U.S. WOMEN'S AMATEUR
Two of Host Club’s Finest Caddies Help Gillman, Jeon Reach Final
August 11, 2018 | Kingston Springs, Tenn.
By Bill Fields
After Kristen Gillman won her Round-of-64 match on Wednesday in the 118th U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship, her father and caddie, Mark, reached out to the man who had caddied for his daughter’s opponent, 13-year-old Ting Hsuan Huang.
Chris Dunn, one of some 25 full-time caddies at The Golf Club of Tennessee, impressed Mark enough that he hired him to caddie the rest of the championship for Kristen. Mark had carried the bag for his daughter during her run to the 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur title at Nassau Country Club, with older sister Emily taking the bag for the final 18 of the 36-hole final.
Enlisting local knowledge turned out to be a good move. Not only is Gillman in Sunday’s 36-hole final with a club caddie by her side, but the other finalist, Jiwon Jeon, of the Republic of Korea, also has a Golf Club of Tennessee regular, Erik Fiske, who has been on her bag since the Round of 32.
“He’s been good, really helpful,” said Mark Gillman of Dunn. “He’s got a perfectly calm demeanor. He reads the greens really well and knows the wind really well. He’s a good fit. We knew he was good from seeing how he worked in the first match, and hey, I didn’t want to do 36 [holes] in a day.”
Dunn, 33, has caddied at the championship venue for five years, while Fiske, 34, has been at the club for seven years. Their experience around the Tom Fazio-designed course has been invaluable.
“Fazio greens are very flat and subtle,” said longtime club caddie master Kelly Wells. "You’re not going to see the subtlety the first time or two [times] out. I definitely think it’s an advantage to have a local caddie. Chris and Erik are two of our best, and so is Ryan Jones, who was on Lucy Li’s bag.”
Jones helped Li get to the Quarterfinals, where she lost on Friday to Gillman, her 2018 USA Curtis Cup teammate, on the 19th hole. While Jones won’t be caddieing Sunday, he will be working at The Golf Club of Tennessee as a pianist/guitarist for the Adam Craig Band, which will perform after the championship match. The Adam Craig Band has opened for Eric Church, Lee Ann Rimes, Luke Bryan and Little Big Town.
The club’s most famous caddie-musician is country star Jake Owen, who looped regularly while working his way up in the music business and is now a member, along with Vince Gill and Church.
“I’ve had a bunch of performers caddie here over the years,” said Wells. “So many people come to Nashville who are musicians and they’re golfers. They find out about the club and the work fits their lifestyle.”
Jones and Craig, his cousin, are both natives of Washington state but were drawn to the country music mecca.
“This is the place to be, if you’re wanting to get into it,” Jones said. “Everyone kind of has their music thing going. A lot of the caddies play and sing. In fact, at our caddie event this year, there is going to be a jam at the end of it with all of us playing, which should be fun.”
Jones is a more accomplished musician than Fiske, a Rhode Island native who plays the guitar. But Fiske has a nickname from his fellow caddies that gets your attention: “Jesus,” because of his distinctive, long beard.
“Mine’s not that colorful,” said Dunn, a native Tennessean. “They just call me ‘Memphis Chris.’ It was a blessing getting on Kristen’s bag. She’s really calm, cool and collected.”
Dunn could well have been speaking about himself or Dunn, who in addition to trying to help their players win a national title Sunday will be trying to score some serious local bragging rights.
May the best female – err caddie – win.
Bill Fields is a Connecticut-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA digital channels.