This is how a PGA Tour caddie’s federal prison stint led to an unlikely friendship with Tommy Chong

Eric Larson, Tommy Chong
Eric Larson at one of Tommy Chong’s shows shortly after Larson was released in 2006.

If you’ve visited these pages before, you’ll likely already know that PGA Tour caddie Eric Larson – currently with Harris English and formerly with the likes of Anthony Kim, Jeff Overton, Mark Calcavecchia and Ken Green – spent 11 years in federal prison for drug trafficking.

A little over eight years into that sentence, Larson made friends at Taft Correctional Institute in California with a new inmate – an icon. That new inmate? The legendary Tommy Chong of “Cheech & Chong” fame, who was serving a 9-month sentence for selling bongs over state lines.

On a recent ‘Under the Strap,’ podcast, Larson was scheduled to be the guest and asked if he could also bring along Chong for the chat. We happily obliged.

While Chong and Larson spent less than a year together at Taft beginning in 2003, before Chong was released and Larson moved on to finish his sentence elsewhere, the friendship has endured.

RELATED: Caddie Eric Larson and Tommy Chong’s prison encounters with The Wolf of Wall Street

Chong, who will be 82 years old in late May, lives in Pacific Palisades, California, a stone’s throw from Riviera, which hosts the Genesis Invitational (formerly the LA Open) each year. So, Larson always catches him there and the two talk and text frequently.

This is the story of how they became friends.

Eric Larson, Harris English
Caddie Eric Larson and Harris English. Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

“The first thing Eric told me, he said… I didn’t know prison at all, you know?” Chong said. “It was the first time I had been locked down. The first thing they did was give me a cubicle next to the toilet, which Eric called, ‘waterfront property.’ Apparently, that’s not the best place to be. For me, I thought it was great because I’m an old man and I had to go pee all night. So, I thought I scored, but Eric convinced me, ‘no, no, no, you’ve got to get into a better situation. Which I did. But then Eric invited me into his, ‘car.’ And what it was, was a group of guys who would eat homecooked meals – cooked by Eric. Besides getting a couple of university degrees while he was there, Eric also created this incredible vegetable garden. It was more like a farm than a garden. It was huge. He would grow vegetables that would be donated to the food bank. The prisoners weren’t even allowed to eat it. But because he grew it, he was allowed to take it out of there for his own personal use.”

One line Larson stresses about his prison days is this: “Do the time the way you want to do it. Don’t let it do you.”

For Larson, that meant learning, working and doing productive things – playing softball, cooking, reading, etc. – to pass the days, weeks, months and years.

That drive is what Chong admired about Larson.

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“Eric was the biggest inspiration for me in so many ways, because I never heard him talk loud,” Chong said. “Now, when you’re in prison, there’s usually a lot of loud talking going on. Eric was always by himself, always quiet. Then I found out when he told me that he was a golf caddie. I knew about golf, but never got really into it until I started talking to Eric about it. Eric was such an influence for me because the only thing he actually did while we were there is work on his fitness. He was the healthiest guy I had ever seen in my life. He was like a God.”

The two really bonded over their meals together – the ones Larson would cook for Chong and a select group of other inmates in microwaves using the vegetables he grew in his robust garden.

Eric Larson and Tommy Chong.

“We had our own little Goodfellas kind of gang of people [in the supper club],” Chong said. “We weren’t criminals by no means. Actually, what we were, were guys trying to make the best of their time and that’s what really inspired me with Eric.

“Because I was the new guy, the rule was that I could join, but I had to wash the pots and pans after the meal,” Chong said. “That was my job, which I gladly did. I’m a good cleaner. That’s how it began. We had the supper club and would sit in our own sort of TV room. We had television and it was like a private dining hall. It was great. And then every Friday, because Eric made all the connections, he managed to get us cookies and ice cream. Now, when you’re in prison – that doesn’t sound like a lot when you’re outside, but when you’re in prison and you get these little treats that no one else gets, by the way, and no one else had a private dining area… In fact, I went to the mess hall just for the experience more than anything. And you were only allowed like 15 minutes to eat and get out of there. You couldn’t hang around. And the food was so bad. The food was so bad, the inmates used to take the food and feed the ground squirrels. And the ground squirrels got so fat that some of them couldn’t get back in their holes. That’s how fat they got. The food was so starchy and terrible.”

MORE: Eric Larson was a successful PGA Tour caddie before — and after — spending 11 years in federal prison. This is his story.

Shortly after Larson’s 2006 release, he was back on the bag for Calcavecchia – a promise Calc kept to Larson if he kept his head down, stayed focused and got through the prison sentence.

In the years since, Larson has taken many players and friends along to dinners to meet Chong.

While the friendship is admittedly a cool one for Larson to have – Chong is an icon, after all – Chong counts himself lucky to have Larson, too.

“Eric is one of those angels that you meet,” Chong said. “I’ve met them all my life. As soon as I walked in and met Eric, I thought, ‘Oh, yeah. There’s my angel.’ I just knew it. He’s big, comforting – like caddies are. You guys are the best caretakers in the world. I don’t know anybody who has those sensibilities, other than the workers now dealing with this virus. Like one time when I was at Riviera. I’m just there out in the crowd watching golf. Next thing you know, Eric’s got a bottle of water for me. It was just… oh, my God. That’s Eric. Like I said, he’s an angel and he’ll always be a part of my life.”

You can listen to the entire podcast below, or find it and download on Apple Podcast or Spotify by searching, “Caddie Network.”

COMMENTS

  1. Guess where all the steaks came from on the weekends😂🤙 I hungout with Eric a few times while he Caddied at The Sony Open in Hawaii. Eric was one of the coolest guy I met inside Prison. I had the steaks brought in by good ppl there😂🤣😂🤣with A1 Sauce👍🏻Went to Tommy’s and Cheech’s show here in Hawaii and was acknowledged by Tommy and his Beautiful Wife Shelby. I did favors for Jordan Belfort as well. He’s known for being “The Wolf Of Wall Street. We talked a few times before his Book and Movie came out!

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