SentryWorld Finds Right Guy to Lead Caddies for Week July 17, 2019 | Stevens Point, Wis. By David Shefter, USGA

SentryWorld has leaned on John Laehn's caddie experience for the upcoming U.S. Girls' Junior. (John Laehn)

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When SentryWorld needed someone to oversee the caddies for the 71st U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship, the search started and began with one person.

John Laehn (pronounced “lane”) was a natural fit, and not because his daughter, Katie Kreuser, is a teaching professional at SentryWorld and the championship’s general chair. Laehn, 68, a single-digit golfer who has shot his age numerous times and caddied for his daughter in junior and amateur competitions. Since retiring seven years ago and moving from Wausau, Wis., to the warmer climes of Aiken, S.C., Laehn began caddieing again to stay busy.

In USGA junior championships, parents and guardians are not permitted to caddie, requiring a competitor to use a sibling, friend, relative, swing coach or club caddie. Some players will even carry their own bag or push a cart.

Because SentryWorld, a daily-fee course, doesn’t have a regular caddie program, it needed to go outside its boundaries to find caddies. The hook for these individuals: one could wind up on the bag of a future star. Recent U.S. Girls’ Junior champions Inbee Park (2002), I.K. Kim (2005), Lexi Thompson (2008), Ariya Jutanugarn (2011) and Minjee Lee (2012) have all won on the LPGA Tour.

“The caddie component was bigger than what SentryWorld offers on a daily basis,” said Laehn. “I sat down with director of golf Danny Rainbow. He was familiar with who I was, and I became somewhat of a match for this position.”

His first task: Finding enough able-bodied individuals who had at least had some familiarity with the game. Through a questionnaire, Laehn came up with an initial list of 100 potential candidates. He was fortunate that 15-20 professional caddies from nearby Sand Valley Resort offered their services. The rest of the pool were golfers with little caddie experience.

To familiarize that group with the finer points of caddieing, Laehn held a pair of two-hour training sessions at SentryWorld, an hour of which was spent in a classroom going over things like where to stand, how to properly read a hole-location sheet and raking a bunker. He also emphasized knowing the Rules of Golf. The last hour was spent on the golf course, where the potential caddies could ask questions.

“I emphasized not to over-coach [the player],” said Laehn, who is holding an additional on-course session on Thursday for those who have caddie experience but don’t know much about SentryWorld. “Don’t take everything you see on TV [from professional tour caddies]. I showed them how to handle the flagstick. Don’t swing it over your shoulder where you can hit someone with it.”

Through online registration forms, Laehn was told by the USGA that 65 players had requested a caddie, but a few more might be needed. Currently, he has 75-80, so any extras will be reserves and/or assist Laehn with caddie bibs and other services. A lottery was held two weeks prior to the competition to pair up the player with their caddie. Once the assignments were made, Laehn, who landed 2017 semifinalist Taylor Roberts, reinforced the importance of using the two official practice rounds to familiarize themselves with their players.

“I want to provide a top-notch service,” said Laehn. “I want them to realize that the caddie is going to contribute to the memory that all these girls are going to have from playing in this event. I have emphasized that. It’s not just a walk in the park.”

Jim Larsen (left) caddied for 2016 USA Curtis Cup competitor Bethany Wu in the 2016 U.S. Women's Amateur, reaching the Round of 32. (Jim Larsen)

One caddie who won’t need any training is Jim Larsen. The 57-year-old Idaho native will be working his 10th U.S. Girls’ Junior and, by his count, “15th or 16th [overall] USGA championship.” Fourteen years ago, Larsen, a recently retired traffic engineer for the city of Boise, Idaho, answered a newspaper ad seeking caddies for the U.S. Girls’ Junior being held at BanBury Golf Course, a public venue in Eagle he had played numerous times.

He wound up carrying for Nicole Schachner, of Libertyville, Ill., and although she missed the cut, Larsen had a wonderful experience. The next year, he caddied in the U.S. Women’s Amateur at Pumpkin Ridge outside of Portland, Ore., and a hobby was spawned. Since then, he’s branched out to work Symetra and LPGA Tour events. In fact, Schachner’s brother, Michael, called him to caddie when he qualified for the Web.com Tour’s Boise Open.

Several times, Larsen has stepped in to inform – correctly – his player of an alignment issue prior to stroking a putt.

His best result? Three years ago, he helped 2016 USA Curtis Cup competitor Bethany Wu reach the Round of 32 in the U.S. Women’s Amateur at Rolling Green Golf Club outside of Philadelphia.

This year, he’s been assigned Bailey Davis, a 16-year-old from White Plains, Md., who won the Maryland high school 2A/3A state title as a freshman.

“I’m part of the round, I help with club selection and help reading the greens,” said Larsen of what he enjoys most about traveling long distances to serve as a caddie in USGA championships. “I have a civil engineering degree, so I like to figure out distances and slopes on the greens.”

To properly prepare for the competition, Larsen will walk the course once or twice the day before the first official practice round to familiarize himself with the surroundings. He’s also studied up on all the new Rules.

Physically, Larsen walks regularly around his neighborhood to stay in shape, and eschews a golf cart when he plays with his regular Friday group. Larsen has also been a volunteer walking scorer at the Boise Open for 22 years.

While there’s an obvious age disparity – Larsen could be the player’s father or even grandfather – he finds ways to relate. As a pet owner, he’ll ask if they have pets or find out what movies they’ve seen. Music or television interests likely won’t match. Larsen, however, prefers to remain initially silent, preferring to let the player initiate any conversation. He’s there to do a job, albeit one he thoroughly enjoys.

“I’m not in it for the money,” said Larsen of the small stipend he’ll receive from the player. “I don’t care if I get paid at all. This is fun.”

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.

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