Thanks to Lee McCoy, veteran Tim Gaestel lives dream of caddying in professional event. Here’s how it all happened.
They say there are times in your life that you have to make a choice to jump in and go after your dreams. This past week, I did that.
I drove over the Red River and climbed the Rockies for over 26 hours of one of the most exciting drives of my life. All so I could chase my dream of looping on the big stage.
I know there are caddies who do these drives more frequently and the hours must seem grueling for those of you who do it so much, but to this bright-eyed, slightly seasoned rookie caddie it was a surreal moment when I jumped in my truck and headed north last Tuesday morning.
On Monday night, before the start of the maiden Korn Ferry Tournament at TPC Colorado at Heron Lake, I was aimlessly scrolling through twitter when I saw the following tweet:
Hey twitter fam, in need of a caddy again this week in Denver. Shoot me a DM if you can or know someone in the area! College/high school players??🙏🏻👌🏻
— Lee McCoy (@LeeMcCoyGolf) July 9, 2019
Let’s just say that I jumped on the opportunity and that night I sent Lee my story… one I’ll briefly share that with you.
I joined the Army on September 11, 2001 — the day our whole world changed.
On September 21, 2003, while driving in a convoy south of Baghdad, a roadside bomb went off and changed my life. I took two pieces of shrapnel to my lower back and, for a long time, I struggled with the pain and I allowed my injury to dictate my life. The game of golf saved my life and set me on a path to loop on the big stage this week at TPC Colorado.
I found the game of golf when my dad saw that I was struggling when I came home and moved in with my parents. My Dad talked me into going to play Lions Municipal Golf Course in Austin, Texas and nothing would be the same after that. I fell in love with golf.
After coming home an injured soldier, I lost my identity. I wasn’t going to be able to pursue any kind of football glory that I had thought I might after the Army… try to go walk on like my hero Rudy Reuttiger, and I wasn’t going to be a soldier anymore. I remember playing that round of golf with my dad. He looked over and told me now I could be whatever I wanted. We even joked about me being a professional caddie.
Some say I might be a little lucky, and I probably would agree with that.
In 2011, I was introduced to the Warrior Open Golf Tournament hosted by President George W. Bush in Dallas, Texas, by my buddy Trevor, who started seeing how much I was getting into golf and knew I was a Wounded Veteran.
Getting to know President Bush was a highlight for me, but I never thought it would help me be a better version of myself. Getting to meet all of the members of Team 43 (a sports group comprised of golfers and mountain bike riders, who continue to help support the Bush Institute) has been crucial in chasing my dream of looping.
In 2013, I was honored to play my first Warrior Open Golf Tournament. I had my father on my bag caddying for me that day and it will always be a special tournament for me.
On Hole No. 17 at Las Colinas Country Club, I got my first hole-in-one, after Lisa DePaulo told me, “just go get a hole-in-one!”
Lisa was caddying for Jim Holtgrieve, who had played in my group the day before during the Pro-Am day of the tournament. It was watching her talk through shots and be a part of the team that I had my first taste of what a caddie does and ever really thought that caddying would be a great job.
I shared this story with Lee, so I’ll share it with you now.
In 2016, we got an email from the Bush Center asking if we would like to be a part of a project that President Bush was starting. All we had to do is sign a form and that was the last time I thought about it. About a year later, I got a bunch of emails to sign and the next thing I knew is there was book and a painting.
The President of the United States painted my portrait! I couldn’t believe that this was really happening. I had joined the team to play some golf and now I am forever immortalized in oil on canvas.
Now the funny part….
The first time I saw the painting a friend sent me an email picture he took of it hanging in the gallery at the Bush Library in Dallas, Texas. It looked just like me… it looked just like the picture he used to paint my portrait. There were 98 of us picked by President Bush to be included in his Portraits of Courage Book.
The best part of this story comes when I finally got my copy of the book. I ran home on my way to golf practice and check the mail and the book is there! I run back up to my golf practice and I try to show off to a group of my high school girls’ golf team the picture.
I say, “Hey girls, you want to see this… President Bush painted my portrait and it’s in this book!”
One of my junior girls on the team looks at the page and says, “Looks like he painted all three of your chins too,” and my mouth dropped and we all laughed… but that day, I looked at the painting and realized I had to change. I had to get my life together. My injury couldn’t stop me from chasing my dream.
On May 21, of 2017, we were invited to Dallas for a reunion and a chance to see the paintings in person. That night was just the kick in the butt that I needed and of course it comes with a little humor.
All of the Team 43 members were sitting in the room and President Bush came in and wanted to do a little Q and A with us.
A few questions in and a shy spouse of one of the veterans in the book stands up and raises her hand. President Bush calls on her and she says very humbly, “President Bush, we are all so honored to be included in this project, but we wanted to know how you picked these guys out of all the people who have participated in your events.”
And without skipping a beat President Bush says, “I picked the ugly ones.”
And then I was the next person standing with my hand in the air as everyone in the room burst out into laughter as President Bush tends to do when he is MC’ing a crowd and he goes, “what’s up, Coach?”
I wanted to tell him that I thought it was really done well, but that I hadn’t realized how big I had gotten and I said, “I was just wondering if I lost the weight, would you consider repainting my portrait” and without skipping a beat he says, “NO” and moves on.
I told everyone around that day that I would just make him look like an awful painter when I lost all the weight. And that night, I set down my Dr. Pepper and swore I would make a change.
Three months later, while sitting on the driving range about to start my tryouts for the 2017-2018 season, that same girl who made the joke about my chins walked by me and didn’t recognize me… justice was mine! I started off at 254 lbs and lost 81 lbs over those 90 days.
