Like most special moments, it wasn’t planned. And to the casual observer, it didn’t seem that unusual. In fact, it was total serendipity that a photographer even caught it. But it was a moment that will live in Todd Van Paris’ memory forever.
“I vividly remember,” Van Paris says of the hug captured for posterity. “I think of it often.”
The photo itself could pass as pure art, showing a hug between Todd and his son Jackson, after completing their final round in the U.S. Kids Golf World Championship in 2016. The warmth of the hug surpasses even the brilliance of the “golden hour” sunset, Todd’s huge smile, tall Carolina pines and even the majestic backdrop of Pinehurst No. 8. It’s an outstanding picture. But it represents something even better. Something that only a caddie, and really only a parent-caddie, could truly appreciate.
“That moment was the last time I would wear the U.S. Kids Golf Caddy Bib,” Van Paris recalls. “Jackson first competed at 5 years old, so that is 8 years of caddying in approximately 50 U.S. Kids Golf Tournaments — somewhere between 120 to 150 tournament rounds of golf with my little guy who couldn’t even tie his golf shoes when we began this journey. Somewhere around 600 hours of dedicated, quality time together to develop a unique, unbreakable bond. A bond forged through all the joy, frustration and life lessons this game teaches, especially in competition. Lessons of integrity, emotional control, concentration, sportsmanship and physical perseverance for both the player and the caddie. Not all of these experiences were joyous or easy. Keep in mind, I had an emergency appendectomy in Phoenix where I was caddying for Jackson at the 2013 Desert Shootout at The Wigwam. I also separated my shoulder during the 10-year-old World Championship at Little River Golf Course when I slipped and fell crossing a bridge on the 15th hole of the second round in 2014. Not wonderful moments on their own, but part of the wonderful life stories we created together through our player/caddie experience.”
Think about that. All the highs and lows, all the love and challenges, not just of a player and caddie, but of a father and son as well. You could write volumes of the dynamic that needs to develop over eight years, as a young boy grows into a teen while a father needs to be both paternal, and answer to the “boss” between the ropes. And knowing it was over, so grateful for the experience, so proud of the accomplishments, so saddened at the end of this particular journey.
“So much was running through my mind at that moment,” Van Paris explained. “Most of all, it was pride. I was so proud of Jackson at that moment. I was proud of the way he competed that day as he birdied No. 17 and made his putt for birdie on that 18th hole to earn his third second-place finish in the World Championship. I was proud of the way he competed through all eight years of U.S. Kids Golf World Championships. Jackson never finished outside the top 10 in The World Championship for eight straight years (5 years old, in 2009, through 12 years old in 2016). I was proud of the way he conducted himself that week and always. Even when the results were not what he desired, Jackson always demonstrated good sportsmanship and I believe he always will.
“[But] In addition to pride, I have to say I was a bit sad. I was sad it was over. Selfishly, I was sad my opportunities to caddie for Jackson in competition would diminish greatly from that moment. I would miss it. I would miss the high fives after a great shot. I would miss cleaning his clubs. I would miss reminding him to drink or eat something. I would miss arguing over a shot or club, just to learn he was always proved correct and I was always proved wrong. I would miss consoling him when he played poorly. I would miss hearing him thank me for caddying for him during his Champion acceptance speeches. I would miss it all, and I do.”
Jackson Van Paris’ golf career has continued to develop since that day — and even flourish. He is one of the top junior players in the world and his list of accomplishments seems to grow daily. In 2017, he won the individual medal at the Evian Junior Cup in France, leading the U.S. team to a win over 17 other nations. He caused quite a stir in 2018 as a 14-year-old who qualified for Match Play (and even won a match) at the U.S. Amateur (the only other player to do that: Bobby Jones), and he’s committed to play golf at one of the top golf programs in the country – Vanderbilt University.
But no matter what he accomplishes on the course, whatever trophies he might win or scores he might shoot, he’s going to be hard-pressed to find a moment bigger than the one he and his father shared back in 2016.
“Jackson has created so many great golf moments and memories that Jana and I have had the good fortune to experience. However, the moment captured in this photo, for me, will remain among the best ever, no matter what. This was our moment. This was my terrific son and me closing an amazing chapter in our lives together. We will certainly have many more remarkable moments and memories, but how could any of them compete with the eight years of togetherness, triumph, loss, love and learning represented by this photo?”
Parents are encouraged to become caddies and take part in their kids’ golf tournaments by signing up for U.S. Kids Golf Local Tour near them at https://www.uskidsgolf.com/tournaments/local-tours.