopez’s PGA Tour caddying career.
“The win was the biggest moment of my career, so cool,” Lopez said. “I was the most proud of doing that because it was the first win, and it got us into the Masters.”
The only two majors that Lopez has yet to work are the Masters and Open Championship.
“It’s definitely a bucket list thing,” Lopez said. “I’m just looking forward to being on the property and realizing, ‘wow, 20 years and it’s finally here’.”
The Masters of course has its perks, and the sandwiches on-site are a couple of them… especially the signature pimento cheese.
“I’m looking forward to the pimento cheese sandwich that everyone talks about,” Lopez laughs. “I was never a big fan when we had it at home, but I tried to make it from scratch a few times. I’m looking forward to the debate on what’s the best sandwich there with the other caddies. But, you know, the biggest thing is I’m just looking forward to being in the action.”
In 1998, Lopez started caddying on what was then the Nike Tour. On one road trip in between Tour stops he drove through Augusta on highway 20 and thought to stop and perhaps drop in to Augusta National.
“I pulled down Magnolia Lane like a big shot in my little 1992 Acura and they said, ‘oh stop, stop, this is private,’” Lopez laughs. “And I said ‘OK, I’ll just turn around up here.’ They said, ‘no, no, no you’ll back out.’ So, they backed me out. So I have been on property once, back in 1998 when I was pretty young and green.”
You’ve got to laugh off a rookie moment like that.
Lopez did just that with a buddy as they went straight to the Hooters on Washington Road down the street and had some beer and chicken wings.
For Lopez’s family watching back at home in Midland, this will be a fun week to see Damian do his work, even if they can’t be there to watch him in person. His young brother, Tony, always told Damian he would come with him to the Masters should Damian’s players ever qualify. The plan they both made years ago was that Damian would fly Tony out to the Masters to experience it with his younger brother.
Unfortunately with COVID and limited fans, that won’t happen this year. But Tony is fired up for his older brother nonetheless.
“We are all so excited to watch him out there on TV,” Tony Lopez said. “That’s a rich tradition that he’s about to step into. It means so much to him to have won and gotten into the Masters.”
On Sunday, Lopez finally stepped onto the property — legally this time — as he looped the back nine with Thompson.
“The walk was way more intimidating to me on TV than it was in person,” Lopez said. “That was my first take. You always hear that TV doesn’t do this justice with all the hills, but then I thought this really isn’t that crazy compared to Kapalua. I thought it was gonna be way tougher of a walk. I say that after the first day but come day number six, maybe I’m singing a different song there.”
As far as course strategy, Lopez received a handwritten notebook from his former player Stuart Appleby in the mail about the course. Appleby played in 14 Masters in his career, the last in 2011.
“Granted, the greens have changed since this notebook, but the general idea of where to miss it is critical, really helpful,” Lopez said.
On the 12 hole, the famous par 3 over the water for example, Lopez read from the notes that missing in the bunker short of the green is not the worst spot, “because it catches your ball and keeps it from going into the water. Stuart’s lines toward that green were left edge of the bunker, or middle of the bunker, so it’s kind of smart,” Lopez said.
Lopez also got some veteran Masters caddie advice from Mark Fulcher (Fooch) that first day on site on Sunday.
“Fooch said you just have to trust number 11’s flag when you’re playing 12,” Lopez said. “You might see the flag blowing right to left on 11, but left to right on 12. It’s such a crucial tee shot on 12.”
For Lopez as he made his first loop around the back nine on late Sunday afternoon, what was the highlight from a sentimental perspective?
“When I was walking down 14 and I looked back down Amen Corner, you kind of just sense the energy and the history and the noises of that place,” Lopez said. “It’s pretty special.”
The par-3 16th is Lopez’s favorite hole, and so walking it for the first time he remembered the memorable shots he’d seen on that hole from watching on TV with his dad Robert and brother Tony from over the years. Of course, Tiger’s near-ace in 2019 when he won came to mind. Other spots like 18 green made Lopez remember watching O’Meara sink that winning birdie putt in 1998 as well.
Lopez was also impressed by the beauty of the course and the timing of the signature azaleas getting ready for full bloom.
“You can see that the flowers are starting to bud up behind number 12, they are going to be primetime by Saturday,” Lopez said. “It’s amazing how they’ve been able to time that.”
And it’s amazing that Lopez has finally made it here to Augusta National… and Tony Lopez, along with the rest of Damian’s family, will be cheering him on from afar.
“It’s just been a long road for him, a lot of hard work,” Tony Lopez said. “I can’t wait to watch him on TV this time.”