Roland Thatcher leads the Nationwide Tour money list with more than $400,000 earned this season, based largely on the strength of two victories.
He already has his PGA Tour playing privileges locked up for 2008, which is one reason he's confident enough to allow yours truly to caddie for him at this week's Chattanooga Classic, despite the fact that -- gulp -- I've never caddied a day in my life.
Talk about a hot seat.
Well, before Thatcher puts the heat on me for 72 hilly holes in Tennessee, I put him on ESPN.com's Hot Seat to discuss his impending promotion to the big leagues, life on the Nationwide Tour and, of course, why on earth he's letting me anywhere near his clubs.
Call it a reversal of fortune. Or misfortune.
Q: Are you crazy?
No, I'm telling you, we're going to have a good time out there and there's almost nothing that you can do to possibly be detrimental to my game. I'm looking forward to getting a little more of a showcase on the Nationwide Tour and getting people a little more interested in what we're doing out here.
Q: You know I've never caddied before, right?
A: Yeah, but honestly, once you meet your fellow caddies out here, you'll understand that while there may be some intricacies to the job, there are certainly no prerequisites to being a superstar caddie.
Q: I don't know about that. What are the chances that I screw up and get you DQ'd? Fifty percent? More?
A: No, I think it's slightly less than 50 percent. Honestly, all of the things that can possibly get me DQ'd are things that I should be paying attention to anyway. So should that happen, I'm sure the blame will rest solely on my shoulders, not yours.
Q: Slightly less than 50 percent? Gee, thanks.
A: [Laughs] So sorry.
Q: Aren't you at least a little worried that I'll do something stupid like step on your ball in the rough or hand you a 6-iron when you ask for a 9?
A: No, I'm not worried about it at all. I've certainly had caddies with less golf experience than you have, and I'm looking forward to the whole week. I'm going into this without a single bad thought about it.
Q: How heavy is your bag?
A: My bag's got to be in the 40-pound range, and unfortunately the course in Chattanooga is set in the hills, so I hope your back and your legs are ready.
Q: Damn. Can we take a pull cart?
A: [Laughs] No pull carts, and even if they were allowed, I wouldn't allow it. Rather be dead than look bad.
Q: And you do realize that you've got a PGA Tour promotion on the line. A win this week and you won't have to wait until next year to make the leap back to the big tour.
A: That's right. But I tell you, if we can find a way to get it done this week, it may be something we'll have to repeat from time to time.
Q: I hope so. Then again, maybe I shouldn't be too worried. A few weeks ago, you barely beat Kenny G -- yeah, the "smooth jazz" guy.
A: I tell you, as badly as I played [two weeks ago], and as far away as I was from making the cut, that was a little extra motivation to keep somewhat focused down the stretch so I could finish ahead of him. But I've actually got to give him a little bit of credit. It was a very difficult golf course and difficult conditions, and he held up just fine.
Q: And he almost beat you.
A: And he almost beat me. And quite honestly, I made a few putts or else he would have beaten me.
Q: Anytime I mention your name to someone, people say, "You've got to ask him about his Q-school story." So, tell me your Q-school story.
A: Well, the casual golf fan has probably never heard this story, but it is one of the most horrific final rounds at Q-school. It was my first trip to the finals in 2001 at Bear Lakes Golf Club in Palm Beach, Fla. I started three shots in back of the number going into the final round, and I was coming down the final hole needing a par to get my PGA Tour card. I drove into the left rough and misjudged the lie, caught a flier when I thought it was going to come out rather soft, and it flew the green, bounced on the cart path and ended up on the roof of the clubhouse.
For people who saw Tiger Woods play the Bridgestone [Invitational] a year ago and saw him hit it on the clubhouse, it might seem familiar, but for anybody that's never been to Bear Lakes, it's a four-story clubhouse on top of a hill. You can barely throw a ball on top of it. So the sheer fact that it made it up there was amazing. And then, fortunately for me, the tour rules staff had absolutely no idea that anyone could hit it up on the clubhouse roof, so there was no drop in place for it.
After a kid from the grounds crew found my ball up on the roof, my drop wound up being in a group of bushes, so I dropped into an unplayable lie and proceeded to make triple and miss my card by three shots. It was unfortunate, but I've said it many times before, it was probably one of the better things to happen to me. I certainly was not prepared to make the move to the PGA Tour at that point in my career, and I needed those couple of years on the Nationwide Tour in order to make that move.
Q: You did play on the PGA Tour in 2004 and '05, almost reaching a playoff in Reno, Nev., at one point. What was the experience like?
A: Oh, the experience was fantastic. I mean, it's clichéd to say it's a lifelong dream, but it's certainly something that we're all working for. I had a great experience. I had a chance to win an event out there. Unfortunately, some of the parts of my golf game that weren't fully developed held me back. I wasn't putting well enough to be as competitive as I would have liked to have been; even the tournament in Reno where I lost by a shot, I three-putted eight times. But now my short game and my putting is better than it was, and I'm certainly looking forward to going out there and testing it out again next year.
Q: How does playing on the Nationwide Tour differ from playing on the PGA Tour?
A: Well, we go to a different type of city a lot of times. Some of our bigger events are in towns like Omaha and Boise. Chances are, if there's a Triple-A baseball team, that may be where we end up going. Basically, the town size and the purse size are the only differences. We certainly get less people at our events and we play for less money, but the competition itself is as good as it gets in the world and we play against competition that includes future PGA Tour superstars. If I'm not mistaken, I think Nationwide Tour alumni have just won their 225th PGA Tour event recently, so certainly the level of competition out here is not too different from the level of competition on other tours.
Q: I'll be able to judge for myself soon enough, but what's the best thing about caddying for you?
A: The best thing about caddying for me is I'll rarely take out any frustration on anyone else but myself, so that will help you out as far as there won't be anything you can do to upset me in any way. I'm pretty laid-back as far as my approach toward my caddie.
Q: And I almost hate to ask, but the worst thing?
A: Well, the worst thing is probably the reverse of that, honestly. I probably don't do too many things that a sports psychologist would ever recommend you do, the way I think and the way I approach things, so you may have to listen to me beat myself up a little bit, which may be kind of hard for some people to get by. But it's going to be a fun experience, and I don't think you'll have to worry about too many bad things.
Q: You can beat yourself up, as long as you don't beat me up out there on the course.
A: No problem.
Q: Roland Thatcher, you are off the ESPN.com Hot Seat. I guess it's my turn next, huh?
A: That's right!
Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com