First-time Open Championship caddies excited for week ahead at Royal St. George’s

Several caddies are looping in the Open Championship at Royal St. George’s for the first time in their respective careers this week. Credit: Sandra Mailer-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re a die-hard golf fan you would have likely gotten up early and watched the Open Championship in years’ past. For this year’s Open there are a few first-time caddies who would have watched Darren Clarke win the claret jug in 2011, the last time the Open was at Rory St. Georges. Or got back to 2003 and you might remember having seen the underdog Ben Curtis take this championship while making his major debut.

For first time Open caddie Ben Hulka, a specific memory from 2003 comes to mind.

“They were putting from off the greens with hybrids and stuff like that, that’s all I remember,” Hulka said. “Just seeing the miserable weather was awesome and it was just always exciting to watch the Open growing up.”

The weather this week will be much better as the temperatures should be around 70 degrees each day, but some familiar Open Championship wind at about 15 mph each day of the championship is also expected.

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“I’ve been to plenty of U.S. Opens and I’ve been to Augusta, a few PGAs but I’ve never been inside the ropes for a major so this is definitely going to be a hell of an experience,” Hulka said.

“It’s really exciting. There’s so much history here. Especially at Royal St. George’s. It might not be the best on in the rota in some people’s opinion, but there was some crazy historic Opens there like Harry Vardon winning.”

The Open may present more variables than most other majors, so how will Hulka prepare for his first Open Championship?

“I think I just have to prepare my player (C.T. Pan) as best as possible and just be patient and understand you’re going to get some unlucky bounces all week here and there but you might get some really lucky ones too, so stay patient.”

 

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Hulka has his dad Steve’s yardage book from the 2011 Open to refer to as well in preparation.

For Canadian Jace Walker, this week represents the one major he hadn’t caddied yet.

“It is so cool to be here, I’ve done all the majors now, this will be my fourth of the big events,” Walker said. “I’ve done three U.S. Opens and two PGAs and my first Masters in April, now I’ll be able to do a British. I can’t wait to be a part of it. “

Walker’s grandfather Doug shared a huge passion for golf with Jace and took him to the Masters in the early 2000s. Later in life until he passed away in 2015, Doug became more and more reticent to travel. In 2010, Walker’s father and some friends helped organize a 16-man buddies trip to Scotland and convinced grandpa to go. They played St. Andrews, Muirfield and all the classic rota courses.

That trip gave Jace an appreciation for links golf and that experience in the U.K.

“I don’t think we would have ever missed a Masters or British Open on TV,” Walker said of watching many with his late grandfather as a kid. “We would have watched a ton of them together so it’s cool to get to be a part of it now as a caddie. It’s one of the tournaments you always loved watching and just the history and I love Europe. All the European caddies I’ve met are awesome and they treat the game right over there so it should be awesome.”

Walker and his player, Mackenzie Hughes, have never been to Royal St. George’s until this week so he knows there will be much homework to do.

“I’ll be trying to learn where certain bounces are going to end up or certain balls, where they might roll to,” Walker said. “There’s a lot more weird bounces involved in these type of tournaments. Bad shots can end up good and good shots can end up horrible, so I’ll be trying to do a little bit of extra work Sunday through Wednesday and by the time Thursday comes along we’ll be ready to go.”

For Ryan Goble, this is his first Open Championship after 11 years as a Tour caddie.

“It’s very exciting, the links style golf is something I’ve always wanted to experience and Royal St. George’s is a beautiful golf course and it’s going to be a tough test,” Goble said.

“Caddying here (in the Open) is one of those things you’d like to do at least once.”

What he’s seen so far of links golf, Goble likes.

“It’s very cool,” he said. “Wind is a huge factor, then there is the hay and the bunkers, mounded fairways, sloped greens.”

Sounds like an Open Championship.

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