In a recent conversation with my good friend Bill Burns, he asked, “Hey R.J., have you played Keller yet?” I told him that I had in fact played the completely renovated old course and thought that they had done a wonderful job.
Bill related the following story about his experience as a caddy in the 1956 St. Paul Open played at Keller. Bill grew up playing golf and now at age 75 belongs to two golf clubs, Burl Oaks in Minnetrista, MN and the Highlands at Dove Mountain in Marana, AZ – so Bill plays golf year around.
Recently Bill stopped by Keller Golf Course on his way home from a golf event in Stillwater. When Bill walked past the new pro shop and looked down the redesigned first fairway, his mind did a flash back to the 1956 St. Paul Open Golf Tournament. As a high school golfer, Bill entered the caddie pool and was lucky enough to be drawn as caddie for Minnesota native and golf legend, Howie Johnson. It was Howie’s first year on the PGA TOUR. Howie joined the tour at age 30, on a dare and now was thrown into the REAL world of professional golf.
Young Bill was amazed when he was introduced to, raising star on the PGA Tour, Billy Casper on the first tee. Casper, though not a TOUR winner yet, was a big name in golf. Casper had also drawn a local kid as a caddie and through the first few holes players and caddies were all getting the feel of being in the same golf group.
Bill knew that the first rules of being a caddie were to speak only when asked a question and stand to the right of your player with the bag toward him, so he could select the proper club.
The group had made their way to the fifth hole on the vulnerable old course. The dog-legged right hole had a severely elevated green – most golfers ended up short.
Howie and Casper had driven their balls on the same line with Howie slightly ahead of Casper. As young Bill and Howie were waiting near Casper they heard the following conversation.
Casper says to his caddie, “Son, give me the 8-iron.”
The caddy replies, “Mr. Casper I believe you can get a 9-iron to the hole. If you go past the pin the down-hill putt can be really tough to two-putt.”
Casper replies, “Son, it just feels like it is an 8-iron shot for me.”
The caddie reaches into Casper’s bag and pulls out the 9-iron and hands it to Casper. Casper looks at the club, then into the eyes of the caddie who is nodding his head up and down, in a yes motion.
As Casper approaches his ball the large gallery, gathered around the local hero and the raising star, grew quiet. The only sound was a distant train whistle, even the birds quit chirping. Casper, with his loose wrist waggle, eyed the target about 140 yards away. With the smooth swing that made this golfer famous, the ball climbs high into the clear blue Minnesota sky and with a small fade heads directly toward the pin. The crowd gasps as Casper’s ball lands about two feet from the front of the green – takes the backspin and rolls about 20 feet back down the hill.
Casper slammed the 9-iron into the turf and screams at the top of his lungs as he pointed his finger toward the clubhouse, “Get the hell out of here. You are fired!”
The caddie looked at Casper with pleading eyes, seemingly asking, is this real? “Can you fire a caddy in the middle of a round?” he asked. Casper screams as he grabs his clubs, “Get the HELL out of here, now!”
Burns recalls, “Casper stood there in the middle of the 5th fairway with a stunned look on his face. Then he looked through the gallery who had backed away a little and finally asked some kid about my age, ‘You want to caddie for me in this tournament? Just don’t tell me what club to hit?’ “
Burns says, “Howie and I got quickly introduced to the world of PGA TOUR golf.” Even though Keller has been renovated, the routing is basically the same and the course now has a modern look and feel. Burns was impressed!