Gary Player’s nephew has been on his famous uncle’s bag eight times at Augusta National. Each trip has created memories to last a lifetime, writes MICHAEL VLISMAS.
As a PGA of South Africa professional and a one-time Sunshine Tour campaigner, Bobby Verwey Jnr dreamed of going to The Masters as a competitor. It was a good dream. But he may never have come close to having the kind of experiences he had when he did eventually make it to The Masters – as Gary Player’s caddie.
The nephew of the Grand Slam champion has had the privilege of caddying for his famous uncle at The Masters on eight occasions, including Player’s emotional final appearance there. Verwey has also caddied for Player on three Honorary Starter’s occasions.
‘All my life I dreamed of playing at The Masters because my dad [Bobby Verwey] and uncle Gary played. I’d never been there. Then in 2002 Gary phoned me to ask if I would caddie for him at The Masters that year. I immediately said yes. I was doing martial arts at the time, and the famous karate instructor Stan Schmidt said to me, “Bobby, in this instance Gary is your sensei and you are the student. Learn everything from the man you can.” And I did. I just soaked up everything of the experience,’ says Verwey.
The Masters experience is different for all who attend it, from players to patrons, and media to officials. For Verwey, the caddie experience at the first Major of the year is unlike any other.
‘I never set out to be a caddie, and I still wouldn’t describe myself as one. I’m a PGA pro who has also been blessed to caddie at some incredible tournaments,’ says Verwey, who now works as the director of golf for the Moroccan Golf Federation and is the personal golf instructor to His Royal Highness Prince Moulay Rachid of Morocco.
‘Going to The Masters is already a special experience, but going there with Gary Player is just on a whole different level. The first thing you do is that drive up Magnolia Lane. Gary parks in the champions’ parking lot, which is right next to the clubhouse. So that’s the first really special experience you get, because he climbs out the car and there’s Tom Watson, or Jack Nicklaus or Tiger Woods waving hello to him.
‘As a caddie, you then go and get your credentials for the week. They hand you those at the caddie shack. The caddie shack is famous. In 2002 when I first caddied there it was still the old caddie shack, and you have these great caddies there just hanging around and telling stories. It’s one of the more special places to be at Augusta National during Masters week.
‘At the caddie shack they give you your locker for the week, your white caddie suit, your Masters cap, your caddie badge and a yardage book. I can tell you I’ve never had my own locker playing the Sunshine Tour, but I got one as a caddie at The Masters. And they immediately tell you that you’re not allowed to sell your caddie badge or cap. Other than that they don’t tell you too much, just the obvious. You never run anywhere at Augusta National. Observe all the rules and traditions. As a rookie caddie they call you a family member.
‘The caddie badge has a lot of privileges. You can go pretty much anywhere at Augusta National with that badge, except the clubhouse. But Gary would always get me clubhouse access too.’
Player is truly revered at The Masters, and Verwey has never taken this experience for granted.
‘The first practice round I ever caddied for Gary at The Masters we played with Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson. I mean, c’mon. I was in awe. And then you get the golf course. You just don’t truly understand that golf course if you’ve only watched it on TV. It looks flat on TV, but it’s far from that. The greens are so fast and tricky. It takes time to know how to read them. But the overall condition of the course blew me away that first time. While we were playing, Nicklaus called me over a few times and just told me the most incredible stories of his experiences on some of those holes.’
But perhaps nothing will ever beat Verwey’s experience of caddying for Player in his final Masters appearance in 2009.
‘On every single hole, when we stepped on to the tee box, there was a standing ovation for Gary. Every single hole. I had tears in my eyes the whole time. He holed a putt from the back of the 7th for birdie and the roar that went up was deafening. Then we came to the 18th and he had 240 yards up the hill, and he hit driver off the deck to the back of the green. Gary was just so inspired by the response of the people. Then he famously knelt and prayed in front of the green, giving thanks. It’s a moment I’ll never forget.’
There are countless other moments that stand out for Verwey, such as when Player gave Tiger Woods a bunker lesson in 2012 before the tournament. ‘It was typical Gary. He was in that bunker just holing shots and explaining it all to Woods. It really was amazing to get that close to watching so many great players.’
1st tee and there are thousands of people there before the sun has even come up. Even Phil Mickelson is there wearing his Green Jacket. And I end up having a photograph of myself with The Big Three – the three legends of the game. I kept on pinching myself that week. I even had breakfast with Gary and Arnold Palmer that morning. It was incredible.’
Verwey also remembers the nights he’d drive Player to the Champions Dinner and back home, and then they’d be up at 5am the next morning in the gym. ‘The crazy thing is, we’d get there at 5am for Gary to do his gym and Tiger Woods would be leaving. He’d been there since 4am. That’s how dedicated Woods was.’
There was also the time in 2011 when Verwey was almost arrested for attempted to drive up Magnolia Lane in Player’s courtesy car and with his player’s badge. But all for a very good reason.
‘You know about that note Charl Scwhartzel got from Gary Player in his locker before the final round? Well, let me tell you how that happened. On the Saturday afternoon, Gary had to go off and do an interview at a nearby golf course with a German television crew. He had this note for Charl, so he gave it to me and said, “Bobby, take my car and badge and go and put this note in Charl’s locker.”
‘I said, ‘Uncle Gary, they’re never going to let me do that. The cops will stop me right at the gate”. But you know what Gary’s like. He just said, “Bobby, just get this done for me please.” So I said “OK.” As I try to drive into Magnolia Lane I’ve got six cops around me telling me to stop and get out of the car. I told them Gary Player has asked me to deliver this note to Charl Schwartzel, but they’re not buying any of it. They begin to search me and they ask again who I am. I tell them I’m Bobby Verwey Jnr. But then in my pocket they find accreditation for Theresa Player, Gary’s daughter, which I’d been holding. So now they’re even more suspicious. So they ask to see my identification. I show them my ID, and of course it says Frank Robert Verwey Jnr, my birth name after my father. So now they’re just not buying anything I say.
‘I was begging them not to arrest me and telling them I had to get this letter to Charl on behalf of Gary Player. I asked them if I could just phone somebody and they let me. So I phoned Debbie, Gary’s PA that week. In a panic I told her they’re going to arrest me if Gary doesn’t do something. So Gary finally arrives at the clubhouse and typical him, he gives the cops a stern talking to and they apologise and let me in. I dropped the letter in Charl’s locker and it was there for him before he teed off that final round and of course went on to win The Masters.’
To walk Augusta National Golf Club at The Masters is an immense privilege. To do so inside the ropes as a player is an honour. To be there alongside a legend of the game is a blessing.
And it’s a memory Verwey Jnr is grateful for every single day.
It’s traditionWhy do the caddies wear white boiler suits At The Masters? It used to be a widespread practice at Majors and at Tour events that the players didn’t use their own caddies. Instead the host golf clubs provided all the caddies for the players.
Until the 1983 Masters, all the caddies were provided by Augusta National. Players were not allowed to bring their own caddie.
When Masters Tournament Committee changed this policy, all visiting caddies were required to wear the traditional uniform of the club’s caddies – white overalls and a green cap.
The earliest caddies at Augusta National were poor black men drawn from the local community. The club had provided them with official uniforms to make them look smarter, and it became a tradition.
Another tradition is that the caddies have numbers on their overalls. The man carrying the bag of the defending champion always gets No 1. The other numbers are allocated in the order the caddies check in to register. All the caddies at The Masters also have the name of the player they are caddying for on the back of their overalls in green lettering.