When young Nick Sherwood qualified to play in the 2012 U.S. Open, he brought his dad, Bill, to be his caddie at the Olympic Club
by Rich Heins
As a sports photographer I’ve been witness to some pretty cool things. Back-to-back national championships at the College World Series with Oregon State University baseball; covering Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player on the Champions Tour; and photo shoots with Annika Sorenstam and Paula Creamer.
But one of the most fun times I’ve had covering an athlete has to be following Nick Sherwood and his caddie at the 2012 U.S. Open this past June. To see this young man, from my local country club and who will be a senior on the Oregon State University golf team, qualify for the Open is just spectacular. Having his dad, Bill Sherwood, on the bag during the championship was pretty outstanding too. I’ve known Bill for close to 15 years, but certainly not in his new role as “U.S. Open Caddie.”
On Tuesday, June 5th, Nick Sherwood earned his shot to play in the Open when he beat University of Oregon senior Daniel Miernicki in a sudden death playoff at the Sectional Qualifier held at Emerald Valley GC in Creswell, Ore.
Nick’s teammate at Oregon State, Jonnie Motomochi, carried the bag for Nick during the qualifier, although it would be Nick’s dad, Bill, who would loop for him at the Olympic Club in San Francisco.
I talked with Bill as he was leaving for San Francisco. Not sure how he was handling the pressure, I asked him if his feet had hit the floor yet. “I don’t know whether I need to get on a plane or just fly myself,” he said.
Then I asked him how he felt watching Nick during the playoff at the qualifier. “Oh, well, it was surreal,” he said. “You’ve got a four-footer to go to the Open and it was so overwhelming when it went in. Everybody had tears in their eyes. I must have forgotten to take my allergy pill. It was pure joy on (Nick’s) face. It was joy on our faces, too. It was pretty great.”
After closing the deal in Creswell, The Golf Channel was the first to talk to Nick. I have to wonder what it’s like to see your kid being interviewed on TV after the biggest media outlet to talk to him prior to this was a local newspaper.
“It’s awesome,” said Bill. “I can’t say I expected it, but I’m not surprised. He’s young and has a lot of confidence and he feels like he deserves to be there, so I’m just going to carry his bag and believe right behind him.”
Bill had a great career playing basketball with Gary Payton at Oregon State. So, from basketball at Oregon State to being a caddie in the U.S. Open – is this his own Cinderella story?
“Well, I think it’s bigger,” said Bill. “I mean it’s like playing a pick-up basketball game on a Saturday and playing really good and then getting to play in a Heat-Celtic playoff game. I mean that’s what it’s like, right? Golf is the only sport in the world that allows amateurs to do this.”
I arrived at the Olympic Club on Monday of championship week and saw a smiling Bill Sherwood on the putting green and asked him how things started out. “Getting out of the car, we said to each other, ‘We’re going to leave our clubs in the car, we’re just going to walk around and we’re going to figure it out.’ In an hour and a half we’re on the first tee. ‘This is not what we said we’re doing,’ I said to Nick, and he says, ‘Yeah, but we’re excited.’ So we went and played eight holes and tried to get the adrenalin out.”
Nick had practice rounds with Rickie Fowler and Vijay Singh. He seemed pretty calm but the nerves had to have been a factor for someone who’s only seen amateur events.
“Playing with Rickie, my coach (Jon Reehoorn) asked if I was nervous,” said Nick. “I said no, I just can’t feel my body.”
The first day of the Open brought huge crowds and great weather. Traversing all the hills of the Olympic Club course can be exhausting. Our course, Spring Hill Country Club back in Albany, Ore., is much flatter than this and, like Casey Martin, I tend to drive a cart. I was curious how the course and the day went for Team Sherwood.
“We’d like to finish in the top 60,” said Bill. “We talked this morning and thought three or four over par was kind of our goal. Did you see the lie in the rough on 16? I walked up and the flag was on it, and I couldn’t see the ball. You couldn’t see it! That was tough. Six yards off the fairway, pushed it just a little bit. We were 1-under after four, then the double bogey on five and bogey on six. Played one beautifully today.”
Nick had crushed his drive on the first hole and birdied it. The very first hole of his very first major. My camera was almost shaking after the putt went in.
“My drive went out there about 360, 365, so I had a little 8-iron into a 520-yard par-4, which was pretty sweet,” said Nick. “Then to stuff it in there to about 10 feet and knock in a birdie putt was a sweet way to start off my first major.”
Nick followed his birdie on one with three straight pars. The first six holes of this course are definitely the toughest so it looked like he had a handle on his nerves and the course. On number five he went a little sideways and ended up with a double-bogey.
“I tried to react the same, birdies and doubles,” said Bill. “They’re all going to happen, especially out here. So that was just a double. You’re going to get some of those here, and you’re hopefully going to get some birdies now and then.”
As the day progressed, a few more of those bogeys raised their ugly heads. And the birdies were nowhere to be found.
“We concentrated all week on process, which I tried to tell him ‘Once you’ve got that target you’ve got to swing smooth, get those hips through and pose for mom, hold that finish,’ said Bill. “You know any time you miss a three-footer and 5,000 people go ‘aaaahhh.'”
In the second round, Nick had a tough day and was 11 over for the day after 16. On his 17th hole, he had to be pleased to find the green in two and drop in his first and only birdie of the day. A total of two birdies over the two rounds. And you know you have to make more birdies than that. And less bogeys.
“I was just so happy for him,” said Bill. “He’s a tough competitor so I know he wasn’t happy about not making the cut, but over the last six holes when we were kind of by ourselves a little bit, I said ‘Let’s stick around and finish strong. Let’s just enjoy this moment.’ I think he was able to do that. He knows this was special.”
I had a feeling that the end of the round would somehow be the best part for me as a photographer. Sounds strange, but it rang true.
“That was a great moment,” said Bill. “It was emotional. I just kind of hugged him and looked away. He just said ‘Thanks’ and ‘It was a blast.’ And I said ‘Thanks for having me; there are better caddies for sure.'”
But I think this was the perfect match. Especially for his first time at this level. Bill did too. To have somebody that he trusted and loved. Someone to tell him to keep his head up, and “I love you no matter what.”
Which is exactly what Bill told his son.
Rich Heins is a freelance photographer from Albany, Ore. He has covered many tournaments on the LPGA Tour, PGA Tour and Champions Tour. He is also an avid golfer and owner of Heins Marketing. You can view his photography at www.richheins.com.