Stratham, N.H. – Barely one hour had passed since Vincent Whaley watched his dreams end on the 18th green at The Golf Club of New England. His U.S. Junior Amateur Championship was over with a 2-up loss in the Round of 32. But his workday wasn’t done. His services were required on the first tee, where he would put on a yellow USGA caddie bib with the name “Galletti” printed on the back.
Nicolo Galletti. The player who had just eliminated him from the championship.
The U.S. Junior can be intense, and there’s no question every player badly wants to win. But beneath the layer of pressure and passion and great expectations is a camaraderie and sportsmanship that is genuine. Friendships are formed, and opponents one moment are swapping stories and laughing together the next.
Whaley and Galletti had not met before Wednesday afternoon when they learned they would be facing each other in the Round of 32. They have golf and their age (both 17) in common – but not much else. Whaley is from McKinney, Texas; Galletti is from Pleasanton, Calif. But they became fast friends this week, and when Galletti learned he needed a caddie if he advanced beyond the Round of 32, an agreement was made. The vanquished would caddie for the victor in the third round.
“My caddie’s legs were hurting and he told me he couldn’t make it 36 holes if I won my morning match,” Galletti said. “Vincent has been carrying his own bag all week. So we made the bet.”
There was a slight problem, however. Whaley is here this week with McKinney Boyd High School teammate Branson Davis, and they had previously agreed that the first person who lost would then caddie for the other. Davis won his second-round match. So Whaley had some explaining to do.
“Branson said it was fine, and when [fellow Dallas-area resident] Scottie Scheffler lost [in the Round of 32], he took Branson’s bag, so it all worked out,” Whaley said.
That’s an understatement. Galletti and Davis both advanced to Friday’s quarterfinals, with Galletti beating Doug Ghim of Arlington Heights, Ill., 3 and 2, and Davis defeating Richard Hattori of Honolulu, 1 up.
There seemed little doubt that having a friend and fellow competitor on the bag helped Galletti remain loose, relaxed and confident. A great deal was on the line, but watching the duo stride the fairways, laughing, joking and carrying on a nonstop conversation between shots made it difficult to tell. They discussed how Davis was playing, where they would go for dinner afterward and who knows what else. “We talked about a little of everything, a lot of it I can’t even remember,” Whaley said.
While Ghim silently walked to his next shot, eyes straight ahead, Galletti and Whaley looked like two teens competing for bragging rights at their local club.
“I don’t think it’s good to be that intense about it,” Galletti said. “You have to stay loose. If you’re that intense it’s easy to make mistakes. [Vincent’s] jokes helped me stay loose.”
Whaley contributed more than conversation. He had played the course all week. He knew the yardages, the subtle breaks on the greens and where not to miss. And Galletti knew to trust Whaley’s judgment. So when Whaley offered a yardage and a club selection, Galletti could confidently stand over the ball and think only about execution.
He was especially helpful on the greens. “I had many of the same putts in the morning, so I had a good idea of the breaks,” Whaley said. “If I misread it the first time, we had a better chance of getting it right the second time.”
Having Whaley alongside also created a comfort zone for Galletti, who didn’t have to be told that his caddie could play more than a little. He’d seen it firsthand earlier in the day.
“He’s a great golfer himself and we hit the same yardage with our irons, so he helped a lot,” Galletti said. “It was easy to pick the right club. I trusted him, because he knows what he’s talking about.”
So the new agreement is now this: Whaley will stay on Galletti’s bag, and Scheffler will stick with Davis.
“We’ll just keep going because it’s working,” Whaley said.
“I’m definitely not firing him,” joked Galletti.
Rob Duca is a New England-based freelance writer who is contributing to USGA.org this week.