After the first two days of caddying for Albertan Mike Mezei at the Canadian Tour’s Tour Championship, I had developed a comfort level with what I was doing. I realized I had to stay out of the way of Mezei when he was putting and making his strange hand notion as he lined up putts. And I recognized that even though he wasn’t reading putts well, he wasn’t about to ask for an opinion. He might question whether the wind was going a certain direction, but I often gathered he already had his mind made up before he asked. One caddy told me his player told him to simply agree with everything. “So when he asked if a putt broke one way and I knew it broke the other, I simply said yes,” the caddy told me. Nonetheless, I found myself rooting for him, even talking to my wife about how well “we” played that day. It had nothing to do with me — at least until the sixth hole on Saturday.
Mezei played the fifth hole like a 10-handicapper all week, hitting strong drives that still left nearly 200 yards into the large green. From there we saw the left side a lot — often over the greenside bunker. In the first three days he made bogey there all three times, a couple of times in combination with a bogey on the previous hole as well. It stalled out any progress he was making.
So after making another bogey on Saturday we arrived at the sixth tee with the hole playing down wind. Mezei doesn’t exactly pound the ball — there were a couple of playing partners throughout the week that could hit it 50 yards by him — but he was at least average. The par 5 sixth, with water down the left was a tough hole for someone who drew the ball, as it brought the creek into play. I don’t know if it ran through Mike’s brain, but we saw our playing partners find that creek several times, leading Mike to grab a 3-wood and pop it down the middle 250. But this day was different. The breeze was strengthening and Mezei seemed to think we could do something more with it.
“Hit the driver RT?” he asked.
My big moment. But what if I suggested incorrectly and he found the creek? He’d surely never ask me about club selection again. I decided it was time for some deliberation.
“If you catch this can you get there?” I asked, delicately holding the driver in my right hand.
“Okay, hit the driver and let’s get there in two,” I said confidently.
Problem was I wasn’t confident. I’d seen Mezei hit some nasty hooks in our practice round and though they hadn’t shown up in the tournament, I knew they were there, just waiting to emerge. Surely that would be the case on this shot — Mezei would hook it into the water and it would be my fault for telling him to abandon the reliable 3-wood. I held my breath as he took the club back and smoothly smacked one down the middle of the fairway. It wouldn’t matter that Mezei wouldn’t get home in two or make birdie — I had suggested a club to hit and he’d followed my advice, or at least used it to support his own decision.
Of course not everything went as planned. Mezei had the tendency of being self-deprecating on the course, something I’m sure confounded his playing partners. He’d nod and tip his hat to a non-existant crowd like the PGA Tour pros would, but only after making bogey. On one mishit shot Mezei held his finish even as the ball soared to the left.
“They must wonder what I’m doing,” he said of the sparse crowd. “Here I am holding my pose like a psychopath.”
For the most part it was fun to be around Mezei, a fan of edgy comedians and nasty jokes (none of which are printable, but check out Anthony Jesselnik if you want a sense of it) who likes to have fun on the course. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t stay out of his way when he made a bogey. And on one instance I made the comment of telling him where he didn’t want to hit it. Mezei smiled.
“If I were (add veteran Canadian Tour pro here), you’d be f@@@ing walking back to the clubhouse right now,” he said, smirking. “Good thing I’m not him. I’ve only fired one caddie and that’s because it was a kid who was going to cost me shots.”
Saturday’s round was also interesting for the fact we were paired with former hockey player turned golfer Ryan Williams from Vancouver. He just happened to have SCOREGolf editor Jason Logan on his bag — so our group got a lot of attention despite the fact our players were seven shots back. It was a more relaxed environment that day, though neither Mezei nor Williams played that well (Williams would shoot an improbable 41-28 on Sunday).
