Zach Johnson was 9-years old when his future PGA Tour caddy, Damon Green turned pro. Damon pokes fun at himself, “I’ve played every tour except the LPGA…I gotta figure that one out”. Green was one of the first pro golfers to appear in a Nike Golf commercial. He’s made it to the finals of the PGA Tour qualifying tournament twice, once missing by a shot after a bogey on the last hole. After 2-years playing full status on the Nationwide tour (back when it was called the Nike Tour) and having played a few PGA Tour events over the years, Damon went to the 1998 Q-school for the last time and missed.
After a divorce that wiped him out financially, Green did some soul searching. He needed a consistent paycheck to cover child support and rent. A job in which he didn’t have to sweat out every putt just to pay bills. With a new outlook on life, the humbled mini tour journeyman began a new and unexpected profession…PGA Tour caddy.
First for fellow Nationwide Tour competitor and friend, Jimmy Green. After Jimmy lost his PGA Tour card, Scott Hoch called on Damon to tote his bag. In the caddy ranks, being the bagman for Scott Hoch was like winning the lottery. Hoch was known as the, “Human ATM Machine”. Although it was a good paying job, Hoch had something else that Green needed. Damon struggled with his course management and Scott Hoch was the expert. For 4 years, Damon quietly watched Scott get himself in but then out of predicaments on the golf course. Scott relied on Damon for yardages, occasional club selection and reading greens (Scott had bad eyesight). Hoch and Green were a good team. Damon once said, “Scott Hoch is so accurate, I have to do his yardage books in half yards”.
In 2003, Scott Hoch won his last PGA Tour title and Zach Johnson came on the scene and was named Nationwide Tour player of the year. Zach and Damon bumped in to each other at a club repair shop near Orlando and Damon congratulated Zach on his fantastic season, offering to help with a few names if Zach needed a good PGA Tour caddy. The “marriage” between Johnson and Green began there. But, Damon had to divorce Scott Hoch which was no easy task. Damon had no intention to leave Scott Hoch…that was, until Zach came along. Green had always hoped Scott planned to use him the following year on the Champions Tour. Wrenched with guilt, Damon didn’t want to miss a chance to caddy for Johnson. He took the gamble and left Hoch, which now looking back was the hardest decision of his life (and one of his best).
Seven PGA Tour victories later (and one Champions Tour win during a one week caddy gig for Hoch), Damon is still caddying for Zach and always dreamed of returning to competitive golf. Damon kept his pro status by playing in tournaments on his weeks off from caddying. His strengths include reading greens and golf course management (thanks to Hoch and Zach). Green remarried and continued collecting mini tour victories (over 70). Last year, Green turned 50 and his wife (former Golf Channel News Manager turned stay at home Mom and caddy wife) mailed in his Champions Tour entry form where he finished T17.
Associate Member status on the Champions Tour, allows Damon to skip the pre-qualifier and go straight to the Monday qualifiers. In 2011 Green spends his weeks off playing in various qualifiers. Many Sundays, taking a red eye flight after caddying 3 weeks in a row for Zach, showing up without a practice round and missing the 80+ field 4 spot qualifiers by a shot or two. But this July, things changed. Damon qualified for both the Senior British Open Championship and the US Senior Open…both Senior majors and two weeks Zach had already planned to take off. Damon is a story about perseverance and not giving up the dream. Good luck to Damon, let’s hope it turns out to be a good story. Either way, Zach will meet you Tuesday on the range at the WGC event at Firestone.
Enjoy reading the USA Today artical By Steve Dimeglio
(Dr Mo is on site at Congressional for the US Open working with multiple players including Zach Johnson, Stewart Cink, Lucas Glover, Nick Watney and Jonathan Byrd)
The time-honored axiom states that the Masters truly doesn’t begin until the back nine on Sunday. For Rory McIlroy, his journey there came to a crushing end in April.
