Keeping Score

Caddie finds life lessons at Erin Hills

Jon Brackett is ready for his role reversal this week.

Normally, the 47-year-old high school history teacher spends his summer working as a caddie at Erin Hills, which recently hosted the U.S. Open. This week, he’s helping train a batch of new caddies there, a task that requires him to play the course while ordering the newbies around so that they learn all of a caddie’s many duties.

“Yeah, it’s pretty strenuous,” he said, laughing. “It’s one of those little perks. I count this as my vacation week.”

Brackett enjoyed a few other perks during the recent Open. He worked for USGA video services, driving a cart full of video gear. He was finished by Thursday, but because he had an all-access credential, he stayed through the weekend to watch golf.

He was on the 18th green for the presentation ceremony, got a picture of winner Brooks Koepka’s caddie, Ricky Elliott, with the flag and, even better, was a fly on the wall for the trophy engraving.

“The engraver was doing the trophy in between the players’ locker room and the hospitality tent,” Brackett said. “Koepka was sitting right there, watching the guy engrave his name on it. So was his caddie. I was in the back of the tent. Brooks looked spent, like he’d had a long, long week. He looked emotionally drained, like he couldn’t believe he’d really done it and he couldn’t believe he was sitting here with the trophy. It was really cool.”

Next week, it’s back to reality and the start of the post-U.S. Open era at Erin Hills. 

Brackett was told that it would take four months to tear down the on-course Open structures.

“I hope the last thing they take down are the stands,” Brackett said. “They still give people the feeling of being at the tournament.”

He suspects that future players will be more nervous on the first tee, now that Erin Hills has a U.S. Open pedigree, and they will be more accepting of the five-hour-plus rounds.

“It’s the caddies’ job to keep the players on pace,” Brackett said, “but now we can say, ‘This is a U.S. Open course. It’s going to take a while.’ ”

He hopes players don’t look at Koepka’s winning score of 16 under par and think, This course is easy. I can play the tips.

Trust him. You can’t.

As you might expect, Brackett is pretty fit from lugging two bags for eight-plus miles around Erin Hills as many as five times a week. He still plays organized baseball when he’s not watching his three sons play baseball or hockey. He once caddied for a CBS group that included Ian Baker-Finch, Gary McCord and Peter Kostis. It was a warm day, and Kostis complained that Erin Hills was “an unreasonably difficult walk.” Brackett thought that was funny, he said, “Because he wasn’t the one carrying the bags.”

Brackett hopes the U.S. Open deconstruction doesn’t ruin the setting. 

“It’s easy to get jaded when you’re out there every day. Sometimes you can forget how special Erin Hills is,” he said. “There are some beautiful days. When it’s dead quiet, you can’t hear anything. I guess those days will be few and far between, with everything coming down.”

Next week, Brackett will go back to waiting for his next loop in the caddies’ barn, where there’s a pingpong table (yes, he’s seen some intense games) and a dartboard (yes, there are some unique long-range games). One of his best caddieing days here, he said, was looping for baseball Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, Brackett’s boyhood idol.

Asked to detail his worst caddie experience, Brackett paused to think. There was a long silence, then he conceded that he had nothing.

“It’s hard to have a bad day at Erin Hills.”

Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980 for Sports Illustrated and Golf.com, Golf World and The Milwaukee Journal. Email: gvansick@aol.com; Twitter: @GaryVanSickle


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