Lance Bailey was on cloud nine last month when his player Matt Jones turned in a dominating five-shot win at the Honda Classic. The caddie of nearly six years (July) had wanted so desperately to taste victory in this profession, and the win tasted so sweet to the former club pro and regional manager for Club Corp.
“It still doesn’t feel real,” Bailey said last week. “We were at the club for about two hours after Matt won for media obligations and sponsors. When I got to my car I had about 80 text messages. I drove to Jacksonville that night and I got out of the car and I had over 200 text messages, so it was pretty cool.”
The win was a huge milestone for the Tennessee native, and one of his best friends in the caddie ranks — Matt Achatz — loved watching it.
“Even if me and (Chase Seiffert) had been one shot behind going into the last hole at Honda (when Matt Jones won) I probably still would have been pulling for Lance,” Achatz said. “That’s how badly I wanted to see Lance win a golf tournament.”
Achatz has been rooming on and off with Bailey for the past couple years and there had been a familiar refrain he’d heard from the 52-year-old.
“Every week I hear the same thing: ‘Man I just want my player to win this week so we can go to Augusta,’” Achatz said.
Who can blame him?
The Masters has a familiar and sentimental meaning to Bailey. He once attended 27 straight Masters from 1989-2015 as a patron. He went to school at USC-Aiken, only 18 miles from Augusta National, and stayed in Aiken for 10 years, working as an assistant pro and eventually head pro at Cedar Creek Golf Club only 27 miles away.
Bailey eventually moved to Atlanta, where he was Regional Manager of four different courses north of the city. He would often make the nearly two-hour drive to attend the Masters in those years for one round as “almost a vacation,” Bailey said.
But he found himself using Augusta National’s courtesy phones on property many times as he’d check in with his local club. Masters week is a crazy busy week for courses all over the area too, even in Atlanta.
Now here we are a few years on and Bailey can’t wait for this big week at the Masters. It clearly means a great deal to him.
“It’s just a dream come true,” Bailey said. “It’s something that I’ve really thought about since I’ve gotten into caddying full time. Watching the Masters growing up, living in that area, it’s something that back then I couldn’t have even imagined it. These past few years I’ve always thought about it, and now this dream has come true.”
Bailey got to walk two practice rounds last week with Jones (Augusta custom is to take a local caddie for off weeks) so Bailey took notes in a yardage book as he walked the famed course alongside Jones and the local caddie.
So what was that walk inside the ropes like?
“It’s indescribable, it’s like you’re living in a dream and you’re going to wake up and ‘poof’ — it didn’t really happen,” Bailey said. “The best way to describe it is it’s like an out of body experience. You feel like you’re watching somebody else do it when you’re out there. I’ve watched so many other people do it over the years, I feel like I’m still doing that. Being there myself. It’s really special, it feels great.”
He’s also watched so many other caddies in the iconic Masters white jumpsuit over the years as a patron.
What was it like to put one on himself?
“It was pretty special, it felt really good,” Bailey said.
Achatz points out that caddies aren’t always so lucky with the timing of their wins to get an Augusta practice trip before the big week.
“I think that’s awesome that Lance got to experience the course early, that’s not always the case for us caddies,” Achatz said.
The two times Achatz worked the Masters, he wasn’t so fortunate. His first player didn’t think to bring him early and the second time his player won the week before, so they went straight to Augusta after that.
Jones had that same experience in 2014 in his lone Masters appearance. His dramatic win the week before at Houston left him with little time to scout his first trip to Augusta.
“That Monday got rained out, he played 18 on Tuesday, nine on Wednesday, and was on a plane flying home Friday,” Bailey explained. “Matt says he doesn’t remember anything about Augusta, he says it’s all a blur.”
Well, this week will hopefully not pass as quickly as a blur for Bailey. He has already walked nine holes a couple times in the last two days. He did so with fellow caddie Kurt Kowaluk and his player for this week — Brendon Todd — on Saturday evening and Sunday. Kowaluk is making his Masters caddying debut as well.
“I’ve been looking at pin placements from the last three, four years,” Bailey said Sunday night. “I’m just getting a handle on where they’ll be on each green. You make notes in your book about where you can miss and where you can’t miss based on those pins. I want to let (Matt) know which pins he can be aggressive to or not. There’s nothing easy on those greens.”
Bailey is a couple days ahead of Jones, as the Honda Classic winner arrives Monday to the course. But that kind of work ethic doesn’t surprise Achatz.
“He’s probably the hardest worker out there,” Achatz said. “No one studies the golf course the way he does. So, to finally see all his hard work and great attitude all come together, I couldn’t be happier for him.”