Quaker Ridge Caddies Relishing Special Roles at 40th Match
June 8, 2018 | SCARSDALE, N.Y.
By Bill Fields
In the nascent period of tour golf and for years thereafter, club caddies were fixtures when the big show came to town, trading their regular loops with recreational players to work for a pro, perhaps even a star. The cash was spent and the hand-me-down balls were lost, but the memories lasted.
Once, at the Palm Beach Round Robin at nearby Wykagyl Country Club during Ben Hogan’s heyday, Bob Parilla was assigned to shag balls for the four-time U.S. Open champion. He instructed the boy to go out 50 yards on a practice ground pinched by spectator parking and, each time he saw Hogan switch clubs, to move 10 yards farther away.
“My father told him, ‘You can’t hit here, there are cars all over the place,’” Parilla’s son, Bob Jr., said. “Hogan replied, ‘I hit it straight, son.’”
Parilla Jr. told the story Friday morning under a tree not far from the Quaker Ridge Golf Club clubhouse, where he waited with his fellow caddies for the start of the 40th Curtis Cup Match. In an echo of the old days, 18 Quaker Ridge regulars are an essential component of the competition as caddies for the 16 competitors (two are alternates). Parilla Jr., who grew up caddieing at Wykagyl, where he sometimes carried for baseball hall-of-famer Mickey Mantle, and has worked at Quaker Ridge since the 1990s, is on the bag of American Lauren Stephenson.
“They don’t miss many shots,” Parilla Jr. said, “and if they do, they get it up and down.”
None of the amateurs from the USA and Great Britain & Ireland are Hogan-good or Mantle-famous – yet – but they are at the zenith of women’s amateur golf and might develop into all-time stars.
“We’re excited and honored to part of it,” said Ricky Vetrano, who is serving as the caddie for American Andrea Lee, one of the side’s two returners from the 2016 Match. “I’ve been here 22 years and probably caddied 5,000 rounds. This is my favorite place. It didn’t matter which team I worked for, I just wanted to be involved.”
Quaker Ridge caddiemaster Rich Uva understands what being a part of an important international event is all about. In 1997, Uva caddied for the USA’s Jerry Courville Jr. in the Walker Cup at Quaker Ridge, one of three U.S. clubs (Merion and Minikahda Club) to have hosted both biennial amateur competitions. “I know the importance to the player, and I know it’s a big deal for our caddies.”
Uva worked diligently with a committee of members months ago to select the pool of caddies from a group of 65 who regularly do weekend loops on the A.W. Tillinghast design.
“We decided on the basis of their ability, reliability and personality,” Uva said. “Of course, there was some disappointment from the caddies who weren’t selected, but we made our picks for a reason.”
The caddies received their assignments late Sunday afternoon in a clubhouse gathering. USA and GB&I team members each drew a caddie name – with American captain Virginia Derby Grimes doing the honors for Kristen Gillman and Lucy Li, who were still in Alabama playing the final round of the 73rd U.S. Women’s Open at Shoal Creek.
“It was a nice, informal gathering,” Uva said. “After the names were picked, the players and caddies got to meet each other in a casual atmosphere. You could already see a bond starting between player and caddie.”
A pair of brothers, Axel and Lenny Siguil, were chosen by Americans. Lenny, 24, is with Mariel Galdiano, and Axel, 30, is with Gillman. When Axel was a teenage caddie at Quaker Ridge – the minimum age is 14 – he brought along Lenny, who would hang out and assist Uva any way he could.
“I was helping out in the bag room when I was 12,” Lenny said. “When I saw the game of golf for the first time, I just knew I wanted to be out here. It’s awesome to be out there with these young ladies. There is a time to be serious, but we’re having fun, too.”
Axel, who showed up with patriotic red and blue face paint under his eyes Friday, was a barber for a couple of years but on nice summer days he yearned to be working outdoors. Now he caddies at Quaker Ridge during its season and at McArthur Golf Club in South Florida during the winter.
“I love to be a part of this game,” Axel said. “My brother and I are so proud to be here this week. It can’t get any better than to do this at your home course.”
The caddies spent the practice rounds getting to know their players and understanding how much information they wanted given that in most of their competitive rounds, they are either carrying their own bag or using a push cart.
“We’re attentive to their needs, but most of the girls are to used to doing their own stuff,” said Frank Conty, who is caddieing for GB&I’s India Clyburn. “We’re there for what they need without overstepping any boundaries and trying to think for them. We’ve been looking forward to doing this since winter.”
Even the most self-sufficient players in the Match are finding the caddies’ local knowledge helpful on the speedy, undulating greens – the green on No. 12 is especially challenging – and uphill putts that are faster than they appear on the first four holes.
“It’s all feel at Quaker Ridge,” said Chris Gunnip, caddie for GB&I’s Shannon McWilliam. “You have to know how your player putts. More cautious, you give them more break. More aggressive, not as much. But this is a great thrill. I don’t see golf like this every day. They’re not afraid to putt these greens, to have a 6-footer coming back. They’re confident – that’s the thing they all exude.”
The players belong here, and so do the caddies. When the weekend is over, everyone will have some terrific stories to tell.
Bill Fields is a Connecticut-based freelance writer.