Colorado Springs, Colo. – Kylie Pratt has no issue with checking her ego at the clubhouse door.
“No, not at all,” said Pratt, a former touring pro. “There are probably 5 percent of the shots that I think I can hit well compared to the women out here. But 95 percent of the time they hit it better than I do. So I'm quite comfortable being on the bag.”
That is where Pratt has been the past five full seasons, the last three for 24-year-old Hee Young Park, who is in this week’s U.S. Women’s Open field at The Broadmoor.
"After four years of being a pro and grinding it out, I just realized I wasn't good enough week in and week out,” said Pratt, 34, of Mackay, Australia, who played on the LPGA Futures Tour for three years. Pratt was a four-time winner while playing collegiately at Campbell University, but cracked the top five just once in three seasons on the Futures Tour. “I love it. If I can't play this is the next-best thing being involved.”
This week, Pratt is part of a small sorority of caddies who also logged time on tour. Others include Mardi Lunn (the caddie for Becky Morgan), Danielle Downey (Sarah Kemp) and A.J. Eathorne (Brittany Lincicome).
Downey, for one, has not completely given up the notion of playing again. She is a five-year touring pro who lost her playing status at the end of 2010. Downey plans a return trip to the LPGA Qualifying Tournament this fall, but currently enjoys looping for Kemp.
“I think we have pretty similar games, so to get a second opinion of someone who has a similar game to you, and has played out here for the last four years is good,” said Kemp, who shot an opening-round, 6-over-par 77. “And we're great friends, so we have a really good time out there.”
The Downey-Kemp relationship began in April at the Avnet LPGA Classic in Mobile, Ala. Downey pulled out of Monday qualifying and was then approached by Kemp to caddie for the week. Kemp tied for 32nd and asked Downey to caddie for her for the remainder of the season.
“I'm learning to enjoy and love the game again,” Downey said.
The opportunity also gives Downey a perspective that she did not possess prior to getting Kemp’s bag.
“As a player you usually only see one option, but as a caddie you have got to look at the whole course and everything that's going on and then convince your player what the smartest option is,” she said.
“To me it's a little more relaxed than a player, but I have got to know the course, check the weather ... do all the things I didn't do as a player. I would never have checked the weather for the wind.
“I have to be prepared and confident, so that she believes in me. I have to have this aura that I know what I am talking about. I don't always know, but you have to have a confidence that makes your player feel good.”
Pratt admits she might have benefited if she had more of a caddie’s mentality while she was playing. She has learned little nuances, such as knowing where not to short-side a shot or where to miss the green.
Pratt, who categorized her playing style as aggressive, now understands that being conservative can be equally effective. If a flagstick is located four paces from the green’s rear, having a 15-foot putt uphill is not necessarily bad.
Having been a player has aided her as a caddie.
“Certainly down the stretch if you're in contention,” Pratt said. “Obviously I have done it on a smaller scale. Using what I know, combined with knowing the player, you can read them when they feel nervous. That may be a situation where we go up a club. Or if the adrenaline is going, we go down a club. So it helps to know the player and to draw on my own prior experience.”
Two weeks ago, Downey and Kemp looked at each other during play at the Wegmans LPGA Championship and commented that it did not feel like a major. Not because of the field or the course, but because they were so engrossed in non-golf topics of conversation.
That tactic, Downey said, can help a player endure the mental grind a U.S. Women’s Open can pose, especially this year, where four rounds could be compressed into three days.
“Some golfers are so serious and think about golf for however long they are out there,” Downey said. “I was not like that as a player, and Sarah really just needs to focus on the shot for those 30 seconds. In between, we don't talk about golf; we talk about everything under the sun.”
Because of Thursday’s suspension, many golfers were suddenly left with a lot of free time. Ryann O’Toole, who finished up her first round Friday morning by carding a 69 decided to hit a local movie theater.
“Larry Crowne,” said O’Toole when asked what she saw. “It was a good movie. I liked it. Thumbs up.”
What To Do For An Encore?
On the second hole in her first round, O’Toole flew the green and was looking at a downhill lie. What did she do? She chipped in from 25 feet to save par. On her next hole, the par-5 third, she tried reaching the green in two but pulled her ball left. It ended up on the other side of the cart path. She wound up facing a difficult fourth shot over trees and – voila – the ball went in again.
“I chipped in one for par and one for birdie, so that kind of got me pumped up a bit,” said O’Toole, a UCLA graduate. “[The] crowd is cheering, and I think that helped kind of propel me into the whole round.”