The 22-year-old from Northern Ireland took a one-stroke lead to the 10th tee before his game unraveled on one of golf’s grandest stages. In line to win his first major championship, all the trappings of sleeping on a four-stroke, 54-hole lead and thoughts of going wire-to-wire among the stately Georgia pines came to a painful head on the back nine.
For three rounds, McIlroy controlled his golf ball, the field and his emotions with skill beyond his years. In 45 minutes, he fell out of his comfort zone and landed in the Twilight Zone.
His maiden voyage as the leader in the final round of a major turned into a survival expedition. He snap-hooked his drive on the 10th and ended up between two white cabins 50 yards left of the fairway. After hitting two trees en route to the putting surface, McIlroy made a triple bogey. Another bogey on the 11th, a four-putt double-bogey on the 12th and a tee shot into Rae’s Creek on the 13th left him doubled over and wanting to hide among the azaleas. Ninety minutes later he finished in a tie for 15th.
McIlroy wasn’t the first to implode under the klieg lights. Some of the game’s biggest stars have succumbed to major heat, including Sam Snead, who made a triple bogey on the final hole when a par would have won him the 1939 U.S. Open; Arnold Palmer, who blew a seven-shot lead with nine holes to play in the 1966 U.S. Open; and Greg Norman, who squandered a six-shot lead with 18 to play in the 1996 Masters.
If recent history holds, the 111th U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club, which begins today, is ripe for another meltdown. In three of the last four majors, an inexperienced member of Generation Next (none over 30) has fallen victim in a first attempt to secure a final-round lead in a major.
First up was Dustin Johnson, 26, who squandered a three-shot lead with an 82 in last year’s U.S. Open. Then Nick Watney, 30, crumbled with an 81 after taking a three-shot lead to the 55th hole of the PGA Championship. And McIlroy’s 80 was the worst round in Masters history by any pro leading after the third round.
There is no blueprint to handling emotions — or the body’s motions, including breathing — when pressure and accompanying media attention, scrutiny and criticism begin to mount and everything, from your swing, your walk and your thoughts, accelerate out of control . Or, as Hall of Famer and nine-time major champion Ben Hogan said, when the narrowest fairway in golf becomes the one between a player’s ears.
“There is a huge difference in taking a 54-hole lead (in a major) vs. a regular PGA Tour event,” says Curtis Strange, who blew a three-shot lead with six holes to play in the 1985 Masters. He went on to win back-to-back U.S. Opens in 1988-89. “It’s hard to put into words the ramped up of nerves of anxiousness, sleeplessness, pressure. It’s like an out-of-body experience.
“When you’re in a tournament and everything’s great and nice and you make putts, you basically don’t learn a damn thing. It’s during those tough situations and missteps, both physically and mentally, that you really learn how to react, how to prepare, how to hit shots. You have to experience rough times. I learned a great deal from failing.”
Waiting is the hardest part
Being the hunted in a final round is tough enough, especially when the golf course is set up as the toughest test of the week, but the weight of going to sleep with the lead can be a burden . Killing time after waking up isn’t easy, either. With tee times for the leaders so late in the day, those in the final groups have to linger for six or seven hours before hitting the first tee shot.
Again, experience helps. Phil Mickelson played chess with his kids in the morning before winning his third green jacket in the afternoon in 2010. Jack Nicklaus liked to watch the BBC broadcast of the British Open, where he once went 15 consecutive years with a tie for sixth as his worst finish, to see how the course was playing. And Tom Watson, learning to become a pilot, read flight books in 1977 when he won his first Masters.
“The biggest challenge is not the actual playing of the final round. The biggest challenge is the anticipation of the start of the round, the time between finishing Saturday and starting Sunday and how you handle that time,” four-time major champion Mickelson says. “Does holding up the trophy go through your mind? If it does you are going to have a problem.”
That’s what happened to McIlroy.
“It is very hard to keep yourself in the present and not think about winning or putting on that green jacket or walking up the last with a two- or three-shot lead,” says McIlroy, who has finished in ties for third in three majors. “My advice would be to get into a bubble and don’t let outside factors influence anything, whether that be newspaper articles, TV or anything.
