A caddie gives playing one last shot
Brett Waldman received his share of quizzical looks at the second stage of Q-school because he had no reason to be there. He caddies for Camilo Villegas, who won the Honda Classic and earned over $3 million this year.
Except that Waldman wasn't working.
He was playing.
And even though his own clubs have been collecting dust, he's playing well enough that he might not be a caddie much longer.
Waldman shot a 68 in the final round at the TPC Craig Ranch outside Dallas last week and made it through yet another stage of PGA Tour qualifying. He is one of only nine players still alive after starting this improbable journey by having to go through pre-qualifying. Now he's in next week's final stage at Orange County National in Orlando, where the top 25 earn their tour cards.
''Some of these guys who do it for a living, they play and practice all year through,'' said Lance Bennett, the caddie for Matt Kuchar who was on the bag for Waldman the last two stages. ''He picks his clubs up for one month and gets to the final stage.''
Oddly enough, it was at Orange County eight years ago that Waldman failed to get past the second stage of Q-school, deciding then to give up on his playing career and go to work as a caddie.
Why he decided to go back to school at this stage in his life remains a mystery.
With a family to raise and bills to pay, Waldman has earned a steady income as a caddie for his cousin, Tom Pernice Jr., for Ben Crane and most recently for Villegas. Encouraged by his wife and friends, he waited until the final hour to submit his application and $5,000 fee.
It was a long shot. He knew that.
''I never once thought about getting to the final stage,'' Waldman said Monday night. ''Playing the PGA Tour was always a dream of mine, but I didn't know how realistic it would be with no practice and with a full-time job.''
As always, there are plenty of compelling stories at Q-school, six rounds of stomach churning that starts Dec. 1.
Billy Hurley has finished his U.S. Navy service. Also advancing was Ty Tryon, who first made it through Q-school at age 17. Erik Compton, on his second heart transplant, also has reached the final stage.
What makes Waldman interesting is that he only made it to the big leagues as the hired help.
''Absolutely, I think he can do it,'' Bennett said. ''He's got such a good attitude about it. He can get down on himself a little, which every player does. But being a pro caddie as long as he has, it's easy for him to let a shot go.''
Waldman is not the only caddie who can play.
Damon Green, who works for Zach Johnson, once played the PGA Tour and recently earned conditional status on the Champions Tour. Another former player, Lance Ten Broeck, last year got into the Texas Open as an alternate. He played in the morning and caddied for Jesper Parnevik in the afternoon. Both missed the cut.
Paul Tesori once got his card through Q-school, but didn't last long. He since has worked for Vijay Singh, Sean O'Hair and now is helping out Waldman working for Villegas next week at the Chevron World Challenge while Waldman is at Q-school.
Can he really make it?
''At the beginning, I didn't think I could,'' Waldman said. ''I went to pre-qualifying having played one practice round. I didn't know if I could shoot even par for four days.''
He didn't have to. With 40 players advancing out of the pre-qualifier, Waldman shot 4-over 292 and tied for eighth. With four weeks off after the FedEx Cup, he worked on his game and shot 69 on the final day to get through the first stage.
Preparing for the second stage was tougher because Villegas was back to work, and so was Waldman. He flew to Shanghai for the HSBC Champions, then to Melbourne for the Australian Masters.
The second stage of Q-school began two days after his 18-hour flight home.
''When I come back from China, I can't tie my shoes for a week,'' said Jim ''Bones'' Mackay, who works for Phil Mickelson. ''And this guy makes it through the second stage of Q-school. Unbelievable.''
Waldman didn't have time or daylight to practice in China. His break came in Australia, where the exclusive Capital Club offered him use of its practice facilities when Villegas wasn't playing.
''We traded texts,'' Bennett said. ''I told him it can be windy at Craig Ranch, and he said it was windy that week in Australia. He got a lot of confidence out of his practice sessions.''
Caddies were texting him from Malaysia to encourage him in the first stage. Steve Williams, the caddie for Tiger Woods, learned about Waldman's big dream and sent texts every day during the second stage. In the final round at Craig Ranch, Waldman's gallery included caddies Brennan Little (Mike Weir), Billy Spencer (Jason Bohn) and James Edmondson (Ryan Palmer).
''I've heard from a lot of caddies that I didn't expect,'' Waldman said. ''I can't believe how many people follow Q-school.''
Even if Waldman doesn't make it, he faces a tough decision. After the top 25 get tour cards, the next 50 get full status on the Nationwide Tour, and the rest have conditional status on the Nationwide.
Play the Nationwide or caddie for a top player like Villegas?
Does he give up a steady job for a dream with no guarantees? The money he made working for Villegas would have put him around the top 10 on the Nationwide Tour money list this year.
Villegas called him after every round last week to cheer him on.
''I asked Camilo about it and he said, 'You've got to be kidding me. Play,''' Waldman said. ''I think he's pretty fired up about it.''