Kevin Kirk on ‘playing Kessler Karain for the day’ on Patrick Reed’s bag; caddies detail celebration after win
Kevin Kirk is not new to looping.
He estimates having caddied in over 50 Tour events and between 10 and 15 Tour school qualifying events for the likes of Jhonattan Vegas, Brian Claar and a handful of LPGA players, including his wife, Suzy.
That started as far back as 1991 for the 26-year veteran teacher and 2019 PGA Teacher of the Year. But until Sunday, it had “been a few years,” since he’d looped a pro event.
He said he felt great after the 16 holes.
“I’ve done enough of it to where it wasn’t really a physicality aspect that was going to be the challenge as much as stepping in there and trying to be present and try and steer Patrick through that spot we were in,” Kirk said.
Though Kirk knows how serious Reed’s winning singles match was on Sunday — 4&2 over C.T. Pan — he still poked a little fun at himself.
“I played Kessler Karain for a day,” Kirk laughed.
And thankfully there were plenty of extra uniforms for him to wear for the match, so he didn’t have to borrow one from Karain.
Kirk had prepped with Reed and Karain all week as they warmed up each day and so he felt fairly comfortable with that part of the caddying role. When he got the call on Saturday that he’d be on the bag, he felt good about it and just needed to take a closer look at the yardage book.
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A cool moment shared by the 12 man team that just won the Presidents Cup in Melbourne, Australia. Congrats to Captain Tiger Woods and his crew. Proud of them and happy to have played a small part in defending the cup…..kk #presidentscup @pgatour @golfchannel @NBCSports @nikegolf @bluegiraffesprt @birdietimeapp
“I got up early and had a cup of coffee, took the yardage book out and said ‘OK, what does that mean for me in terms of trying to make sure we steer him in the right direction, particularly with all of the false fronts and you have to fly the ball certain distances out there?’ By the time Sunday came around, I had a pretty good feel for the course as did Patrick.”
The other caddies all looked at pin sheets together and discussed club selection on many of the holes all week, so that open advice gave Kirk some more insight before the 58-year-old strapped on the bag as the oldest caddie on Sunday.
“There was a lot of discussion back and forth between the pods about what club off of tees, where to position it,” he said, “and things on the green what to avoid. When to hit the gas, when to hit the brakes, which is the tricky part of that place.”
So how much did Karain have to prep coach for the bag?
“I think we were all pretty internally tight enough that we knew what the playbook was,” Kirk said. “The good news was I’d done enough preparation and our dialogue daily was open enough that it’s not like it was a big leap, it was just a matter of trying to manage the moment really more than anything else.”
It was a moment that both Reed and Kirk knew needed to get off to a good start.
“He got to the practice tee on Sunday and his warm up was great, his energy was good, we went out there with the intention of going up in that match early with C.T. Pan,” Kirk said. “We birdied the first hole and we both said we gotta keep the hammer down. We just got off to a great start.”
The understatement of the year.
Reed birdied his first four holes and got to 6 up through seven holes.
It was then that Kirk decided to sneak a peek at the board.
“By the time I looked at the board on seven it was super quiet out there and there was a whole bunch of red on the board,” Kirk said. “It was the first time I saw it, and I said, ‘Patrick let’s keep this going and let’s keep doing our part.’”
They finished with a 4 & 2 win to get Reed’s record for the week to 1-3-0.
But Karain was certainly on Kirk’s mind as he streamed the coverage back at the team hotel due to the Tour’s suspension for his actions with a fan on Saturday.
“As soon as we got off the course back inside, I called him and he was super-excited,” Kirk said. “And we finally got to see him when we hopped off the bus at the hotel. It was just a great moment. There he was waiting for us. He was really concerned about how his absence could negatively impact not only Patrick but the caddies and players, too, and ultimately captain Woods. He was very concerned and relieved in the end when it played out the way it did.”
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Kevin Kirk, 2019 PGA of America Teacher of the Year. I feel incredibly fortunate, humbled, and blessed by the good fortune this sport I love has gifted me. There are too many people to thank on here but know that I am genuinely grateful for any friendship or interaction that I have had both on and off the course. I hope to continue to positively impact the world of golf and look forward to what’s ahead. Thank you all so very much! @pga @pgatour @nike @nikegolf @bluegiraffesprt
Karain felt so concerned for the guys that he sent a message to the players and caddies individually that said, “I’m sorry, I let my emotions get the better of me,” according to Xander Schauffele’s caddie, Austin Kaiser.
On Sunday morning, Karain was waiting for the team in the lobby and gave everyone knuckles as they departed.
“We were actually FaceTiming him on the bus ride home, which was really cool,” Kaiser said. “He FaceTimed Tiger and Tiger showed everyone on the bus. It was really fun.”
Speaking of the infamous (viral) bus ride home where everyone sang, “We are the Champions,” the team also broke out into a fitting rendition of, “Eye of the Tiger,” which they all sang to their skipper who smiled that unmistakable ear to ear grin in response.
— Presidents Cup (@PresidentsCup) December 15, 2019
For Kirk, who’d worked a number of past Cups for Reed as coach, his Sunday cameo as the caddie got him a front-row seat to the team celebration and more notice from his four kids watching at home.
“Being out there in the action is so different than being outside the ropes. Although you’re still in the same space, the actual experience is different,” Kirk said. “To have that opportunity to be able to do that in a big event like that on a day when it really matters and to see it come out like that will be something I definitely won’t soon forget.”
At the end of the long day, he felt satisfied with both his and Patrick’s performance.
“I think we did well,” Kirk said. “I was proud of Patrick for being able to play well in a dicey situation. I was proud of the American team for rallying and playing so beautifully on Sunday and I’m just really happy for Tiger Woods.”
First time on U.S. side
For 19-year veteran caddie Matt Minister, last week marked his second Presidents Cup but first on the U.S. side as he looped for Patrick Cantlay. Being a part of the winning team for captain Woods wasn’t something he’ll forget.
“It was an experience of a lifetime,” Minister said. “Patrick played amazing (golf) and it was exciting to be in a good match (Sunday). It was a lot of fun to watch the final matches and cheer on the teammates. Also enjoyed becoming closer to some of my fellow caddies.”
Gotta get back AND celebration
Kaiser also loved getting closer with his fellow loopers last week and absolutely loved his first U.S. team experience.
“It was unreal,” Kaiser said. “I told Xander that we’ve got to make sure we get into automatic qualifying each year for these because this is such an awesome experience.”
The 28-year-old had purchased a U.S. flag onesie for the Fourth of July, similar to the one Phil Mickelson sported this week in a Tweet while watching from home in California.
— Phil Mickelson (@PhilMickelson) December 11, 2019
After Shauffele and Kaiser finished their big upset of local favorite Adam Scott on Sunday, Joe LaCava picked them up and brought them back to the team cabin briefly, where Kaiser changed into his unmistakable outfit before going back out to celebrate with the team.
Kaiser and the entire team got back to the hotel and he headed to the caddie room there with some other caddies and wives before the team dinner.
That’s where the rookie team event caddie was told he had to either sing or dance as part of his rookie hazing.
So he broke out in this classic dance to Blanco Brown’s, “Git Up.”
How fun was U.S. Pres Cup celebration?
A little dancing to Blanco Brown’s “Git Up” from @XSchauffele’s caddie Austin Kaiser w @PresidentsCup.
Rookie had to 🎤 or dance. He danced.@PhilMickelson you aren’t the only one rocking a US onesie these days!#PresidentsCup pic.twitter.com/b8kpLUIyrV
— Garrett Johnston (@JohnstonGarrett) December 17, 2019