“Everyone is going to have bad days. Mine just happened probably on the most important day of my golfing career.”
Managing this type of pressure has led to a cottage industry of sports psychologists who help players examine fears, frustrations and doubts. Through various practices — breathing exercises, slowing a routine, picking a good target and focusing on the little things — the ultimate goal is maintaining a positive outlook when confidence begins to vanish, most likely at the time the heart and head start to pound.
Basically, a golfer has to learn how to be comfortable, says sports psychologist Morris Pickens, when in an uncomfortable situation.
“You are being pulled by your emotions because of what others are saying. Usually by the media which is asking how winning a major would change your life,” says Pickens, who works with, among others, Watney and major champions Lucas Glover, Zach Johnson, Stewart Cink and Davis Love III. “You get ahead of yourself. What I emphasized to Nick was to play the course, play the course, play the course. But he was playing to win the PGA Championship, to win his first major, and to make the Ryder Cup team. Doing those things on Thursday, Friday and Saturday was impossible because they didn’t exist then. So he just played the course.
“But once the clock struck midnight at the day turned to Sunday, his mind changed and he changed. It was a terrible day on the scorecard, but it was a great day for learning.”
Watney says he woke up that fateful Sunday far too early and stared at the clock for far too long. When he got to the course, he tried his best to pass time but said he basically wasted a lot of energy doing too many things. Once the round started he couldn’t slow down no matter what he tried.
“I was going very, very fast, swinging fast, walking fast, thinking way ahead,” says Watney, he has worked with Pickens for many years. “And so I think what I learned is that I’m never going to be able to block out those feelings; I just have to learn how to handle them.
“It was a foreign feeling, but I would love to have it again.”
Not everyone, after all, can be Tiger Woods or Nicklaus. Woods has won 14 of 15 majors when he held at least a share of the lead heading into the final round. Nicklaus was 10-for-12.
“If you don’t learn from (collapsing), then you’re not paying attention,” Nicklaus says. “What do I have to do not to let that happen to me again? How do I control (nerves)? And you try and turn a negative into a positive.”
Nicklaus’ lasting lessons came not only in the 1963 British Open but in the Bing Crosby National Pro-Am at Pebble Beach the same year. In the Open, he didn’t play conservatively and made bogeys on the final two holes to miss out on a playoff by one shot. At Pebble Beach, needing a birdie on the final hole to win and a par to force a playoff, Nicklaus instead three-putted from 20 feet to lose by one.
“At Pebble Beach I tried to win the tournament, and I ran it by 4 feet and missed it coming back, and I said, ‘Why would I be so stupid?’ The worst I could have done was to get into a playoff,” Nicklaus says. “So I learned. I never three-putted (in a situation like that) again.”
The good news for McIlroy, Watney and Johnson is that they have not been scarred for life. McIlroy, ranked No. 8 in the world, has three top-10s in five starts since the Masters.
Watney, No. 14,Mik has seven top-10s in 11 starts this season, including a win in the WGC-Cadillac Championship. In his only major since the meltdown, the Masters, he finished 46th.
Johnson, No. 9, won the 2010 BMW Championship and nearly won the PGA Championship, drawing on his experience in the U.S. Open. After the U.S. meltdown, he found solace in a boat on the waters near his home. He says he was bothered by the final round for about 36 hours. He, however, did not forget it and figured out what he did when things went so wrong.
“It’s a funny game,” Johnson says. “I knew what I needed to do to succeed at the PGA. It definitely helped me, failing at the U.S. Open. Everything started to speed up at the U.S. Open and I couldn’t slow anything down. I forced myself to slow down at the PGA. It definitely was a learning curve.”
Johnson, however, didn’t win. All he needed was a par at the final hole to win, or a bogey to get into a playoff with Bubba Watson and eventual winner Martin Kaymer. He double-bogeyed 18.
