U.S. AMATEUR FOUR-BALL
Caddies Providing Motherly Love to High School Duo May 20, 2018 | Tequesta, Fla. By Jeff Babineau

Michael Childress and Lansdon Robbins have familiar faces on their bags this week at Jupiter Hills Club: their moms. (USGA/Darren Carroll) 

U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Home

Michael Childress was going through a rough patch with his caddie during a practice round at the 4th U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship at Jupiter Hills Club. The 18-year-old North Carolinian was striking the ball fine, but he was getting some strange results. He was miffed.

As it turns out, his caddie somehow had shifted Michael’s rangefinder to meters, not yards, which Michael didn’t discover for five holes. Michael said his caddie also “dropped four rangefinders, left three clubs, and lost a couple of water bottles and a towel.”

He decided not to fire the looper, which was probably wise. She lives under the same roof. The caddie is his mother.

Donna Childress and Kim Robbins have made this week’s U.S. Amateur Four-Ball in rainy Florida a family affair, calling it their “girls' weekend,” slinging their sons’ carry bags over their shoulders and hoofing the 7 or so miles up and down terrain that is uncharacteristically hilly for the Sunshine State. As caddies, they’ve had a ball.

The sons, Michael Childress and Lansdon Robbins, are close friends, talented players and four-year teammates at Cannon School, a prep school in Concord, N.C, from which they will graduate on Friday. The pair enjoyed two solid days of stroke play, shooting 5-under 135 to earn one of the available 32 berths into match play from the original field of 128 sides. They’ll face John Sawin and Tug Maude, two mid-amateurs who grew up playing iconic Merion Golf Club, in the Round of 32 Monday at 11:36 a.m. EDT on the Hills Course.

As good as the week has been for Michael and Lansdon, their mothers, if possible, have had an even better experience, playfully racing each other up fairways and greeting birdies with fist-bumps and double high-fives.

“We’ve had an absolute blast,” said Kim Robbins, who minutes after Sunday’s second and final round of stroke play had her feet up on the back patio of the clubhouse with a well-earned cold one in front of her. “It’s been phenomenal, without a doubt.”

Added Donna: “It was Kim who roped me into this. My husband would usually caddie in something like this, but he’s home with our other two children. Kim wanted to do the mom thing, and I’m glad she suggested it. There’s definitely some memories here to make for a long, long time.”

Ever try to get 15 minutes of quality, one-on-one time with your teen? Good luck. Between the cellphone, the video games and the new driver’s license, it’s nearly an impossible quest. These mothers are onto something. The two women have had their sons at their sides all day long for five consecutive days. For that, they are thankful.

How much have the caddies actually helped their golfers? That answer is open to debate. Donna, a doctor who practices internal medicine, is a devoted runner, not deeply versed in golf. Kim, who retired from a job as a regional manager for General Electric, is a golfer. Lansdon says his mom tries to play pretty much every day at home. Assisting their sons at Jupiter Hills – they began by reorganizing the bags – has been an exercise of trial and error.

“We talked about this going in, to kind of make sure she stays out of my way,” said Lansdon in a very nice manner about his mother. “We kind of butt heads every now and then during a golf tournament, but she’s done a good job this week.”

Asked what advice she has imparted on her son, Kim said: “Let’s see, I told Lansdon to tuck his shirt in walking down 18 today, and to watch his language. How’s that? Oh, and I told Michael not to spit in the middle of the fairway. You know, all mother stuff.”

Kim trained for the event by walking an hour a day for a minimum of five days a week while wearing a 30-pound vest that she purchased. Donna, the runner, has been fine with the physical test of Jupiter Hills. It’s the golf part of the equation that’s been challenging.

“I stepped out of a bunker and said to my mom, ‘Can you get the rake?’ And she just started laughing,” said Michael. “And I said, ‘No, actually, Mom, you have to rake the bunkers.’”

Kim introduced Lansdon to the game, and he’s become one of the top juniors in the Tar Heel State. He was a runner-up at the North Carolina Amateur last summer, and last Tuesday he and Michael led Cannon to their third 3A North Carolina state high school championship title in four years. Lansdon finished third, one shot out of a playoff; Michael was sixth.

Lansdon will play at UNC-Wilmington in the fall, while Michael is headed to the University of Richmond in Virginia. If things break just right, the two close friends could be in the same field for their first two college events next fall, one in Richmond (hosted by Virginia Commonwealth University), and one near home in Davidson, N.C., at River Run, the course that Cannon plays.

It was the morning after winning their state title, as the boys piled into a car for the 10-hour drive to Florida, that Kim told the boys their schedule, their tee times, and oh, almost forgot: The moms will be your caddies.

“It was kind of just thrown into the conversation,” Michael said.

“We never really had much of an option,” added Lansdon. “Either they caddied for us, or we had to pay for caddies. And we really don’t have any money, so ...”

He shrugged, accepting his fate. Deep down, both boys know their moms have been a terrific fit, helping to lighten up what can be a fairly intense week. Michael finds it refreshing that his mother doesn’t know too much about the game. He’ll stand in the fairways, computing yardages and numbers for what seems forever, and she’ll suddenly say to him, “Let’s just hit this shot.”

“And it strikes me,” Michael said, “that yeah, I should probably just do that.”

Lansdon finds it funny that as soon as he hits shots, his mom usually makes the first call with the ball in the air. Very often she says the exact opposite of what Lansdon is thinking. On the final hole at the Hills Course on Sunday, Lansdon lofted his approach to the steeply uphill green directly at the flagstick. 

“She said, ‘Sit!,’ and I yelled, ‘Go!’ ” Lansdon said. The shot came up 3 feet short, diving into a deep bunker. “So I have about four shots today that I can blame on my mom. For whatever reason, I guess my ball listens to her, and not me.”

Lansdon and Michael finished runner-up as a team at the Carolinas Four-Ball last year, and they mesh well together. They trust each other. As well as they’ve performed when playing in the best-ball format, they believe they’ve really both been on, all cylinders firing, once for 18 holes. That came when they opened the Carolinas Four-Ball by shooting 61. Michael shot 67 on his own ball, “and got smacked.” Lansdon shot 63 that day.

They’re young, but two high-school golfers (Frankie Capan and Shuai Ming Wong) captured the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball last May at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club’s Course No. 2, so it can be done. Lansdon said if he and Michael putt well, they can make a deep run. And if the duo wins its match on Monday, there’s a chance the moms might have to loop 36 holes the following day.

“I still don’t think they really know what they got themselves into,” Lansdon said.

Or maybe they do. 

Jeff Babineau is an award-winning Florida-based freelance writer.

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