‘Dumb luck’ takes Chevy Hartzog from unemployed college golf coach to PGA Tour caddie
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was originally published on August 22, 2018. We are republishing it today, as Thompson and Hartzog make their PGA Tour debut together at the Safeway Open.
So many caddies have great stories about how they landed a bag on the PGA Tour.
But, in terms of unlikeliness, feel free to put the story of caddie Chevy Hartzog right near the top of the list.
Hartzog, a 25-year-old from Gaffney, S.C., had a successful college career playing Division II golf for Mars Hill University, just north of Asheville, N.C.
Following his time there, where he was an All-Conference player, Hartzog became a graduate assistant for the golf team at Coker College in Hartsville, S.C. and helped turn the program around.
He dabbled more in college coaching and was interviewing for new coaching jobs in May.
During that time, he had offered caddying services – if needed – for the Web.com Tour’s BMW Pro-Am.
He was needed and ended up caddying for a gentleman named Donnie Simpson, one of the amateurs in the field.
After Hartzog and Simpson missed the cut that Saturday, Simpson asked Hartzog to join him for dinner along with Web.com player Chris Thompson.
Thompson was a journeyman pro, who never made it to the big leagues. He had two top-10 finishes to that point in the season and wasn’t doing anything special.
After dinner, Hartzog mentioned to Thompson that if he was ever looking for a caddie, just give him a call and he’d meet Thompson wherever he was needed.
Two weeks later, Hartzog’s phone rang and Thompson was on the other end. A week after that, Hartzog travled to Wichita, Kansas, for his first tournament with Thompson.
What has happened in the eight weeks since the Wichita Open at the end of June is the kind of stuff that only plays out in dreams.
Hartzog helped Thompson to consecutive T16 finishes before they decided to take Fourth of July week off to get back to their families.
“After he dropped me off to fly home, he texted a few days later and said he enjoyed what happened and told me, ‘if you’d like it, I’d like to have you on the bag for the rest of the season and all of next season’ – basically a job for a year and a half,” Hartzog recalled.
Hartzog was flattered. Things were going well, but there was still no certainty as to where Thompson would be playing next season. The Web.com Tour wasn’t locked up yet, the PGA Tour seemed like a pipe dream and the mini tours were a more realistic possibility.
Thompson made things easy for Hartzog.
“The whole caddying thing was new to me,” said Hartzog, who always romanticized about a PGA Tour caddying gig, but never really thought it was ever going to come to fruition. “I was still applying to coaching jobs. In Wichita, I had two interviews with two different schools while caddying for Chris. Fortunately for me, those didn’t work out. No calls or emails back. So, I told him I’d meet him in Salt Lake the week after the Fourth and stay on the bag as long as he wanted me. He knew I was still looking for jobs and he bluntly said, ‘if you find a coaching job you really want, take it.’ He knew that maybe he’d just be playing mini-tour events and wasn’t sure what the future held, so he didn’t want to drag me along. I told him I appreciated him saying that and giving me that opportunity.”
Hartzog went to the next event in Salt Lake City and they missed the cut. That was followed by a T42 in the Pinnacle Bank Championship – nothing to write home about.
Then, suddenly, Thompson and Hartzog caught lightning in a bottle.
First, it was a T3 at the Price Cutter Charity Championship. Then it was a T4 in the KC Golf Classic, a tournament they had a chance to win in Thompson’s back yard.
They planned to take a week off after that, but plans change.
“The two top-5s basically put us right around 30th on the money list and the top 25 at the end of the regular season earn a PGA Tour card for the next season,” Hartzog said. “I was in his basement watching TV to plan on what we were going to do. He asked if we should go. We threw some ideas out and decided to sleep on it. When we woke up the next morning, we decided we were going to San Francisco for the Ellie Mae Classic.”
Great decision, it was. Thompson finished alone in third place and picked up $40,800 to move to No. 19 on the money list with one regular season event to go.
“That finish basically made it so that all we had to do was make the cut in Portland for a Tour card,” Hartzog said.
