USGA INSIDER HISTORY
An Extra-Special Father's Day for a Family of Oakmont Caddies June 19, 2016 | OAKMONT, Pa. By David Chmiel, USGA

Behind one of golf's most famous handshakes, Oakmont caddie Fred 'Topsy' Bugna was finishing off the greatest week of his life. (Courtesy USGA)

Fred “Topsy” Bugna had a good job at the Blaw-Knox Steel Co. in the Pittsburgh suburbs. He also had a wife and two boys, so he got another job, caddieing at Oakmont Country Club, to help support the family.

Blaw-Knox provided security and benefits, but Oakmont delivered cash and a chance to get out of the mill for a few hours, filling his lungs with fresh air and feeling the sun on his face instead of the heat of the blast furnace.

It also provided the opportunity of a lifetime

“My dad was a part-time guy, a weekend caddie because he was still working steel,” said Bugna’s elder son, also named Fred. “In those days, clubs supplied the caddies for the pros so everyone wanted the top guys. Jack [Nicklaus] was just a rookie in 1962, so nobody wanted him for the Open. Dad thought it would be a great opportunity to caddie in the U.S. Open., so he said, ‘I will take him.’ They wound up winning in a playoff.’”

Bugna's sons, Fred and Bob, are 62 and 60. They have seen too much to engage in hyperbole. Most people would call it the playoff, the day the Kid conquered the King, when Arnie’s Army couldn’t help avoid the changing of the guard in Palmer’s back yard.

Topsy earned $2,000 from Nicklaus for his week’s work. Fred said his father also earned a job offer from Charlie Nicklaus to team up with his son permanently on the PGA Tour.

“He had a good job and wasn’t going to leave it,” said Fred. “He regretted not doing it over the years but he was a family man and had to do the right thing.”

Topsy’s moment in the sun continued that summer, when he was invited to appear on “Who In the World?” a game show about people who made news around the U.S.

“He and Jack Garbo, who caddied for Arnie Palmer, were supposed to go to California to do the show,” said Fred. “Jack didn’t go but Dad did. When it aired, on a Sunday night, it felt like the whole town of Verona, where we grew up, was in our house.”

Before long, Topsy was back at Blaw-Knox. He stayed at Oakmont for a few years but always felt the pull of that special week in 1962. He caddied for Bob Rosburg in the 1965 PGA Championship at Laurel Valley Country Club, but Rosburg shot 78-79 and missed the cut. On the eve of the 1973 U.S. Open, Topsy was back in the news, speaking fondly and loyally of Nicklaus in a Pittsburgh Press preview story. "He knows me, he always talks to me when he sees me," said Topsy. "And you can print this… he'll win it this year."

Johnny Miller may have won in 1973, but Topsy Bugna’s win in ’62 set up what has become a legacy business at Oakmont. Fred, known as “Boogs,” first caddied at Green Oaks Country Club in Verona when he was 12. That was 1966. By 1979, Bob began carrying bags at Oakmont, the same year Bob Ford embarked on his legendary career as the club’s head golf professional. For years, he has worked from 10:30 p.m. to 7 a.m. at Smithfield Foods before heading over to Oakmont to pick up a loop.

“It’s 35 degrees where I work at night,” said Bob, whom Ford years earlier nicknamed “Tipsy.” “When my shift is over, I come to Oakmont to walk the course with our members and guests and warm up. Honestly, I didn’t think I was going to like it when I first started, but then it turned into a bad habit,” he says with a hearty laugh.

Fred joined his brother as an Oakmont caddie in 1989. Like Bob and their father, he’s worked a variety of jobs, but has a special affection for the storied club.

 “It is a great place,” said Fred. “The members are great, they treat their people well and we are loyal. It’s always been a great job and now that I am retired [he was most recently a driver for a rehab center], it’s even better. Now I am here at least five days a week.”

Fred Bugna, Damon Bugna and Bob Bugna (left to right) have a combined 94 years of caddieing experience at Oakmont. (USGA/David Chmiel)

Fred’s enthusiasm rubbed off on his son, Damon, who was 14 when he first accompanied his dad to Oakmont in 1989.

“My first day, they gave me Bob Ford’s bag,” said Damon. “I must have done OK. I hated golf when I started, but it was a good way to make money and my dad told me to do it. Now, I love the game and this is my fulltime job. I was young when my grandpa died [in 1983, at the age of 69, a few years after retiring as a steelworker], so I didn’t learn about his week at the U.S. Open from him. But I have his old badge… it was number 15. It is a piece of history that I am proud to have.”

For the Bugnas, every day is take your kid – and their kid – to work day. Fred’s daughter, Katie, is a fulltime server at Oakmont and during this U.S. Open is working long days in the hospitality tents. And there is a fourth generation of Bugnas in the Oakmont caddie yard; Bob’s 15-year-old grandson, Seth Norcutt, is in his first season on the bag.

“He gets a little nervous,” said Bob, “but he is getting better every day.”

The caddies are enjoying the chance to walk the course without golf bags on their shoulders and catch up with the members they work for to celebrate Oakmont’s peerless U.S. Open history.

“I am watching these guys play and it’s so cool,” said Bob as the trio peek into the caddie barn to see how it’s been transformed in a space for the USGA’s equipment rules and conformance office. Their eyes gravitate immediately to the action on the 2nd hole, where Fred and Damon critique the play.

“He is dead,” the laconic Damon said after a player hits into a tough spot.

“Wrong read,” said Fred. “That putt goes the other way.”

“They know it all,” said Fred with a gruff smirk, and the room transforms back into a caddie yard.

“But we do know these shots. We know the breaks on the greens. Hell, we know them after all these years.”

So, as Father’s Day dawns, Fred and Damon are going to walk the course to check out the action. Father and son, caddie and caddie, studying Oakmont’s effect on the world’s best players and imagining what Topsy was going through on Jack Nicklaus’ bag.

“That week in 1962 was the highlight of my Dad’s life, for real,” said Fred. “He told me a couple times, ‘I could have been Angelo [Argea, Nicklaus’s longtime caddie, who started with him in 1963].’ I am just glad he had this special moment.”

But before play ends, father and son will head home to watch the rest of the coverage on TV.

“I was watching the interviews on Thursday,” said Fred. “They were talking to Bryson DeChambeau. Right behind him is the famous photo of Jack and Arnold shaking hands when the playoff was over. And there in the photo is my dad putting the flagstick back into the hole on 18. It is pretty special to see that, even if people don’t know who that caddie is. But we do.”

Then the Bugnas will go back to work, because that is what they do.

“Of course we will,” said Damon. “We have the best office in the world.”

David Chmiel is manager of member content for the USGA. Contact him at dchmiel@usga.org