Steve Duplantis caddied for Jim Furyk from late 1994 until March 1999, a period during which both men rose to the upper level of their professions. Although Furyk would win just three times with Duplantis on the bag, he finished in the top five on the PGA Tour money list in 1997 and 1998, which earned him a spot on a pair of U.S. Ryder Cup squads.
Not bad for a guy from whom little was expected after an erratic career at the University of Arizona. As for Duplantis, his reputation for maximizing a player’s ability began with Furyk but really took off when he led Rich Beem, then an obscure rookie, to a victory at the ’99 Kemper Open.
The partnership would soon dissolve, however, and Duplantis spent the next eight years hopping from bag to bag, always making guys better, always wearing out his welcome. His tragic death in January 2008 punctuated a legacy defined by oversized quantities of excellence, diligence and negligence.
If the man was an outstanding caddie, he was an all-world party animal. That creature met his demise at age 35, far too soon, even for a man who spent his nights teetering on the edge.
Duplantis left behind a daughter. Her name is Sierra, and she is now 22 years old, meaning she has been fatherless for about half her life. A Dean’s List student at Clemson, Sierra graduated last spring with a degree in Political Science. Currently, she serves as a vice president at the university’s branch of Model United Nations, an academic program designed to engage students in a multitude of diplomatic and internationally related endeavors.
So she’s a really smart kid. This is hardly unique, except that most smart kids didn’t have a dad who fell off a curb one night and was killed by a moving taxi. Or a mother whose career as a stripper and myriad of personal issues led to her losing custody of her daughter to Steve when Sierra was a year old, even if the father’s own avalanche of problems included rarely being around to take care of an infant.
“I haven’t done anything heroic,” Furyk told me the other night. “I don’t want you to paint the wrong picture. Sierra earned everything on her own. The story is her and a woman named Jennifer Cooper, who got really involved with the situation and ended up taking care of Sierra a lot when she was growing up.”
I’ve known Furyk for a long time, and I know him well enough to say that he’d be the last man on earth to thump his chest over any good deed. He doesn’t have an ounce of gloat in his DNA. A couple of articles written about Sierra in recent years credited Furyk with covering the cost of her college tuition, which is something the guy certainly might have done, but in this case, those reports are inaccurate.
As a matter of fact, Sierra didn’t need the help. She received an academic scholarship to Clemson and obviously made the most of it, but Furyk has still played a significant role in Sierra’s life over the years. They met for dinner on a number of occasions during the tour’s annual stop in Charlotte, with Furyk leaving her a bunch of tournament passes each time he made the trip.
“I remember her in diapers,” he says. “Then I didn’t see her for a long time and we kind of reconnected six or seven years ago. I’ve kept in touch and I’m really proud of her, but there are others who played a bigger role in turning her into the person she is today.”
Immediately following Duplantis’ death, the tour opened an educational trust fund for Sierra. Her grandfather, also named Steve, organized a golf tournament/fundraiser in his native Canada to provide additional financial support, a benefit Furyk has played in several times.
When one of the world’s best golfers shows up to help you raise money, it’s a big deal. Those who bought a spot in Furyk’s foursome paid a small fortune for the opportunity, and everybody walked away happy.
“Anybody that wanted to talk to him, shake his hand, whatever, he hung around the golf course until 11:30 that night,” Steve Duplantis told golf writer Jim Moriarty a few years back. “Jim had played in the British Open the week before. He didn’t even get into Toronto until about 1:30 in the morning and arrived [at the benefit] the next day at 11 a.m.”
There are a lot of kindhearted men who play on the PGA Tour, but it’s fair to wonder how many would go out of their way and give so generously to the daughter of a caddie that same guy fired 10 years earlier. Steve Duplantis had issues. Eventually, they cost him his life, but he was beloved by his caddie brethren and many of the people whose lives he touched.
“He was almost like a little brother who needed an arm around his shoulder once in a while,” Furyk said as our conversation neared an end.
All views expressed in this column are those of John Hawkins and do not necessarily reflect those of the Caddie Network.