“At the PGA … everybody remembers the 18th hole, but they forget about I birdied 16 and 17 to get a one-shot lead going into 18,” says Johnson, who was assessed a two-stroke penalty for grounding his club in a fairway bunker on the 72nd hole that he didn’t think was a bunker.
Handling that type of situation is another story.
Copyright 2011 USA TODAY
Zach Johnson’s caddie will tee off at Principal Charity Classic. Damon Green consults with Dr Morris PickensCourtesy, Rick Brown of the Des Moines Register
Distance off the tee is not an issue for Damon Green.
“I can hit it pretty far,” Green said. “Not necessarily straight. They may need hard hats on the first tee.”
Green, 50, whose full-time job is working as a caddie on the PGA Tour for Iowa native Zach Johnson, has received a sponsor’s exemption to play in this week’s Principal Charity Classic at Glen Oaks in West Des Moines.
“I’m excited, and nervous, and all that good stuff,” Green said.
Green will be making his Champions Tour debut, but he’s no novice. He has won 71 professional mini-tour events, played in 56 Nationwide Tour events with three top-10 finishes and also played in a pair of PGA Tour events. Green twice reached the final stage of qualifying for the PGA Tour, missing his card by a single shot one year. He also made it to the final stage of qualifying for the Champions Tour last fall, tying for 17th.
“I have a daytime job, so there wasn’t that much heat on me,” Green said.
Johnson played a role in getting Green into this week’s event.
“To say I had a lot to do with it would be completely inaccurate,” Johnson said.
Johnson represented Transamerica, one of his sponsors, in a charity event earlier this year. The Principal Group also had a team participating and Johnson struck up a conversation with, among others, Tim Minard. Johnson mentioned that Green was trying to get in some Champions Tour events through Monday qualifying. Minard, who sits on the Principal Charity Classic board, asked Johnson for Green’s email address.
“Two weeks later he’s in the tournament,” Johnson said.
Because of his full-time gig on Johnson’s bag, Green doesn’t have a lot of time to practice.
“He’s a very freaky talent,” Johnson said. “Very naturally gifted with a golf club in his hands. He’s like, ‘See the ball, hit the ball.’ And he’s become a great putter. He’s a competitor. That’s why he’s good on my bag. He loves to get out there and grind.”
Green said his ability to shoot low numbers with little or no practice drives Johnson crazy.
“I may not play three weeks and then I’ll go out and shoot 66, and he’ll say, ‘How do you do that?’ ” Green said. “I just know how to play golf, I guess. I’m not playing tour courses.”
Green, who has been on Johnson’s bag for eight years, said his job as a caddie has made him a better player.
“I’m better now from a course management standpoint,” Green said. “And I don’t get that upset after a bad shot. I see a lot of bad shots. I always thought you had to hit the ball perfect to be on the PGA Tour. But it’s only the guys who are on TV that week who are hitting it perfect.”
Green, who grew up playing Bermuda-grass greens, arrived in Des Moines Saturday to adjust to the bent-grass greens at Glen Oaks. That will be one of several adjustments. He’ll have to give up the shorts he caddies in and play in long pants. And he’ll have access to the locker room and clubhouse. Caddies don’t have that perk.
“I may go down and hang with the caddies anyway,” Green said. “I hear they get treated pretty well here.”
Green said he’ll have some jitters before his drive off No. 1 in Friday’s opening round. He’s consulted with Dr. Morris Pickens, Johnson’s sports psychologist, for advice.
“Dr. Mo said the object of the first tee is to get it in the air and moving forward,” Green said.
No Zach: Zach Johnson won’t caddie for Damon Green this week, though the reversal of roles would have some advantages.
“I’d let him read my putts,” Green said. “He’d be an asset, not a liability, there.”
Doug Long, who has played golf with Green for the better part of 20 years in the Orlando, Fla., area, will caddie for Green.
“He’s really a good player,” Green said. “He knows my swing better than anybody.”
My five must haves today at Augusta….notebook & pen with player notes, credential, ticket, chap-stick and a cash holder.