Local Pebble Beach caddie helps NFL star Larry Fitzgerald to second Pro-Am team win in three years
On Sunday at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, Larry Fitzgerald took home his second team title with Kevin Streelman. In five years they now own two titles and one second.
The second came in 2017, the year that Pebble Beach caddie Mike Zabbo started looping for Fitzgerald.
And how that came about was a pretty cool story.
In late January 2017 it was a slow afternoon at Spyglass Hill, one of the courses Zabbo has looped at since 2007.
Then, as is often the case in that part of the world, a successful person showed up to the course for his tee time, the first one in more than an hour.
“Just by luck I happened to be the next caddie up,” Zabbo remembers. “We hit it off during the practice round and he invited me to the AT&T to work for him and it’s been a friendship ever since. It was amazing linking up with him.”
And they’ve been together in four of those AT&T Pro-Ams. They’ve got their Pro-Am week down to nearly a science now. Larry usually arrives Tuesday and plays a private course like Cypress. Wednesday they get together first at Monterey Peninsula Country Club and play nine holes to get a feel for course conditions and green speeds, then they drive over to Spyglass Hill a few miles down 17-Mile Drive for another nine. They finish their day on Pebble Beach, getting a feel for how that gem’s playing.
So in nearly 30 rounds thus far, what’s it like looping for the 11-time Pro Bowler?
“With Larry, what you see is what you get, there’s no pretension,” Zabbo said. “He is as genuine as they come. There’s no arrogance he’s very humble. I like caddying for Larry because he’s a genuine guy, not just because he’s Larry Fitzgerald.”
Many athletes who take up golf are incredibly superstitious. Heck, even U.S. Open champ Gary Woodland admits to being superstitious as a golfer in the way he tapes his fingers and preps for each round. So one might wonder if Fitzgerald gets into any superstitions.
“No, not really,” Zabbo said. “His big thing is he doesn’t really like to spend a lot of time hitting balls before a round and warming up. He doesn’t want to show up an hour or two before to beat balls and practice that much, he just wants to show up and go play golf. More than winning — or more than anything — he just wants to play golf and he loves the game and it’s fun to watch his passion for it.”
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) September 21, 2018
That passion came through when Zabbo first met Fitzgerald and heard how often this All-Pro receiver played.
“He told me he was playing 300 times a year,” Zabbo said. “He was like, ‘I seriously play at any chance I get. Sometimes I go 36 holes in one day, and sometimes even 54.’”
That was some insane dedication for a current NFL star who Zabbo says has since cut down his golf schedule.
“I typically drive Larry back to wherever he’s staying, and he’ll say, ‘Zabbo I could take your money right now, you want to play some golf?’“ Zabbo said.
But then Fitzgerald realizes he’s got obligations or a function to attend.
“But If he’s not golfing he’s thinking about golf.”
Zabbo owns a 1-0 overall record against Fitzgerald when they face off and that happened during the Sunday of their first AT&T.
Both Zabbo and Streelman’s caddie at the time, A.J. Montecinos, were jabbing back and forth with Larry that whole week, so Larry challenged them to a round of 18 that afternoon as they walked off Pebble.
They first tried Cypress Point and couldn’t get on, so they called Spyglass and raced like mad to finish in the light.
The 37-year-old looper who began his caddying career in 2002 at the Ritz Carlton in Sarasota, Florida, talked Fitzgerald down to a $100 Nassau. Zabbo was a 5.2 handicap and tried to find a fair match against the 13 handicapper at the time (he’s now an 8).
“Somehow he ended up getting six shots a side and I still beat him all three ways,” Zabbo said. “The banter was pretty lively all day.”
When they got to the 11th hole, Fitzgerald hit the ball-washer with his tee shot sending Zabbo, Montecinos and Streelman scrambling for cover. Later that hole, Zabbo had a second shot in the trees with a two-foot gap from 190 yards out.
“I called out to Larry that I was gonna put it on the green,” Zabbo said. “A.J. and Kevin said, ‘let us get in the cart so you don’t kill us.’ I laced a cut 4 iron to about 20 feet. It was an epic day, all thanks to Larry’s generosity (paying for the greens fees).”
When the North Kingstown, Rhode Island native looks at Fitzgerald’s game he sees some strengths and weaknesses of course and the driver is definitely in the latter category.
“Larry Fitzgerald and drivers don’t really get along at this point. Honestly, the whole tournament in the first three rounds he hit one driver,” Zabbo said.
Fitzgerald topped some shots Sunday as well. So, it’s not all smooth sailing for the player that some question for his 8 handicap. Zabbo is well aware of the criticism.
“I think what would surprise golf fans is that his handicap is not only 100 percent legit, he’s probably closer to a 10 or a 12 this year,” Zabbo said. “And I know people find that hard to believe.”
So he asks doubters to look at Fitzgerald’s work week.
“At Spyglass he played unbelievable, with four (gross) birdies,” Zabbo said. “But after that he had one birdie the next three rounds, he played like an 8 handicap the whole time. He picked up his ball a few times on Sunday. The people who say he’s sandbagging are going to say that regardless of what happens.”
One of Zabbo’s favorite moments last week with the Phoenix area resident, who likes to use a Whisper Rock ball marker, came out of that first round at Spyglass.
On their very first hole of the the tournament, the par-5 first, Fitzgerald had a birdie (net eagle) putt from 40 feet. As with “99.9 percent” of their putts, Larry asked for a read. Zabbo told him to play five feet of break on it, and Fitzgerald drained it from long distance.
Another fun moment came at three on Sunday at Pebble.
“He’s so long, he’s hitting weird clubs off the par 4s,” Zabbo said. “Like number 3 at Pebble Beach, it was 160 to carry the left bunker, I had him hit 7 iron and he had 105 yards left (215-yard drive), so his length is unreal when he wants to get after it.
“He had 205 to the front edge on 9 from the fairway bunker and he was kind of near the lip, I said why don’t we just hit a 9 or wedge and lay it up just a little short of the green. And he goes, ‘no, give me the 8 iron, I think I can get 8 iron over the lip.’ And when he said that, I thought, ‘yeah he could probably do that, but he’s going to be 30-40 yards short of the green.’
“He swings as hard as he can, flushes it sky-high downwind and ends up hole-high. It was the longest 8 iron I’d ever seen.”
On 13, Fitzgerald smashed a driver dead into the wind about 300 yards and had 65 yards uphill into the wind.
“The pros in the group couldn’t believe it,” Zabbo said.
The Pebble Beach looper proudly points out that local Pebble Beach caddies have been on the bag for Pro-Am winning amateurs the last five years.
“To do it in 2018 with Larry and then to do it again in 2020 is just incredible,” Zabbo said.
In 2018, Fitzgerald and Zabbo actually grabbed breakfast before the round at one of Zabbo’s favorite spots.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t time for Fitzgerald to celebrate in 2018, this year he had to also head out immediately down to L.A. for a charity event for Tiger Woods at Riviera the next day.
But that didn’t stop Zabbo from celebrating caddying for two Pro-Am wins in three years.
He went out with his in-laws and wife to the Sardine Factory on Monterey’s historic Cannery Row for a celebratory dinner.
All in a day’s work.