“You play to win the game” does not just apply to the NFL, as coach Herm Edwards once famously said.
The same holds true for golf, particularly LPGA Tour caddie Paul Fusco. His player, Sei Young Kim, won Sunday’s CME Group Tour Championship in Naples with a 25-foot birdie putt on the final hole to claim the richest first prize in women’s golf history — $1.5 million.
You know what that means for the caddie? Fusco’s 10 percent cut made him $150,000, which gives me the honor of saying he earned the largest check by an LPGA Tour caddie.
That’s a lot of green.
“I’m not going to lie; we caddie to make a living and that money is change-your-life money,” Fusco said. “But I was thinking more about winning the title than I was about the money. That’s what was most important.”
Not that the 150 grand couldn’t have come at a better time. The 51-year-old recently went through a divorce and was looking for a place to stay with his three children in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
“That money takes care of the new house,” Fusco said.
For $1.5 million…
— LPGA (@LPGA) November 24, 2019
Player and caddie had to work hard to get their record payouts. Kim had led almost the entire week, but suddenly she couldn’t make a birdie putt at holes 15, 16 and 17 or her lead would have been two shots.
Charley Hull’s birdie at the 18th tied her with Kim, who still had to play 18.
Fusco played dumb. He didn’t mention to Kim the putt was to win the tournament.
“Why add stress?” Fusco said. “I didn’t want to tell her it was for the win. I kind of was already thinking about the playoff because it was a downhill, left-to-righter – not an easy putt.”
It proved to be a veteran move by the caddie. The unaware Kim knew the putt was good 5 feet before the hole, and Fusco quickly told her it was for the win.
“Last putt, I just tried to make two-putt because I didn’t see the leaderboard,” Kim said. “I didn’t know that if I made a two-putt it could be go to playoff. I just try and make the right distance; made it. It’s unbelievable. I was like so emotional. Almost crying. But I try I’m not going to cry. So, yeah, I’m still unbelievable, yeah.”
It was their 10th win together in five seasons. Kim finished second on the LPGA Tour’s money list with more than $2.7 million (just $20,000 less than No. 1 Jin Young Ko). That means Kim won $1.2 million the rest of the year, which is reason enough to celebrate.
“This has to rank up there among my biggest achievements,” Fusco said. “My players have won more than 25 tournaments, and this one has to be the favorite.
“We haven’t won a major yet, which we will, but this one tops them all.”
Fusco was bit by the caddying bug early. He started looping at Sunset Country Club near St. Louis when he was 12 and was hooked.
“Within a week, I knew I wanted to be a tour caddie,” Fusco said. “I just loved the job, had a knack for it and love helping people.”
He spent his summers caddying before attending college at the University of Missouri. After school, he decided to go to California to become a tour caddie.
That’s when his mom, Dorothy – and Mother Luck – played a role. Dorothy won $500 playing bingo and gave the winnings to her son, who had only $200.
“That was huge,” Paul said. “Mom took care of me.”
A friend convinced Fusco to go to Europe in 1990 where he landed the bag of a tall, slender man from Fiji – Vijay Singh.
Singh won four PGA Tour titles while Fusco caddied for him for the next five years. Certainly, there were easier players for a caddie to start their careers with than Singh.
“You worked a lot when you were with Vijay,” Fusco said. “I know he can be a little tough, but when he knows you, he loves you. Vijay always treated me well and my son is friends with him to this day.”
Fusco also won PGA Tour events caddying for Steve Flesch and Brent Geiberger. His first Korean player of note was Na Yeon Choi, who won six LPGA Tour events with Fusco before she won the 2012 U.S. Women’s Open.
Fusco got the call from Kim’s agent to start working for her at the 2014 qualifying tournament. She finished sixth and they have worked extremely well together since.
“It’s all about chemistry,” he said. “You can have the best player in the world and the best caddie, but if they don’t get along, it won’t work. Sei Young is an easy person to work for. She’s talented and she has that ‘it’ factor.”
Kim once joked she practically stalked Fusco before she hired him. Either way, he was all in.
Fusco made news for the wrong reason at the 2015 U.S. Women’s Open. Early in the week a USGA official walked into a trailer while Fusco was taking photos of pin positions and other course setup documents. The USGA “removed” Fusco from the tournament and allowed Kim to use another caddie.
The LPGA Tour took no further action and Fusco returned to Kim’s bag the following event.
“There’s not much I want to say about it,” Fusco said. “I walked into an area where there was no ‘security’ or ‘proper credentials’ sign. I saw the pin positions posted on the wall and thought if I could see them, anybody could. But it’s over and done with and there are no hard feelings.”
Kim stood by him, and it’s easy to see why. They have done everything together but win a major. That may come next year.
Fusco got to experience another thrill of a lifetime in 2016 when he caddied for Kim at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Fusco got to stay in the Olympic village like the players and enjoy the environment.
“It’s hard to believe that really happened,” Fusco said.
Fusco’s roll continued Sunday. He’s got six weeks of vacation ahead of him to enjoy becoming a footnote in golf history.
No caddie on the LPGA Tour has ever made more money in a week.
“It’s a pretty cool feeling,” he said.