Commentary

Missing the cut means another lost weekend

Updated: October 19, 2007, 11:31 PM ET
By Jason Sobel | ESPN.com

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. -- For two full days, my man relied on me for advice. What's the yardage here? What club should I hit? Where's my aiming point? But as Roland Thatcher and I walked off the final green Friday, there was nothing left to say or do, no more information I could provide to be of any assistance. I removed the gold caddie bib embossed with the No. 1 to denote his Nationwide Tour leading money-winner status, lifted the golf bag one final time and squeezed it into the back of his car. Then I slammed the trunk shut, concluding our week together at the Chattanooga Classic.

We missed the cut.

Whoever said the role of professional caddie is neither glorious nor glamorous was mistaken. Such notions do exist at the highest level of the vocation. Just look at Steve Williams when he embraces Tiger Woods in a hearty bear hug following victory, or watch the smile that breaks across the face of Jim "Bones" Mackay when Phil Mickelson holes an important putt.

Of course, those moments -- and those caddies -- are few and far between. Oftentimes, the pro jock's life is one fraught with disappointment and regret. Lost weekends are spent catching football highlights or carousing about the local haunts while associates ply their craft and, most importantly, fatten their wallets.

Thatcher
Dan Henry for ESPN.comThatcher (and Sobel) shot 69-75 for the tournament.

"It's awful," Thatcher muttered when I asked him about missing the cut. "It's absolutely awful."

Now I know how he feels. The emboldened optimism that developed between Roland and me during the early part of our week together has been replaced by the bitter realization that at this time, on this course, in this tournament, we just weren't good enough.

Scratch that. We were good enough. Our score wasn't.

After posting an opening-round 3-under 69, we played the back nine first on Friday, making three birdies while climbing the leaderboard, only to limp home with a 75 that left us at even-par for the tournament.

The worst part? Our downfall occurred almost entirely on one hole. The par-5 fourth is a 547-yard monster that bends from right to left as it nears the green. After overdrawing the tee shot, we found the ball nestled precariously above a fairway bunker. Thatcher's stance left his feet well below the ball, but we felt a well-struck hybrid could land us close to, if not on, the putting surface.

It didn't happen. He lost his balance coming through, and the ball duck-hooked out of bounds. We dropped and hit the same club, only to find the front bunker. Then it was time for a Thomas Bjorn-like moment, needing three swipes from the trap before two-putting for a quadruple-bogey.

So, yes, for you weekend hackers out there, the question, "How on earth did you make a 9?" also is applicable in the professional ranks. The answer: "I missed my putt for 8."

"I had to sit back after finishing the hole and take a few seconds to count it up," Thatcher said, noting that we birdied three of the four par-5s on Friday but still played them in a collective 1-over-par. "It's been a long time since I made a 9 anywhere, much less on a hole where I was certainly thinking 3 or 4 on the tee box."

The role of caddie is very much like that of professional golfer. Each job relies on talent, skill and experience in order to find success. The most important thing I learned in my debut was that it is not that difficult to be a professional caddie, but it is difficult to be a good one.

Which got me to thinking: If Roland had a more talented, skilled and experienced man on the bag this week (like Tommy Brodersen, his regular caddie for the past four seasons), how much better would he have fared? So I asked him.

Me: "I want you to be totally honest with me, I won't take any offense. If Tommy was on the bag this week, what would you have shot the past two days?"

Thatcher: "Exactly the same. That's no B.S. The only thing Tommy and I really discuss completely is club selection, and I've got to say, I think club selection-wise, we did a pretty good job. ... Honestly, I think we worked pretty well together. Everything that went wrong was a result of me not placing the ball in proper relation to the hole and hitting some poor shots from some awkward situations."

His words made me feel better -- but only slightly. After all, you can feel only so good when putting away the clubs on a Friday afternoon, knowing that another lost weekend is right around the corner.

Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com

Jason Sobel | email

Golf Editor, ESPN.com
Jason Sobel, who joined ESPN in 1997, earned four Sports Emmy awards as a member of ESPN's Studio Production department. He became ESPN.com's golf editor in July 2004.