To me, Baltusrol is not the place where the greats of golf are padding along the fairways in the U.S. Open, but where our family Airedale entered a tournament; where Crazy Charlie used to hide in the trees waiting for the Spalding Dots to fall on him; where we caddies used to fish for golf balls in the water hole at night; where many of us skylarking through nearby Millburn High School watched pillars of the community shake under the pressure of a four-foot putt; where millionaires took out the chewing-gum-colored ball with smiles on it to hit at the water hole.
The Airedale's name was Bixie. Our family got her for nothing because her head was too narrow to compete with the thoroughbreds of her breed at dog shows. Narrow head, we found out, meant narrow brains.Bixie, in a word, was stupid.
Her joy in life was to stand on the back seat of the family Chrysler and lick the top of my father's bald head as he drove along the country roads. But as soon as the car stopped, Bixie would leap out the nearest window, often dragging one of our arms with her. We should have known Bixie would jump true to form as soon as Pop stopped alongside one of the Baltusrol fairways.
Undaunted, my father left the car that afternoon and led me through the trees and up to the edge of the green where some of the greats of golf were trying to master venerable Baltusrol. Bixie had gone her own way.
"Whose dog is that?" somebody hissed as Bixie came bounding out of nowhere onto the green. She dropped her head down on her paws right there on the precious carpet and invited somebody to play. My father did not move a muscle, nor say a word. Nor did I. A caddy lunged at Bixie. She darted out of his grasp, as she had mine so many times. She finally galloped on down the fairway. Two days later, brains or not, she found her way back to our house 15 miles from Baltusrol.
Crazy Charlie, looking back from my present vantage point of middle age, was a pathetic, older man who had trouble controlling his bladder. But to us teen-aged, devil-may-care caddies, Crazy Charlie was one of us. He was the guy that Joe, the caddy master with a wooden arm tipped with a menacing-looking black glove, banned from the course on ladies day and during tournaments.
Crazy Charlie, to get even, would take to the woods along the most difficult holes of Baltusrol's Lower Course. We would see his glasses glinting in the sunlight as he hid in the bushes, waiting for the hackers to send Spalding Dots and Dunlops his way. Especially Spalding Dots. He considered them prime. He would wash them and hold them up to us to admire afterward.
"Make more with these than caddying for that SOB," Charlie would say. But he would be at the pro shack the next day, waiting for Joe to give him a caddying job.
The truth was that when Crazy Charlie did caddy with us, we had to watch his golfer's balls most of the time. Crazy Charlie was always throwing down his bags and running for the nearest bush. But he was gentle, not mean like some of the men caddies, and we liked him a lot. We helped Crazy Charlie and worried about how he got through the winters when there was no caddying at Baltusrol.
A couple of us liked to play golf a lot more than caddy. But we were wild, losing lots of balls. So we used to sneak over to Baltusrol's waterhole several nights a summer, wade along in the dark until we felt golf balls under our feet on the muddy bottom, and scoop them up.
We took the drug store golf balls along with the Spalding Dots Crazy Charlie loved. Either kind would hook out of bounds as we tried to handle Baltusrol's long holes on Monday mornings, when caddies could play free in the 1940s.
The champion golfer among the caddies was a handsome, muscular black man named Big Jim. If it had not been the 1940s, Big Jim probably could have made it as a pro. Some members of Baltusrol, when they were going out in a heavy-betting foursome, would slip Joe, the caddy master, folding money to get Big Jim as their caddy. Big Jim would correct the members' games as they went around. Some said Big Jim was as good a teacher as the Baltusrol club pro of that era, Johnny Farrell.
Judges, doctors and pro golfers all cracked at times under the pressure of putts, or watching drives loop out of bounds. One pro I caddied for during a tournament -- not the Open -- threw his clubs one after the other into the woods. "Don't bother going after them, caddy," he snapped.
But there was grace under pressure, too. It made a lasting impression when we found it. There was the pro golfer who asked me "to club him" during a tournament. This means selecting the club for each shot. His swing was a joy. So was his disposition.
We were going great -- you thought "we" on such rounds -- when I handed him a five-iron on a crucial approach shot. The ball went high, faded and landed in the trap just short of the green. I had under-clubbed him. His shot had been perfect. We both knew it was my fault.
"That's all right, George," he said to this crestfallen teen-ager. "I could have given it a little more."