A professional golf tour is a little bit like a traveling circus. Each week, the entire tour — players, caddies, families, tour staff, etc. — travel from one town to another, set up shop for a few days, then pack up and do it all again. The individuals on Tour, therefore, spend a considerable amount of time together during the season, whether on the driving range, during practice rounds, at restaurants, and at the hotels and motels that become the tour’s temporary homes in each location.
One player Bodine found himself connecting with during the 2013-14 Web.com Tour season was a young Salt Lake City native named Tony Finau. The 2006 Utah State Amateur champion, Finau had turned down college basketball scholarship offers — at six feet, four inches, he was hard to miss on the driving range — to play professional golf. Prior to 2014, his big break had been, literally, The Big Break — a second-place finish in 2009’s Big Break Disney Golf marked Finau’s highest-profile achievement before placing third at Web.com Q School in 2013 to earn his Web.com card for the 2014 season.
With Putnam’s 2013 Web.com Tour season at an end after the Tour Championship in October, Bodine found himself without work on the calendar until February, when the 2014 season was scheduled to begin. When Alex Prugh, a Spokane native and UW grad with PGA TOUR status in 2013-14, found himself in need of a caddy for the Tour’s upcoming fall events, Bodine jumped at the chance to work the senior circuit, with Putnam’s blessing — the latter had no work to offer Bodine at the time, and wasn’t about to deny his cousin the potential paycheck. The two hit it off, and Bodine stuck with Prugh for the entire 2013-14 PGA TOUR season.
Prugh usually played on the PGA TOUR in 2014, but on weeks when higher-priority players would bump him out of the field, he’d travel to a Web.com Tour event instead, and it was during these weeks that Bodine found himself striking up a friendship with Finau. The two occasionally played rounds of golf together and bonded over their shared interests. Bodine calls it, “a mutual connection.”
As the following season kicked off, Bodine and Prugh had parted ways, and Bodine had returned home to University Place to start raising a family and earning a steady income. Word traveled, though, that Finau — who had earned his PGA TOUR card following a strong debut year on the Web.com — was looking for a caddy as he made the transition from golf’s minor leagues to the big leagues.
Every life has its pivotal moments, when difficult decisions are made, and people question themselves. Do I take the easy way out, or do I challenge myself and take a risk that offers opportunities, but no guarantees?
Bodine and his fiancee, Kelsey, weighed their options. Greg could stay home, work for his parents, and earn a regular paycheck. The risk was low, and the financial security was high.
Or, he could take a shot with Finau. Finau planned to plot his playing schedule to spend as much time as possible with his family. That fit with Bodine’s plans to be present for his bride-to-be. And, since they didn’t yet have kids to worry about, Greg knew that Kelsey would be able to join him on certain trips throughout the year.
Remembering the camaraderie they had shared, impressed with Finau’s talent and character, and with Kelsey’s support, Bodine decided to live the life worth living — the one with occasional risks. He logged in to Twitter, and sent Finau a message.
Finau didn’t take long to respond.
“In golf, the only person who can help me inside the ropes is my caddy,” he told Utah Valley Magazine. “I knew I wanted a caddy like Greg.”
Indeed, if Match.com had a special place to pair the personalities of golfers with their caddies, Finau and Bodine would have jumped off the web page, a perfect match. Their demeanors are calm and friendly. Both were in their mid-20s. Both are tall and athletic. Both are family men with a strong faith in God.
The two teamed up for the West Coast swing to start the 2014-15 season. It was an audition.
There isn’t any relationship in sports as unique as a golfer and his caddy. The caddy isn’t a coach in the traditional sense. Golfers have swing coaches and putting coaches and don’t need another voice in their ears. But, by the same token, golfers need someone to read putts — and read minds.
A good caddy has to be a good listener, a loyal sidekick and a reader of his golfer’s mood. And, he also has to know the distances and topography of every spot on every course. He has to be equal parts surveyor, Sancho Panza and Sigmund Freud.
“I tell people you can’t underestimate the part of the job where you just have to be good company,” Bodine says. “You’ve got to be easy to be around. I think that’s a natural strength of mine. I was hired on a trial basis, but I showed up for work and felt comfortable from the beginning. It just came naturally. Caddying for Tony was nothing I had to work hard at to get right.”
In their first three weeks together, the duo made all three cuts, earning back-to-back top-25 finishes at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego. The following week, they made it official — sort of.
“He played pretty decently on that swing,” Bodine recalls of his “audition” period. “One day, Tony said to me, ‘Go ahead and get your stuff for the Florida swing.’ I took that as the green light.”
Their successful season continued — Finau made 22 of 31 cuts that first year, including five top-10s and 16 top-25s, en route to a 43rd-place finish in the Fed Ex Cup standings and more than $2 million in winnings, a remarkable performance for a PGA TOUR rookie.
And, that wasn’t even the best part — thanks to his strong start in 2015, Finau rocketed high enough up the Fed Ex Cup rankings to earn a spot in the 2015 U.S. Open … being played at Chambers Bay, right in Bodine’s backyard.
“It was amazing being able to share that week with my family,” Bodine recalls. “I envisioned my first major with Tony being somewhere I had never been, staying in a hotel and playing an unfamiliar course where I wouldn’t be as comfortable. For it to be Chambers, and to sleep in my old room at my parents’ house, have all my family with me and know the course so well — it was a perfect scenario for all of us.”
“It was special, too, because it was Tony’s first major, so we were able to share that together,” he adds. “For him to play so well was the cherry on top.”
While much was made throughout the week of the local knowledge Greller, a former University Place elementary school teacher and Chambers Bay looper, was feeding to Spieth, barely anyone noticed another player using some home cooking to finish high up the leaderboard.
“It helped me quite a bit,” Finau told The Golf Channel after finishing under par each of the first two days — days when many players struggled to adjust to Chambers’ unique conditions. “I noticed the more I saw the golf course, the more I was accustomed to the hills and the slopes around the greens. But, the one thing you can’t teach is experience, and that’s what my caddie has. It’s been a huge asset to me so far this week.”
Finau and Bodine ultimately finished in a tie for 14th, while Spieth and Greller would hoist the trophy on the 18th green. Considering where he had been just eight months prior, questioning whether to keep on caddying or return home to support his family, Bodine was as high as he’d ever been — he was home, and he was caddying, experiencing success on golf’s biggest stage.
Then, just as quickly as Bodine felt that surge of energy lifting him up, he was brought crashing back down — literally.
A few months after the U.S. Open — a stretch of success that included a top-10 at Finau’s first PGA Championship — Bodine was walking his dog down the street in University Place, when he slipped suddenly.
“The next thing I knew, my leg was cracked,” he says. “It was a freak accident. There was a lot of trauma.”
Bodine needed three surgeries and was off the Tour until March of 2016. Finau, of course, couldn’t just press pause on his burgeoning career and wait for his caddy to return.
“Things can change quickly,” Bodine says.
Finau could have used the occasion to hire a new caddy — certainly, his success in his rookie season would have left him with no shortage of experienced PGA TOUR veterans willing to jump to the bag of the fast-rising star. Even an interim caddy might have Wally Pipp-ed Bodine into another career (a reference to the Yankees first baseman who sat out a couple of games with a headache, only to see his “interim” replacement, Lou Gehrig, play the next 2,130 games in his place).
Instead, Finau asked his swing coach to caddy for him until Bodine recovered. Soon after he returned, Finau earned his first-ever PGA TOUR title, at the 2016 Puerto Rico Open.
“I know it could have gone the other way,” Bodine says, the appreciation obvious in his voice.