ROCKVILLE, Ma. — Golf’s Longest Day brings out a vast array of different competitors soldiering through 36 tense holes to try and make their U.S. Open dreams a reality through this final qualifier (Sectionals). But as you look at the field of 71 in this case, there are also many caddies from a variety of backgrounds who go through this marathon with their player.
Take Ben Feld for example. He is currently the Men’s Head Golf Coach at Drexel University. He played college golf with his player Christopher Crawford, coached Crawford, and caddied for him during his two U.S. Open appearances in 2016 and 2017 when he made it through the grueling effort of both the U.S. Open Local (36 holes) and Sectional Qualifying.
So what’s it like for Feld to loop for his good friend?
“It’s an awesome dynamic together. I’ve gotten so familiar with his golf game over the years, playing together at Drexel,” Feld said. “I’ve had the privilege of coaching and caddying for him so we’re really comfortable out here together. Whatever I can do to just enhance around the fringes, that’s what I’m here to do.”
Crawford likes the familiarity of his friend, former teammate and college coach on the bag.
“It’s great to have him with me, it’s a long day but we try our best just to enjoy the experience. You have to realize that this is also fun for us as golfers,” Crawford said. “How often do we wake up and have a chance to qualify for a major?”
Connor Arendell punched his ticket for his first major, the 2019 U.S. Open, here at Woodmont’s Sectional in 2019. He had his father Ron caddying for him then and when I asked Ron what it meant then for them to get through, he was understandably overcome with emotion.
Ron Arendell was emotional again on Monday at Woodmont and he shared what it’s like to loop for his son with so much on the line.
“We still remember it like it was yesterday. It was fantastic for him, a great opportunity. The family was excited,” Ron Arendell said. “I just hope he gets through again.”
Father knows all too well the gray hairs caddying in Sectionals for your son can induce.
“It’s stressful being a dad, you get the dad side of it, just thinking about it all,” Ron said. “It’s a lot easier watching than caddying. But with my age, I’m getting older, I can’t do it much more.”
So time is of the essence.
Connor Arendell calls their time together at these Sectionals “a very special time for us.”
And why wouldn’t they be? Just another layer of our National Championship’s Cinderella stories.
Ron Arendell mentioned that when they qualified in 2019, they went to a local Alehouse to celebrate that night and they both collapsed in their seats. Ron said they were “thoroughly exhausted and almost couldn’t move” from the mental and physical grind once the adrenaline wore off.
Patrick Loper who is caddying today for his good friend Peter French, also noticed what the wear and tear of Sectionals does for the loopers and players.
“I think the unique thing here, versus caddying for members at a club, it’s physical but it’s more mental, you don’t feel the physical pain until you’re done, and when you’re done it just hits you like a ton of bricks,” Loper said.
“And with weather like this, it’s such a grind,” Loper added.
By the way, it’s a high of 95 and 60 percent humidity today in Rockville. But nothing good comes easy.
“You’re so intense on the course the whole time wondering, ‘is he going to ask me this?’ Fortunately I know Peter because I’ve played some golf with him and did a little caddying for three players on the Web Tour,” Loper said.
Loper lives in Boston and was caddiemaster at Boston Golf Club for five years and has been caddying at The Country Club of Brookline for 28 years.
Golf’s Longest Day also brings brothers together.
Daniel Summerhays figures he’s competed in nine Sectionals at this point, making it through three times. He chose his older brother by 12 years David Summerhays to loop today. It’s David’s first time at a Sectional.
“It’s just great to be with Daniel, he’s a great guy and it’s fun to spend this time with him and experience this together,” David said.
Another common caddie you’ll see here at Sectionals is the swing coach of players.
PGA Teaching Professional Keith Stewart lives in New Jersey, but when his student of the last 14 years Will Dickson (Stewart began teaching him at age 8) asked him to loop for him at Sectionals in Atlanta at Piedmont Driving Club, coach was up for the task.
“After all this time it means the world to me, to have the time to do this,” Stewart said. “No matter how it turns out I would do it again in a heartbeat because it’s just part of my calling in life, to be a coach and be a mentor. I’m so happy to be here and share this experience with him.”
Stewart gets a huge thrill just being a part of what his player is doing, especially with this much at stake.
“Being in competition is really exciting, it’s like watching on TV times 10. The adrenaline will be flowing today,” Stewart said.
Stewart knows how important caddying has been in his life in golf which has included 23 years of teaching and this year a golf radio show “Pro Show” in New Jersey.
“Caddying got me into the game. As a result, I have a long and successful award-winning PGA career. Today I get to go back and be a kid again.”
What a feeling that must be.