And make the cut they did. Thompson finished T24 in Portland and finished the regular season at No. 20 on the money list, good for a coveted PGA Tour card for the 2018-19 season, where Thompson will be a 42-year-old rookie.
“I met Chris eight weeks ago to caddie for him in Wichita,” Hartzog said, almost not believing what he was saying. “Eight weeks later, we have a PGA Tour card and we’re at the Web playoffs free-wheeling it, trying to get as high on the money list as we can. We’re trying to figure out what it takes to win, finish in the top-10 consistently and how to do those things on the big tour next year. We have the stress of tournament golf, but also a little freedom having secured a Tour card already. It’s been an awesome eight weeks. I went from not knowing if I’d have a job to having a job for a year and a half if I wanted it, and six weeks after being offered that gig, suddenly having a PGA Tour card. It’s crazy.”
Until this incredible run, Hartzog said he had very limited caddie experience. He had caddied for buddies in amateur events – one of them even won the state match-play championship in South Carolina – but that was about it.
“I had experience winning on the bag, and some experience caddying and knew I’d enjoy it, but I didn’t have a lot of it and certainly not a lot recently. Since I got into coaching… coaching is basically being a glorified caddie. We do everything a caddie does but carry the bag. We coach through game plans, course management, teach them every day which shots to hit, how to dissect a course and figure it out and make the best shot selection. All of that is familiar to me.”
Thompson’s game is familiar to Hartzog, too. He says that they play a similar game, hit their clubs about the same distances and have the same ball flight — a draw. There’s just one difference, Hartzog said, “Chris hits it on the center of the club face every time and knows exactly where it’s going before he hits it.”
Thompson told Golf Digest this week that Hartzog’s green-reading ability has been a huge asset and the stats bear that out. Thompson was ranked in the 50s in putting average before Hartzog came on and finished the regular season ranked 10th in Web.com Tour putting average.
“I never imagined anyone complimenting me on reading greens,” Hartzog laughed. “Putting was my weakness when it came to being successful. But that’s the most important thing in golf. I always felt I could read a green, but the imaginary line goes away when I’m over the ball. I’m better at telling someone what to do than doing it. I have a player like Chris who can hit every shot imaginable. If I give him confirmation, it helps him commit to it.”
Hartzog attributes his green-reading ability to an unlikely source. His background includes jobs in construction and landscaping – two professions where slopes and angles are important.
“When you grade a yard, you can stand back and see what part is higher than another,” he said. “You see dips and falls. That’s helped me to read greens. My grandpa told me real young, ‘find the high point of the hill, dump water and see which way it runs.’ That’s great info to have when reading a green. Which way is water floating along the green. That’s the way the ball will go.”
Hartzog hasn’t just made fast friends with Thompson, but also his family. On off weeks, Hartzog has stayed with Thompson, his wife Jessica, and their two children Henry (10) and Landry (7).
“They’ve accepted me into their family,” Hartzog said. “I’ve got a great relationship with Chris, Jessica and Henry and Landry. Chris and me — we’re together almost every minute of the day. We’re not as close as 20-year friends, but in a short time it’s been great. He’s my boss and I’m the employee, but we’re friends. We communicate. We don’t necessarily talk personal stuff, but I know what that stuff is like being with him. If he’s not really himself on the course, I know it’s because there’s something going on at home that he doesn’t want to be missing. Family is so important to both of us. I miss my family and my girlfriend. Being on the road this much is hard for both of us, so that bonds us tight. Hopefully Chris and Jessica have seen how I’ve interacted with their kids and it tells them something about me as well.”
To sum up: Just a couple months back, Hartzog was job-searching, hoping to continue his career as a college golf coach.
Eight weeks later, he’s got a job locked up, but it isn’t in coaching.
Instead, it’s as a PGA Tour caddie.
“I’m just as excited as Chris is, if not more than he is,” Hartzog said. “And he’s worked the last 25 years to get there. I got there from dumb luck.”