When Graham DeLaet rolled in a topsy-turvy, 40-foot putt on the 8th green Thursday, the Canadian fans in the crowd cheered. For his caddie.
“Nice read, Ray!” one called, in this rare instance where the caddie is as famous in his own way as the pro whose bag he carries.
The first day of Ray Whitney's caddying career couldn't have gone much better, with the former Hurricanes forward guiding DeLaet to a 5-under 66 in the first group off the tee, even if his guidance was mostly auxiliary.
“A little nerve-wracking at times,” Whitney said. “But pretty smooth. It was actually easier when the tournament was going on than in the practice rounds. You're getting a lot of information then. Now you're hitting and you're moving on. It wasn't bad, just trying to keep up. They move at a pretty good pace and you're fumbling around with clubs and hoofing the bag and headcovers and you've got to get the yardage.”
The 5-under was enough to make DeLaet the clubhouse leader for all of about 15 minutes, until Australia's Marcus Fraser came in at 8-under, but it's still a very good start. DeLaet benefited from teeing off in the first group along with Brazil's Adilson da Silva, ahead of the winds which were whipping up trouble as he finished.
But after DeLaet posted a score like that with a hockey player on his bag, regular caddie Jules Trudeau may start to worry about his job security.
“I probably would have done better with Jules,” DeLaet joked. “(Whitney) did great out there. We had a lot of fun. He kept me nice and loose. We had a good time.
Whitney plays regularly with DeLaet in Arizona and is a better-than-scratch golfer himself, but seeing DeLaet play competitively, and in a fierce wind to boot, was eye-opening even for Whitney.
“He hit a 3-iron on 14 (a 229-yard par-3) to 12 feet or whatever it was,” Whitney said. “You walk up there and you're like, 'I know I can't do that.' When the wind picks up, you really can tell how good they are. Then they start flighting it a little bit and you realize, not only can they hit it where they want it, they can hit it at the height they want it. It was a good day. Nothing to get frustrated about. Hitting ball good, putted really good, lag putting was good, not a lot of stress on him.”
When DeLaet finished on 18, one of the Canadian fans yelled out, “Gritty effort, Ray,” not an appellation that was often applied to the goal-scoring winger in his time – his nickname, “The Wizard,” was a better description of his skill level and style – but caddying is hard work. And, for Whitney on Thursday, rewarding. Especially when he was able to help.
“Probably four times he had me come in and ask what I thought: 'Are you thinking right edge?' or 'Inside right?' and I was like, 'Yeah that's what I have,'” Whitney said. “It was no big deal.”
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock