By T.J. Auclair, Junior Editor
The phone call came on Sunday evening.
Mike Scully, the head PGA Professional at Medinah Country Club -- site of the upcoming 88th PGA Championship -- wanted to know if his assistant, Brad Conklin, would be willing to caddie for a Tour player the next morning.
Conklin, a 25-year-old in his third season as an assistant professional at Medinah, took his boss up on the offer.
When the two got off the phone, Conklin was curious. Who would he be caddying for? Obviously it would be a player putting in a pre-tournament practice session, but whom?
"I had a little suspicion that it might be Tiger, but then thought there was just no way," Conklin said.
Tiger or no Tiger, Conklin was looking forward to a brush with greatness. Little did he know his out-of-this-world suspicion would come to fruition and he would end up sharing a four-hour rub of the elbows with arguably the greatest player to ever put a tee in the ground.
Shortly after arriving at Medinah on Monday morning, Conklin was ecstatic when he learned that yes, he would in fact be caddying for 11-time major champion Tiger Woods.
"It was funny because the other guys working there knew before me, including my own roommate [Gideon Traub, also an assistant professional] and he didn't say anything," Conklin said, still oozing with excitement a day later.
What made the experience all the more enjoyable is the fact that Conklin isn't simply a Tiger supporter, he's a Tiger fanatic.
"It was absolutely unbelievable," he said, almost still not believing the words coming out of his mouth. "I've always been a huge fan. To actually spend that much time with him and watch the shots he hits was unbelievable."
So, you're 25 years old, an assistant golf professional at one of the finest courses in the country and you're caddying for the world's best golfer, fresh off yet another major championship win at the British Open -- what do you talk about?
"It's funny, you try and give him pointers, but he's so good," Conklin said. "For instance, we'd be standing on a tee box and I'd say, 'You want to stay clear of that bunker,' then he goes on to fly it 40 yards over the bunker. He did ask about some stuff. Since I'm familiar with the course, I might see some things others don't. There are some breaks in greens that aren't obvious, so I told him that everything breaks toward the halfway house. I also let him know about how the greens are firmer on some holes than others. I tried to help as much as possible. Obviously I want him to win."
Woods, of course, is no stranger to Medinah. The last time the PGA Championship was held there in 1999, Woods held off a hard-charging Sergio Garcia to claim his second major championship crown.
Joining Woods for the trip around Medinah was his agent, Mark Steinberg. Conklin, obviously, had the best seat in the house and was a little surprised by what Woods put a lot of his efforts into on Monday. What was it? Putting? Chipping? Perhaps driving? After all, at 7,561 yards Medinah is the longest course in major championship history.
"To be honest, he spent more time working on Mark Steinberg's putting stroke than anything else. He gave Mark a putting lesson on one of the greens," Conklin said. "Tiger was as dialed in as you could be."
Conklin was able to see a side of Woods few ever will. This wasn't the Tiger with the look-that-will-burn-a-hole-through-you focus. Not the guy with the killer instinct for whom second-place defines the first loser. This wasn't the Tiger who's beating you by one shot, but wants to beat you by 15.
This was a relaxed, easygoing, talkative, playful Tiger. A Tiger cub, if you will, which Conklin was thankful for.
"It ranks as the No. 1 experience of my life," he said. "I've always said it would be a thrill to meet Tiger. Not only did I meet him, I spent four hours right by his side and talked a lot with him. He's a great guy. On the first tee, he asked about me and my story, what I do, how long I've been here -- that really calmed me down. I was so nervous on the first four holes that I couldn't hit the pin with the rangefinder."
Conklin was also grateful that Woods was playing with Steinberg, as opposed to another touring professional.
"Luckily for me, Steinie [Steinberg's nickname] could be a little crooked off the tee," Conklin said. "Tiger was hitting it so far and straight that we were able to take some long walks together. It was a thrill. It's so funny. I went from thinking about meeting Tiger to caddying for him, talking about everything but golf. I was talking to Tiger Woods about the football draft and things like that."
So is Tiger's regular caddie, Stevie Williams, in danger of losing his coveted loop?
"You know, I'd like to say yes," said Conklin, with a hint of optimism, "but I don't see it happening. His job is pretty secure."
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