From the first time I swung a golf club in 1993 at age 22, I had fallen hopelessly in love with this ridiculous game. It wasn't until 1997, though, when Fuzzy Zoeller made a racially charged remark about Tiger Woods at the Masters, that I tried to combine my work with my passion.
You see, 16 years ago I was a professional comedian of racially-mixed background. Zoeller's comments were great fodder for me as I created a comedy bit about the unfair nature of jokes and race.
I knew nothing of professional golf until Zoeller made his statements about how he hoped Woods wouldn't serve fried chicken and collard greens at the Masters champions dinner. When Zoeller uttered those words, I tried desperately to coordinate comedy dates and PGA Tour schedules for almost two years until my opportunity came calling.
Apparently other comedians had already had this bright idea.
A comic who had performed at Coconut's Comedy Club in Hilton Head, S.C. during each season's PGA Tour event for about seven years called me and said his wife was having their first child that week and he wanted me to be the first to know the spot was open.
After a 15-minute pleading-and-begging session on the phone with the club owner, he agreed to give me a shot.
A former high school classmate of mine was an assistant pro at a Jack Nicklaus-designed course on the island. He told me if I ever got there the week of the tournament, he'd get tickets. When I called him to let him know I was coming, he said he could get tickets for Tuesday.
My response? "Man, you got ripped off. They don't even play until Saturday!"
Told you my professional golf knowledge was zero starting out.
He laughed and told me it was a practice round, to which I responded, "We're going to go watch practice?"
Oh, it's funny now, but Allen Iverson hadn't made his famous "We're talking about practice!" rant yet.
My first nickname on tour -- little Hootie -- was born as soon as we walked onto the property at Harbour Town Golf Links up at the practice green, but that's for another column.
I told my friend I wanted to find a golfer that didn't have a crowd so we could talk to him. He looked at me like I had just asked to let Mike Tyson punch him in the face while I went on a date with his girlfriend.
"Don't talk to the players, OK?" he said.
"No, not okay," I said. "They swing and then walk. They can't swing while they're walking but they can talk, right? It's practice."
He was still looking at me a bit confused, by now, I'm sure, questioning his decision to bring me here. Standing on the 11th tee, a caddie walked up and started talking to me.
My buddy, in a panic, blurted out an apology and explained that I'm a comedian, to which the caddie called his player over and told him I'm a comic.
PGA Tour pro Omar Uresti introduced himself and his caddie/brother Rusty -- aka "Hoss." That's his nickname because he's terrible with names and calls everyone Hoss.
It turned out Uresti was friends with a comedian I knew. Uresti hit his tee ball, lifted the gallery rope and said, "Come on, man."
I'm pretty sure my buddy soiled himself at that moment. Four holes later, Uresti and Hoss were planning on coming to the show that night. By the end of the week, about 50 players and approximately 100 caddies had seen my act.
By the final PGA Tour event of 1998, I had been to four tournaments and caddied in five practice rounds.
On the very last hole of Uresti's season, Hoss called me over to the ropes, started untying his bib and said, "Bring him home, Hoss!"
Next thing I knew, the bib was on me, Uresti had just piped driver down the middle of the fairway, and I was carrying his staff bag on Sunday afternoon in a PGA Tour event -- for real! I honestly don't remember walking to the ball because I might have held my breath the whole way. I do remember not getting the yardage, though.
Uresti hit his second shot below the hole, about 18 feet away. His birdie putt burned the lip of the cup, he tapped in for par, and I was shaking hands with pro golfers and caddies on the ninth green at Disney's Magnolia Course in Orlando.
Some knucklehead asked me for my bib and I said, "You ain't getting this one." Then he looked at a police officer and looked back at me. I can't write what I said next, but I don't have that bib.
The following year, I was sitting at home when PGA Tour pro Robert Gamez called me and told me his caddie had quit and he wasn't having any fun on the golf course. He had seen my act in Hilton Head and was playing in his first Nike Tour (now Web.com Tour) event, the Shreveport Open.
"Can you come caddie for me?" he asked.
I think I answered before he even finished asking. There was one little problem when we got to Louisiana: The course was underwater, so the tournament officials canceled all practice rounds and the pro-am. We were allowed to take a cart and drive around on the paths to look at the course. That did me about as much good as giving an iPad to a goat.
Standing on the first tee for the first round of the 1999 Shreveport Open at Southern Trace Country Club, as Gamez reached in the bag for the driver, I leaned over to him and said, "Hey man, whatever you do, don't hit it in the bunker because I don't know how to rake, OK?"
He looked at me in a way that can only be described as confused disdain, which I couldn't understand at the time. He then hit the drive directly into the bunker, walked back to the bag and slammed the club, to which I said, "Man, I just told you not to hit it there!"
"You're not supposed to say things like that," Gamez said.
"Now you tell me what I can and can't say?" I said.
We get to the bunker and I asked, "What's the move?"
"It's a par-5," he said. "I'm going to hit 3-wood into the front bunker and get up and down for birdie."
My pro caddie response?
"I just told you I can't rake like a pro and you're going to hit it in another bunker? You hit it in the bunker at the green and I'm leaving."
Gamez laughed, stepped into the bunker and hit the shot he said he was going to hit. He climbed out with a sly grin on his face, which made me laugh, curse him out, lay the bag down and act like I was walking back up to the tee.
Because I love my job so much, I won't write the extremely inappropriate things we said to one another, but three things were accomplished: (1) Gamez was laughing, (2) the two other golfers and their caddies had a combined look of horror sprinkled with amused awe and (3) most importantly ... Gamez made birdie.
My journey to becoming a PGA Tour caddie was definitely unconventional. But within two weeks, I had other players contacting me to ask if I could caddie for a week. The snowball that would become my avalanche had just started rolling down the mountain. I wouldn't change the ride for anything.