The caddie and his Boss
If you believe all Augusta National members are walking lumps of dandruff who eat boiled puppies for lunch, you're not going to like this story.
It happened a couple years ago.
Brad Boss, the multimillionaire chairman emeritus of the pen company A.T. Cross Co., is a member at the National and a decent player, possibly because he never went out on the course without his favorite caddie, Joe Collins.
Joe had the kind of eyes that could see clean into tomorrow. A caddie at Augusta from the time he was 16, he was known as the best reader of greens in the entire caddyshack.
They were buddies. Sounds crazy, but over the top of a golf bag, nobody cares about your stock portfolio.
He took a practically unknown player named Jim Jamieson to a tie for fifth place at the Masters in 1972. Even when Augusta National lifted its local-caddies-only rule in 1983, Joe still got bags. Colin Montgomerie used him in 1998 and finished tied for eighth. In 2000, Tommy Aaron, then 63, rode Joe to a record as the oldest player ever to make the cut. Still stands, too.
No wonder so many guys asked for Joe -- Michael Jordan took him three times -- but Brad always got him. They were buddies. Sounds crazy, but over the top of a golf bag, nobody cares about your stock portfolio. Princes lean on peasants and peasants kid princes. Boss and Joe were together for more than 10 years. If you spend that much time, you're more than player and caddie. You're a kind of grass-stained team.
It didn't matter that Joe dropped out of school in the 10th grade and Brad was educated at the best schools in the east. Didn't matter that Joe's mom gave him up to her sister when he was only three months old and that Brad inherited Cross from his grandfather. Didn't matter that Joe walked to the course (he didn't own a car) and Brad flew there sometimes in a private jet.
They were friends.
Joe sent Brad a card every birthday, every Christmas and Father's Day, without fail. "They'd call each other plenty," says Faye Latson, the aunt who raised him. "Seemed like Joe was always calling Mr. Boss up."
Then Joe got lung cancer. You smoke for 40 years, that might happen. Joe moved back in with his aunt. "I had to take him in," she says. "He didn't have nobody else."
He had to quit going to the National. If the cancer wasn't going to kill Joe, that might. "He was so sad," Faye says. "That man loved that golf course and all those people."
When he died at 56 on June 27, 2009, Faye arranged for a simple funeral. She couldn't afford much of a plot, but she and her daughter, Shirley Quarles, came up with enough for one in a shaggy downtown cemetery.
"But then Mr. Boss called," said Faye. "And he was asking me, could he put Joe up on the hill above the golf course? He said he wanted Joe to have a nice view of it. Lord, I thought! Joe won't be able to see nothin', but OK."
It's a golf thing.
"We were just all overwhelmed," says James Quarles, Shirley's husband. "We couldn't really believe it. We told him no, he didn't have to, but Mr. Boss wouldn't have it any other way."
Boss flew down from New England for the visitation and spoke at the funeral. In fact, he was the first to get up. He told the crowd how much he admired Joe, how he wasn't just his caddie, he was like family. Maybe that explains the Father's Day cards.
Afterward, he asked Faye if he could put something in Joe's pocket. Faye said sure. It was a gold Cross pen with Joe's name on it and a Masters logo. Gift No. 2.
In New England, all this made friends of Boss shake their heads. "It just made me smile when I heard," says Brad Faxon. "I thought, 'Man, why aren't there more people who do this stuff?'"
Saturday of Masters week, I went with Shirley and Faye on one of their visits to Joe's grave. It's a sweet little spot Brad gave Joe. The cemetery is nearly as full of flowers as the National. It's on a steep hill with a view of the 10th green at Augusta Country Club, which is the course that abuts Augusta National.
From Joe's grave, a well hit driver could land a ball on the National. Plus, it's literally only four blocks from Faye's little house on Mount Auburn Road.
As Faye stood there saying a little silent prayer, a huge roar went up from Amen Corner. Faye loosed a big smile. "My Joe loved that golf," she said. "It's nice he's here."
Brad Boss didn't have to do any of this. He paid Joe plenty in caddie's fees. And ever since he did it, he hasn't returned my calls to talk about it.
I know people don't want to believe this, but there are all kinds of guys walking around in green jackets at the Masters every year just like Boss. I know guys who've paid their caddie's insurance bills, picked up entire surgeries and handled the rent. They do it quietly and with a smile.
After all, caddies aren't the only ones who can see.
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Rick Reilly is the 11-time National Sportswriter of the Year. He contributes essays and commentary to "SportsCenter" and ESPN/ABC golf and tennis coverage. He's also the host of "Homecoming," ESPN's unique, one-hour interview show set in the hometowns of legendary athletes. For more Rick, check out the archive.
Feel like taking a detour from sane sports? Try Rick's new book, "Sports from Hell."
LIFE OF REILLY
RICK REILLY, 52, has been voted National Sportswriter of the Year 11 times. His latest book is called "Sports From Hell: My Two-year Search for the World's Dumbest Competition." A finalist for the 2011 Thurber Prize for Humor, it's the account of his search for the dumbest sport in the world.
Not to give anything away, but a good bet would be either Ferret Legging or Chess Boxing. It also includes embarrassing attempts by Reilly to try Nude Bicycle Racing, Zorbing, Extreme Ironing, the World Rock Paper Scissors Championships and an unfortunate week on a women's pro football team.