hit more fairways. make more putts. avoid the hazards. play by the rules.
Man Of A Thousand Stories

Posted on Wednesday 5 April 2006

Jay LoveThis is Jay Love, my golf partner last Monday and many other days. But we only play on Mondays because Jay is a caddy at Columbia, and caddies can only play on Mondays.

Jay and I each grew up about two decades apart in Montgomery County, in the suburbs of Washington. A few miles in distance, twenty years in time, and light years in experience. I grew up in Bethesda, the paragon of white, middle (now upper middle) class suburbia. Jay grew up in Wheaton, once strictly blue collar neigborhood, since given over to the county’s growing Latino community. Jay and his family moved to Ken-Gar, one of several all-black neighborhoods in the county, when Jay was in junior high.

We are both products of the county’s public schools. When I went to high school in the mid-to-late 1960s the schools were nominally integrated; a few black kids lived near enough to my school to attend. In the post-WW II suburbs of Jay’s youth the schools were still segregated. Jay and the rest of the ‘colored’ kids were bused across the county to a two room schoolhouse in Rockville. The building is still there. The ‘colored’ school got hand-me-down everything: books, desks, equipment — even the buses. Jay told me Monday, while we were walking to our drives on #6, how when the springs on the bus seats finally got so bad that nobody could sit on them anymore the county replaced the seats. With wooden benches.

After high school he became the custodian at a local Catholic parish school, where the kids pestered him all the time to tell them about ‘the old days’ when colored kids and white kids didn’t go to school together and such. They just couldn’t conceive of such a world where skin color was such a differentiator. That’s the real measure of race relations, I guess. What do our kids think of people who look different than they do?

Jay caddied on the weekends not only to earn a little money but also so he could play golf at Columbia. And play he could. He was a 2 handicap in his prime, which meant he could easily beat all but the most accomplished players. I first met him, I’d guess about 25 years or so ago, when he caddied for me a few times. Jay was no mere bag toter; he knew what he was talking about, and he never hesitated to let his player know exactly what he thought. Still doesn’t, whether the topic is which club to hit or something a bit more substantial. The twinkle in his eye, which is evident even in the cameraphone picture to the right, betrays his true nature. He might be one of the great diplomats I’ve ever known, in a city which thinks its full of them.

Caddying like Jay does is a lost art; so is knowing how to play with a caddy. Modern players seem to prefer carts instead; I suspect they are uncomfortable with the idea of somebody carrying their bag for them. Too many young caddies, or prospective caddies, seem to view caddying the same way. But caddying is not about that: it’s about a relationship, a partnership even. A good caddy gets to know his player and learns his player’s game; a good player gets to know his caddy and learns to accept his advice. Playing golf with a caddy also implies playing the game on one’s feet instead of on one’s behind, but that is another, long post.

Tuesday morning I was talking to my friend Marty about having played with Jay; Jay’s caddied for Marty over the years and they know each other well.

Marty’s question was perfect. “So, did you learn anything from Jay yesterday, Jack?”

“Yessiree, as usual. And learned a little something about golf, too.”


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