It is not a stretch to say that most caddie-player relationships in professional golf are seasonal at best. The combinations that last often result in success stories that form many of the game’s special moments.
Consider the husband-wife "team" of PGA Professional Robert Thompson and his wife, Chris, of Huntsville, Texas, one of golf’s enduring success stories on and off the course.
The couple met while students at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, and have been together 30 years. That is same period that Chris, who played tennis for her alma mater and later coached the sport, signed up to caddie.
Robert, 54, is the reigning Senior PGA Professional National Champion, a PGA teaching professional at Whispering Pines Golf Club in Trinity, Texas. He will join a field of 156 at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky., May 26-29, in the 72nd Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid.
Chris, who has served as associate athletic director of student services at Sam Houston State since 1997, returns to caddie at Valhalla for her husband, the first trip back to the course since 2002, when Robert competed in the PGA Professional National Championship. That year, Robert was the second-round leader before struggling in the final round and finishing 18th.
"I love Valhalla, and am excited to be going back," said Chris, who was Sam Houston State’s men’s and women’s coach from 1981-97. "That 18th hole I remember well; it’s a toughie. We made eagle one day and double bogey another day. I have my yardage book from 2002 with me and know that some of that background has got to help."
Chris said that she is well aware of a caddie’s three main rules of survival: "to show up, keep up and shut up."
"Having been a college coach and around athletics for as long as I have, I know when to pump up someone and when to be quiet," she said. "Caddies have to pick and choose words carefully, I believe, and I understand how important it is for my husband and his passion for the game is so intense."
"It will be great to have Chris with me once again at Valhalla," said Robert.
Chris, like any veteran caddie, knows her "boss’s game" very well.
"He is so very steady and not flashy," said Chris. "He goes about his business and does what he has to do. I think that has helped him be a better player through the years."
Robert also knows that anyone competing for a niche in senior professional golf will be humbled on a regular basis.
"I realize the talent level that exists on the Champions Tour, and what it takes to be playing out there every week," said Thompson. "I have been trying to keep myself sharp and work harder on the short game. There is a high skill level among the players that has not diminished from those coming from the regular Tour. They all still want to win out there. The guys still stay in shape, and I work out, too, trying to do a lot of stretching."
Last fall in Indian Wells, Calif., Thompson turned in a 72-hole total of 8-under-par 280, earning $20,000 and becoming the second player in PGA of America history to win a PGA Assistant Championship (1986) and a Senior PGA Professional National Championship.
"It's been a long time since that first title, but I can say the feeling is just as good," said Thompson. "It was great playing here and among a great field. I will enjoy coming back to Valhalla. It is a great venue. I played pretty well the last time I was there, except the last day (an 80)."
Slowed by tendinitis in his left elbow and a sore shoulder most of the summer of 2010, Thompson said he is feeling well heading into his fourth appearance in the most historic and prestigious event in senior golf.
"Winning last fall was a confidence booster at the end of the year," said Thompson. "It was a great week and any time that you can say that you win a national championship, it has extra meaning."
With Chris at his side, expect Robert Thompson to remain steady at Valhalla Golf Club next week, and that is a good formula for anyone to follow in a major championship.