I was back to the weight I was when I joined the 82nd Airborne and this motivated me even more to want to caddie. Now I felt like I was in shape enough to do it. I just had to find the right bag. Over the next few years, I would send out thousands of tweets, DMs, and handwritten letters to try to get on a bag, for anyone…
Now back to last Monday night….
Lee sent out the DM at 10:23 p.m. and gave me the job… and the next 12 hours, I do everything in my power to get from Austin to Denver so I can make it happen. I knew I was on a time crunch because if I drove, I had to go soon, and if I flew, I needed more money.
I sent out a Facebook message to see if any friends had any frequent-flier mileage and I went to bed thinking it might not happen. The next morning, I woke up to several message from friends who knew that I had been trying so hard to become a caddie and, within minutes, I had all the cash I needed sitting in my Venmo account. Now I had to convince my wife.
I told her my dream of caddying, but I’m sure she thought it was just one of the many list of dreams and goals I have and didn’t realize how big it was for me to attend this event. What she doesn’t know is that without her help in my life, I would never have felt the confidence I needed to be on that bag Thursday morning. My wife sent me back a message Tuesday morning that said if I could make it without spending a lot, I could go. I took care of our dogs, made sure everyone was good and I jumped in my truck and headed to Colorado.
Luckily, one of my Team 43 members was gracious enough to let me crash on the couch while I was in Colorado.
I left Austin, Texas at 1 p.m. and drove 14 hours straight through Texas and got into Denver, Colorado, at 2 a.m. and crashed on my buddy’s couch. I woke up at 6 a.m. and started to wait to see when I was needed. A few hours later, I got the message for start.
“Mind meeting out at the course around 10:30?”
I was there at 9:15!
My respect for Lee would only grow deeper throughout the week, his understanding of what he needs and what he is ready for is outstanding. He has no fear of playing the course blindly, he’s not scared of some rookie caddie, he was a professional in every sense of the word.
They all were. Tim Madigan, Chad Ramey were our playing partners. I watched them play and it was amazing how good these guys are. It’s amazing to see a guy putt as well as Lee did on Thursday and still not make the cut. Guys who think they’re going to just turn pro and life will be easy don’t seem to understand how good these guys are.
The caddies I met last week answered all my questions and it felt like the three of us were on a team. We switched out responsibilities and covered each other’s players when it would save time, and generally all got along. I know that isn’t always the case, but these guys were awesome!
Meeting Lee on the course for our first practice session was pretty cool. Lee is a friendly guy and was very supportive of our Veterans and so it was easy for him to give me the spot, but I still wanted to do the job right and I wanted to help my guy get to the weekend.
The first day of practice went by quick and Lee told me if I wanted to go walk the course I could, but he wasn’t going to get a practice round in so I decided I was going to go walk the whole course, like I have seen all the big-time caddies do. I walked all 18 and I took notes like I do when I play the course, but ultimately I just pretended I knew what I was doing and saw spectators watching me and it must have looked like I knew what I was doing. I played the part of caddie pretty good this week!
A few caddies walked a couple of holes and gave me advice, everyone seemed super nice and I’m so thankful for the opportunity to live out a dream I have had for several years.
The highlight of my time caddying took place on Friday after our lightening delay and a crazy wind storm blew through and had us laying on the fairway. We got done with the dreaded No. 13, a par 5, and I handed Lee a driver because I thought we were on No. 15, the par 4 running back to the course, but we were actually on No. 14, the par 3. Lee was already teed up and doing a few practice swings by the time I made it to the tee box and everyone is looking at me and one of the caddies says, “You gave him the club, now he’s going to hit it.”
I was like, “Oh no, I thought we were on the Par 4, my bad… here let’s get the right club.”
And Lee looks at me and says, “Sorry, this is the club you gave me so I gotta hit it.”
I get this nervous feeling in my stomach and he swings his cut and hit’s the ball pin high! (Missing the green and landing in the sand but that wasn’t my fault!)
The last few holes Lee let me pick a few clubs and then I was blown away when on the last par 5 of the day he hit driver and then I jokingly pulled out driver for his second shot and he took it and hit the most amazing shot up the side of the fairway and landed 10 yards from the green missing the bunker he was in on day 1.
The pleasure was all mine Coach! Sorry about the short week, 8k yard golf courses haven’t been kind to me in recent years…or ever ☠️ https://t.co/l2LqALDFQ8
— Lee McCoy (@LeeMcCoyGolf) July 14, 2019
It was an incredible driver off the deck and my hat goes off to Mr. McCoy — that guy can play some golf! One thing that I will take back with me about playing golf professionally is what Lee told me when we had a few more holes left and making the cut seemed pretty impossible. He said in not so many words, “Out here, if you miss a cut… you better be ready to move to the next tournament.”
The role of the caddie means different things to different people. Some caddies’ jobs are to keep up, shut up, and keep the clubs clean.
What I saw this week was a lot different; it was how I hoped it would be: A team effort to get to the weekend. I think I did a good job keeping up, probably not very good on the shutting up, but they all seemed to like my stories.
My hat goes off to the professional looper — a friend, a teammate, a psychologist, swing coach, Uber driver and the list goes on. One thing is for sure, caddies deserve a lot more respect.
I think my days of begging for a bag are done… now I’m going to wait for the right bag. I always tell my high school golf team that I will pull a “Michael Greller” and leave my teaching job when the next Jordan Spieth comes through my program… might take a few years but I really want to say thanks to Lee McCoy, I have a professional caddie gig on my resume.
Caddying for Lee and meeting his awesome fiancée was so cool, but being their friend is even cooler. Thanks Lee, consider me on Team McCoy and if you ever need a caddie… you’ve got my number!
Thanks to all my friends, family and my incredible wife for letting me chase my dream.