Veteran looper Adam Hayes returns to Torrey Pines this week, a place that means so much to him in his 22-year caddying career.
He caddied here for Jon Rahm’s first PGA Tour win at the 2017 Farmers Insurance Open, the first of 10 wins so far for Rahm.
Hayes has looped for all of them after starting for the current world No. 3 at the 2016 Safeway Open when he was ranked 126th.
But that first win as a team brings to mind some sentimental memories for the veteran caddie.
“It was awesome,” Hayes said. “It was a lot of different things.”
It means a great deal because Torrey Pines is also the place where Hayes caddied his first significant tournament, the 1998 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship, while a junior at the University of Central Florida.
“Torrey Pines has always been a special place for me,” he said. “I was caddying that week for a good friend of mine, Sal Spallone, who was a great amateur and junior player.” Spallone now teaches golf in Vero Beach, Florida.
“We went out there, across country, and stayed together that week, two college kids and it was one of the first places I ever caddied,” Hayes said.
“I thought it was so tough, like ‘oh my God, how am I ever going to play professional golf?’” Hayes said with his enthusiastic cadence.
At the time, Hayes still had designs on a pro playing career of his own, though it ultimately proved short-lived in 1999 after a few months playing the pro ranks.
“Then fast-forward to working for the greatest players in the world and you’re caddying on this golf course,” Hayes said. “That was cool that it came full circle for me, something where I never thought I’d be: a caddie. I enjoyed caddying (back then) but I kind of always wanted to play and thought I was good enough, but I certainly wasn’t. So that made winning there (with Jon) so cool.”
The emotions of that Sunday are still vivid in his memory bank.
“You’re in this range of emotions when you make that (72nd-hole eagle) putt and you think you’ve won the tournament and then you’re like, ‘hang on’, and then you do win.
ARE YOU SERIOUS?!
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) January 29, 2017
“It was just like a roller coaster for that 45 minutes until he had officially won,” Hayes said.
Though the eagle bomb Rahm made on the last green gave him a three-shot lead late, Hayes knew there were still a few scenarios that could play out.
“It was a rush of emotions, and the guys behind us still had a few holes to play, and obviously 18 you can make eagle,” Hayes said.
Through experience, Hayes has learned being in that situation can be more nerve-wracking then having the final say, even with less of a lead.
“I was much more nervous at Torrey, and like in the Irish Open last year, than on the 18th tee at (DP World Tour Championship, Dubai) with $5 million on the line and tied for the lead, because I knew we still had control of the tournament. And I have so much confidence in Jon that I had no doubt that he was going to hit a good drive.”
Rahm did, and went on to birdie the 72nd hole to beat Tommy Fleetwood by one shot for both the event and Race to Dubai titles.
Going back to Torrey, Hayes felt the way it finished was fitting for his boss.
“The fashion of that win was so cool because that’s just who Jon is, he’s just so competitive,” Hayes said. “He may look like he’s so cool and calm on the outside but on the inside I know his engine is running at like 10,000 RPM, he’s just wound up and ready to go. So when that happens and you make a putt like that, and the reaction was just so cool. It was definitely a special win.”
The reaction of Rahm yelling and Hayes with both arms skyward as the putt dropped has become Hayes’ Twitter profile pic.
And why not?
A lot of hard work and sweat equity paid off that day for the veteran who’d spent four years on the LPGA Tour from 1999-2003 making $400 dollars a week. He says those four years when he worked for seven players and would often split hotel rooms with three different caddies just to make ends meet were key in making him the caddie he is today.
He tasted his first PGA Tour win on the bag for Vaughn Taylor in Reno in 2004, and a handful more since then with others including the last one before Torrey came on the bag for Russell Henley in the 2014 Honda Classic.
Hayes knew he had a good thing going with Henley and that’s why it was a tough move for him to head to Rahm’s bag to start the 2016-17 season at Napa.
“I worked three weeks for (Jon), we got along, and I knew how good he was,” Hayes said. “But still, as a caddie, there’s no guarantees from week to week. It wasn’t a long offseason but man, you want to have success early with a guy, and especially a guy like Jon who doesn’t like finishing third let alone 15th or 26th.”
In the end, the Torrey win helped validate Hayes’ decision to leave his friend and former boss Henley, though it definitely wasn’t easy.
“(The Torrey win) was cool because I don’t know if it was like verification or whatever you want to call it of going to work for Jon,” Hayes said.
“I think Russell Henley is a great player, treated me so well, I viewed him as a friend, and it was a really hard thing to do to go work for somebody else and end that team, that partnership with him. But man, the win was a weight off of everybody’s shoulder’s and Jon’s, too. There were a lot of expectations on him, so it’s unbelievable.”
Rahm hadn’t asked Hayes to read a putt all day that Sunday, until that final bomb on 18 from the back fringe.
“The hole just had a little bit of tilt and I remember telling Jon, ‘see the ball coming toward the cup and it’s going to go just away from the water at the end,’ so I pointed out a spot at the top of the ridge where you want the ball to start dying and let gravity do it’s thing, so yes, I helped him read it, but I didn’t read the putt.”
Hayes calls Rahm a historian of the game and knows he’d watched dozens of YouTube videos from past Farmers Insurance Open finishes and thus had an idea of the putt he faced on 18.
Couple that with how Hayes has noticed a trend with Rahm: he asks for his looper to read a late putt about once a tournament. It doesn’t surprise Hayes because he’s noticed that with Tiger Woods and Joe LaCava as well.
“The last hole at Dubai (Jon) definitely said, ‘hey, what do you think this does?’ because there’s so much emotion going on inside these guys’ minds, adrenaline, and nervousness,” Hayes said, “sometimes they just need you to say ‘this is what the putt is doing’ or ‘I see it on the right edge.’ Just that re-confirmation of whatever it is.”
Caddying at Torrey
So what’s the toughest hole to caddie on the South Course?
“I think all of the par 3s are the most difficult, depending on hole locations, wind conditions, and tee boxes they are all equally difficult,” Hayes said. “The rest of the course just depends on whether or not you find the fairway off the tee.”
The thick rough tends to keep the winning scores high.
Rahm won by three in 2017 at 13 under. Ten under made a three-way playoff in 2018.
Going to work for Rahm
Hayes flew to Phoenix and met with Rahm and his now wife, Kelley, before they started in 2016.
“Before I went to work for him I wanted to make sure we got along and that our personalities didn’t clash or anything, so we spent a couple nice days together and played some golf and hung out.”
When he got back home, Rahm called and offered Hayes the job.
“He’s become not only a boss but he’s become a good friend, I attended his wedding and we just have a really cool relationship where when we are off the course, we are off the course and when we are on the course, we keep it very business-like. I think it’s really worked out well.”
Ten wins for Rahm is a good start; now we’ll see what 2020 brings.
“I know Jon’s been working hard to have success in those big events (for 2020),” Hayes said, though he warns not to place specific expectations on the timing of winning the biggest events.