Kevin Rei arrived at Bandon Dunes in June 2009 motivated to make money caddying and sharpen his golf game that summer before he returned to the golf team at Chico State, a NCAA Division II program in California.
Not long after Rei arrived, he was playing golf with other caddies at the Oregon resort that has become over the last 20 years a preferred destination for curious, serious golfers from around the globe. Those caddies told Rei he needed to meet Kyle Crawford, a Bandon caddie since 2003, a favorite in the shack and ace on the course. Rei and Crawford played their first round together days later and have played 400, maybe 500 more since. They’ve partnered in money matches and team competitions, been deep in epic battles and developed a friendship that quickly evolved beyond either calling the other by his given name.
Rei answers to Partner. Crawford is Pards, on occasion Craw or Crawdaddy.
They’re a natural fit, sharing a similar sense of humor, complementary golf styles and the occasional cold beer or two after the round. And starting Saturday they begin another epic golf adventure, competing as partners in the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship on two of the resort’s courses with fellow Bandon Dunes loopers carrying their bags.
Rei and Crawford have walked hundreds of rounds on the firm turf at Old Macdonald and Pacific Dunes, experienced the unique layouts in any feasible weather condition, felt the wind sting and grown familiar with the trouble spots by watching, no doubt, countless resort guests shoot 10 shots higher than their handicap index. Double that when it’s blowing a gale.
Hint: Avoid the bunkers. Also downwind chips, pitches and putts. Seriously, don’t go in the sand. And don’t get short-sided.
The 128-team field plays a stroke-play round on each course on Saturday and Sunday. The low 32 teams advance to match play on Old Macdonald, a Tom Doak / Jim Urbina design which pays homage to the legendary architect Charles Blair Macdonald and offers wide corridors off the tee, presenting multiple angles and strategic choices. The layout also has huge, undulating greens to the point where Crawford said a golfer could hit every green in regulation and easily shoot 80.
“We’ve seen the courses so many times we know the areas where balls want to end up. We spent time practicing those shots out of collection areas,” he said. “On those courses you can save a lot of strokes. A lot of them you can hit good shots and still end up on the other side of a ridge with a difficult putt.”
The weather forecast during the tournament calls for the typical North wind at typical velocity, 15-25 miles-per-hour. The local favorites, playing for themselves, their brethren in the Bandon caddyshack and maybe even for loopers around the world have a simple request for Mother Nature: Let it Blow.
“That’s our major advantage, the wind, cause we play in it all the time,” said Rei, 29. “It can really mess with you, especially with putting. You give the best amateurs in the world a round to practice they’re going to understand where to miss because everything is right in front of you … but when a right-to-left putt breaks left-to-right because of the wind, it can make it hard to keep a positive attitude.”
Course and weather knowledge are tremendous assets, but Rei and Crawford are seasoned enough to understand that executing the shots is most important. After a busy month or two looping as the Bandon season picked up steam, they removed their bibs and spent the last two weeks sharpening their golf skills. They are hardly newbies to the national stage, either.
Rei, a reinstated amateur, is playing his third USGA championship, including the 2011 U.S. Amateur Public Links at Old Macdonald and Bandon Trails. Crawford partnered with Tim Tucker, a former Bandon caddie now on Bryson DeChambeau’s bag, in the inaugural U.S. Four-Ball at Olympic Club in 2015.
Rei’s game revolves around accuracy. Crawford possesses massive power.
“He hits the ball a mile, it makes a different sound,” Rei said, describing Crawford, who unsuccessfully attempted to walk on the team at Oregon State. “He has a little homemade swing, gets a ton of turn and he rips it. I’m like a 270-275 guy off the tee with a game based on iron play and short game to score. I’m going to nail it down the fairway and let the horse eat. He can make a ton of birdies. That’s what is gonna make us tough to beat.”
Long hitters love a straight man.
“It’s fun to me because he’s a really consistent golfer, hits it straight doesn’t miss many shots and I can always count on him to be in most of the holes,” Crawford said of Rei. “It kind of frees me up, allows me to be more aggressive and maybe take some risks that I probably wouldn’t if I’m playing an individual stroke play. He allows me to swing the driver a little bit more … it’s fun for me doing that.”
This championship has been the talk of the Bandon shack for the last couple of years. Rei and Crawford, 30, were one of seven caddie tandems from the resort who attempted to qualify for the Four-Ball last October. They were the only ones to advance and took a circuitous route to the field, earning first alternate status in a playoff at the sectional qualifier. The USGA called in January to let them know they were in the field.
Between work and life — Crawford has been married for a year-and-a-half — they squeezed in practice at the resort and rounds on the two tournament courses. Crawford went fishing in December and January, like he always does. The last few months seemed to pass quickly, however, and the anticipation built in a blur.
“I’m pretty stoked, honestly,” Crawford said. “If it’s blowing, par is going to be a good score on a lot of holes out there. It will be interesting to see what the scores are out there.”
Kurt Woodburn is caddying for Rei. Danny Clayton is carrying Crawford’s bag, as he did at Olympic. The four friends will have no trouble keeping the mood light. They could even have two other Bandon caddie buddies working for their playing companions.
Regardless, they’re embracing the role as hometown favorites and enjoyed the attention leading up to the tournament. Both rave about the excellent working conditions Bandon Dunes caddies enjoy, from hot meals in the shack to playing privileges on the resort’s incredible golf courses.
They’re looking forward to seeing their fellow loopers in their gallery alongside family and friends. Wouldn’t it be something if they advanced deep enough in the bracket to enjoy some time on the Fox Sports broadcast, too. Worst case, they’ll receive even more frequent requests from resort guests, who would be wise to heed their advice in the months to come as they venture west and tackle Bandon Dunes.