I’d like to say my success on Saturday telling Mike to hit the driver involved me more — and it did, sort of. By the third round I knew what Mezei would hit off certain tees — 3-wood off 15 if it was in to the wind, 6-iron on the short 16th and hybrid off 17. However, his putts still failed to find the bottom of the cup, regardless of what motion he made with his hand to discern which direction the break was. Maybe he needed a second set of eyes? I could understand why he wasn’t asking — caddies are unreliable on the Canadian Tour so players tend to rely on themselves. Heck, players can end up carrying their own bags in some instances — so self-reliance is a must.
The night after our third round we went out for dinner with some golf industry friends. The pair we were meeting were a little late, so I quizzed Mezei on his play to that point. What was the deal with the hand motion on the greens? Was he trying to charm a snake? And how did he hit the cut on 13 from behind the trees? Open the face or path of the club? Or both? And why did he think he wasn’t making more putts? And why was his swing working this week and hadn’t worked on tour to that point this year?
“This is why I don’t go out to dinner with reporters,” he said flatly.
“I doubt you get the opportunity very often,” I replied.
Sunday didn’t go well. Mezei had a bad lie on 3 and made double bogey. He made a couple additional bogeys and suddenly the hope of moving up the leaderboard was a distant memory. He made an unlikely birdie on the 15th hole (which we decided was a one-dimensional hole with a tricked up green), when I suggested we hit driver at the 280-yard 16th, something we hadn’t done all week.
“Auto,” Mezei said as we walked to the tee.
The intersection of the tee coincides with the 12th tee and 15th green, so it is a busy spot. There were lots of people standing about, and everyone took notice when Mike walked up with his driver. So many of the CanTour players used a conservative route to play the hole. Mezei confidently busted a driver down the middle to much applause. It looked like a good shot to everyone — except Mezei.
“That got knocked right out of the air by the wind,” he said. He was right. The ball came to rest in a pile of divots just short of the green. The lie sucked. Instead of a high lofted shot he nearly bladed a runner that zipped 20 feet past the hole. Of course he made that for his second birdie in a row. The string would be snapped on the 17th despite having four feet for birdie. He’d finish with a solid par on 18. He gave me a bro hug on the green and we walked to the clubhouse for lunch and a much needed beer.
As we tucked into pizzas I asked Mezei what he took away from the round.
“If I putted just a little bit better, we’d be right there,” he said. That’s the mantra of every touring pro — if only that four footer that caught the edge fell into the cup, I’d be a couple under on the day. It keeps them coming back.
Mezei was right though — he struck the ball well all week and didn’t get anything out of the greens. He made $400 for his trouble — and finished in 50th place.
What’s next? A CanTour tournament at Smuggler’s Glen near Brockville that might struggle to get a full field, but Mezei will fly in for it. The CanTour, struggling for cash, canceled a California event and the international team matches. That means for Mezei, the next stop will be European Tour school and then PGA Tour qualifying. Oh, and a stop for a round at a world-famous course in the southern U.S., something he mentioned a few times during our week together.
I drove him to the airport. Mezei finally completed some medication for a bug he caught in Mexico and was planning on having a few glasses of red wine. He was heading back to his girlfriend after a no frills week of sleeping on a futon mattress in a nearly empty house in Scarborough. He seemed content. Only later would I find out the wine didn’t happen — he feel asleep and slept through most of the flight.
As for me, I had a greater appreciation of how good the players on the CanTour are. I saw big wild hitters, and trust fund babies — both trying to find the bottom of the cup with more regularity. I ran into guys I’d only heard discussed in stories and saw some great golf shots. I hung out on patios and talked golf for a week. I learned a number of filthy jokes.
I also developed a stronger sense of what it would take for a player to break through, to make it to the next level. Mezei could do that — but it’ll take some luck and a hot putter along the way.
But mostly I came away with the notion of just how hard it is to put it altogether, to stay focused over 18 holes, to put your bad shots behind you and focus on the next shot. That’s the challenge for every golfer. And the CanTour might seem miles away from the world of courtesy cars and private jets on the PGA Tour, but in reality it is a few putts that find the bottom of the cup and a couple of drives that bounce right instead of left. The margin is slight.
I’ll be rooting for Mezei — and anyone who has the guts to try.