One Shining Moment

University Place caddy Greg Bodine keeps Tony Finau steady, ready and — hopefully — upright

Augusta National in April is as close to perfection as sport and nature can conjure. Its beauty masks all of its dangers. It’s all azaleas and pine trees, ecstasy and agony. In one short week, Augusta National can lift your heart, or break it.

Last April, on the eve of the first round of The Masters, caddy Greg Bodine — who, like Jordan Spieth’s caddy, Michael Greller, calls University Place home — was part of the dense gallery crowded into Augusta National’s short course, straining to see over heads and through arms, watching his player, Tony Finau, play in the annual Par-3 Tournament, held the day before The Masters begins.

This one-day, fun-day before the start of the first major of the season is a chance for the pros to relax and have a few laughs before the four-day grind that looms the next morning. It’s a family affair, where many of the golfers, including Finau, allow their kids to walk with them, and putt with them. Fathers and daughters, fathers and sons, husbands and wives share a sense of optimism before the next day’s roller-coaster ride over the rolling hills and diabolical greens of this glorious course.

Many caddies look at the afternoon as time off. Players only need a few clubs, and their friends and families are happy — excited, even — to help. For Bodine, though, this was something not to be missed.

“This was our first Masters,” he says, “and I was able to watch the Par-3 in the gallery with my wife. It was cool for us just to stroll along and watch Tony play.”

It was cool. Until it wasn’t.

Straining to see through the heads and arms of the fans in front of him on the tee box at Augusta’s par-3 eighth hole, Bodine could see Finau’s backswing, and watched the beginning of the shot’s parabolic flight into the air, but lost sight of it as it dropped toward the green.

The murmur of the crowd grew, grew … then exploded in a roar that could only mean one thing: Finau had scored a hole-in-one — one of the most incredible memories a golfer can make at Augusta. For a player at Finau’s level — a talented young star, for sure, with nearly $10 million in the bank entering the 2018 season, but with just one career win to his name, and a 125-to-1 long shot to win The Masters — it was quite possibly the most exciting moment of his young career.

Finau headed toward the green, leaping and skipping in celebration, the crowd roaring around him and his smile as bright as the Georgia sun, the possibilities for this coming weekend becoming even more realistic.

Then, just as quickly as Finau felt that surge of energy lifting him up, he was brought crashing back down — literally. The tall Utahan leaped one time too many and landed awkwardly on his left ankle, which bent at a gruesome angle. Bodine, celebrating behind the scenes, didn’t see the injury occur — but, he didn’t need to. The reaction of the crowd told him all he needed to know.

“I heard the oohing and aahing of the crowd,” Bodine recalls. “And then the roar! And then the gasps and the screams. I knew right away that something had happened to Tony.”

Less than 24 hours before his player’s first drive on the first hole of his first Masters, when he should have been celebrating a hole-in-one and preparing for the biggest day of his young career, Greg Bodine was, instead, sitting outside the medical tent at Augusta National, and wondering to himself: Is this really happening?

Photo courtesy Greg Bodine

Growing up in University Place, Bodine had always pictured himself at The Masters. Bodine and his cousins, Andrew and Michael Putnam, lived just down the street from each other and played uncountable rounds together at courses throughout the south Tacoma area.

After high school, the Putnams each went to Pepperdine University while Bodine furthered his golf career at Biola University, a private Christian school in Southern California. The older the trio grew, however, the more obvious it became that while all three may indeed have a future on the PGA TOUR — a remarkable achievement in any extended family, much less three kids from essentially the same block — it was Bodine’s knowledge of the game, understanding of course management and unique ability to keep his cousins at ease that were going to get him farther than his game.

As the two brothers began climbing the ranks of the mini-Tours, Bodine began carrying their bags, developing his skills and soaking up information from the other caddies he met while driving around the country from tournament to tournament. It was a family affair, and the cousins’ personal relationship transitioned smoothly to a professional one — “Our relationships were natural,” Bodine says.

“Greg’s easy to be around,” says Andrew Putnam, for whom Bodine caddied until 2014. “He’s the most easy-going guy I know. He’s a good person, and has a great attitude — and that’s important when you spend eight hours a day together. But, he’s also an extremely hard worker. He takes the time to make sure everything is right.”

Having a family member on your bag can be a prescription for disaster. The pressure on the PGA TOUR is relentless, requiring a constant focus and concentration that can put even the most laid-back players on edge. A critical remark from a caddy who is also your cousin can feel even sharper than normal — family is supposed to support you no matter what, after all. Putnam has witnessed just such disasters happen with other golfers who couldn’t separate the personal from the professional.

“It can be pretty tough,” Putnam says. “I’ve seen players who have brothers, or family members or coaches on their bags. It can add another level to the relationship. I was 22, and in my first year as a professional, and every moment could be so important. You want to succeed so bad.

“It can be a perfect situation for a meltdown.”

Maybe for some families. Not this one.

“For me and Greg, though, it was great,” he says. “We never stepped on each other’s toes. No matter what position we were in, he was always Greg — really, really supportive. It was a great experience.”

That first year, in 2011, Putnam played on the eGolf Professional Tour, a tour so obscure that the list of its most accomplished alumni includes only 2-3 names the most avid golf fan might recognize. The very best players generally topped out around $80,000 for the year — leaving just $8,000 or so for the caddies, based on the typical 10 percent share. In his third professional season, playing on golf’s AAA tour, the, Putnam earned $115,000 before expenses — good money, but still not adding much to Bodine’s bank account.

Bodine enjoyed the travel and enjoyed being part of a team in the intensely competitive world of pro golf. But, he never saw it as a full-time career. He figured he’d caddy for a while, enjoying the freedom of youth while he could, and then — when he was ready for a real career — ultimately join the family business, Bodine Enterprises, and help his parents manage their various interests throughout the South Puget Sound.

“I was getting married and didn’t think I could commit all of that time to caddying,” he recalls.

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