Saturday, September 05, 2009

7072: Who’s Your Caddy?

From The Chicago Tribune…

Ghanaian-American girl finds caddying is path to American dream

Her mother stuck in Ghana, Bolingbrook girl prospers as a caddy

By Dan Simmons
Tribune reporter

In the spring, as Mike Greene trained a new crop of caddies he feared a slow summer ahead for them.

“I was expecting the worst,” said the caddy superintendent at Cantigny Golf in Wheaton. Who, in these dire times, would fork over $90 for a walk around the links and pay an additional $50 for a kid to schlep their clubs?

Among the sea of mostly white boys learning the ropes, he noticed Leanette Pokuwaah, a Ghanaian-American girl with an unlikely caddying background. Her outlook for a big summer didn’t seem so good either.

“I wasn’t sure she was going to make it,” Greene said. “She was very nervous and didn’t know very much about golf.”

That was then. Now, as the summer sun sets and the course’s 160 caddies settle back into school, Greene is marveling at reversals of fortune on both fronts.

His program turned into a rare economic success story this summer, with caddy rounds up 17 percent over last year despite a dip in total rounds played.

“That’s a big surprise,” he said. “To be where we are is huge.”

Greene said the caddies were in the right place at a bad economic time. People were more likely to opt out of vacations this summer and spend a bit on pastimes at home, such as golf. The public course absorbed a steady trickle of former members of expensive private clubs used to having caddies, he said. Nationally, rounds at private courses dipped about 1 percent from last year, while play at public courses was up by about the same, according to Golf Datatech figures.

And the girl who wasn’t supposed to make it? She’s going back to Bolingbrook High School about a thousand dollars richer from a summer that saw her caddy 31 rounds and develop into one of the club’s best rookies.

“She mastered the mechanics of what we do, and now she’s learning the game, learning the nuances of the golf course,” Greene said. “Very few get that in the first year.”

At first, her main problem came in one of caddying’s basic tasks: measuring distance from a golfer’s ball to the hole.

“Calculating yardage in my head is impossible!” she said, arms outstretched in exasperation. “I’m like, I can’t think that fast!”

Golfer Mark Skurla, one of her first clients, said that she joked about the “math exam” on the links, part of what he described as a disarming candor that’s unusual for a “red bib,” or rookie.

“She asked me what I do for a living, which I found very mature,” he said. “Most red bibs are very cowering and shy.”

With Greene’s help, she overcame her yardage struggles and, day-by-day, mastered other job skills.

Which shouldn’t be surprising, given other distances the 16-year-old has traveled.

Such as the distance from first picking up a club a year and a half ago to becoming so addicted she joined her high school golf team and has recently been known to practice chip shots in her bedroom. “I knew I must be passionate,” she said, “otherwise I wouldn’t risk breaking windows.”

Read the full story here.

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