AUGUSTA, Ga. – Carl Jackson stood in his brilliant white caddie jumpsuit on the front porch of the Augusta National clubhouse, quietly watching while rain poured off the roof.
In another time it would have been the kind of day when guys with names like Cemetery, Ironman and Stovepipe brought out a deck of cards, some dice and a handful of crumpled dollar bills.
Back in the caddie shack, behind the rows of clubs, they might be having a taste or two.
“Sometimes we had to tell funny stories just to get through the days,” Jackson said. “You could get real sad because you didn’t really make that much money caddying one or two times a week.”
Before caddies went corporate, and the Masters caved in, this was the week that really mattered for the black men in white who spent the rest of the year carrying the bags of presidents and millionaires around Augusta National.
It belongs to others now, men of more privilege, men who may be millionaires themselves. They come in for the week, and are on their way to the next tournament before the last private jet takes off from the local airport.
Jackson doesn’t stay around now, either, but his story is different. He’s a link to the past, the last of the home-grown caddies who trudge the hallowed fairways while the golf world watches.
He’s won two Masters with Ben Crenshaw, and on this rainy Saturday he dared to allow himself to dream there might be a third. You see, there was the matter of these dreams.
The first came one spring night in 1984 when he dreamed Crenshaw would win his first green jacket. He even pictured what clothes his player would be wearing.
“It had rained that week and they had to finish the Saturday round early Sunday and Ben wasn’t wearing what I saw in the dream,” Jackson said. “But I’ll be damned if he didn’t change clothes between rounds. And he was wearing the shirt.”
Jackson had another dream in 1995. A few days later, Crenshaw somehow found a way to overcome the death earlier in the week of his mentor and teacher, Harvey Penick, to win his second Masters.
Crenshaw had played poorly all year, struggling to make cuts. For some reason, Jackson decided to give him a tip before play began, telling him to move the ball back in his stance.
“It was as if Harvey had jumped inside Carl Jackson’s body,” Crenshaw recalled last year.
The sight of Crenshaw breaking down in sobs, bent over at the waist with his face buried in his hands on the 18th green, is an indelible Masters moment. Jackson is next to him, a giant hand on Crenshaw’s shoulder to steady him and another on his back to console him.
The memories of a life spent on the bag brought a slight smile to Jackson’s face as the rain kept falling during a four-hour rain delay. He remembered his first Masters in 1961 when he caddied for Jackie Burke, who wore a white dress shirt and a tie as he made his way around the course, and he remembered first hooking up with Crenshaw 15 years later.
Jackson was 14 when he started, and 59 now. He dropped out of school to help support his single mom and siblings with caddie fees. Now, he runs the caddie program at the Alotian Club in Arkansas, has put four of his own children through college and has two more to go.
Jackson traveled to Augusta this week with as few expectations as his boss. Crenshaw had missed eight straight Masters cuts and nine of 10 since winning, and was facing a beefed-up course his game wasn’t likely to handle.
Lying in his motel room before play began, Jackson had another dream. It wasn’t much, but enough to give him a little hope, “something to hold on to.”
It seemed to be working. Crenshaw was on the leaderboard after one round, and 1 under after the second. He was playing on the weekend, and somehow found himself in contention. As the rain came down and the course got wetter, though, Jackson stood on the porch and worried. The boss didn’t hit it long, and with no roll it was going to be tough.
The rain finally stopped, and the sky lightened. Day had turned to early evening, and now Jackson trudged up the hill on No. 1 a few steps behind Crenshaw, a bag on his shoulder. After a long day of waiting, it all unraveled quickly. Crenshaw bogeyed the first, double bogeyed the second and was five over through eight when play stopped.
The dream was over.
Crenshaw headed toward the clubhouse, where he has a place in the champion’s locker room. His caddie made his way to the caddie house, where his place is always reserved.
There would be an even longer day today.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlbergap.org