“If I did something well, I could always hear my dad above everybody else. When he whispers you have to duck.”
- Brad Faxon, Jr.
Brad Faxon Sr., father to one of the best putters who’s ever lived and a rather capable putter himself, is leaned over slightly, gripping one of his trusty flat blades, cutting stalks of asparagus out of the ground. It’s your typical, garden-variety dinner knife, but it works just fine.
“Everyone loves asparagus, don’t they?” says Brad Sr., 77, looking up from one of the several garden beds in his backyard.
It’s quite the late-May morning here in the coastal town of Westport, Mass., a cloudless 71 degrees at 11 o’clock, the weather finally having turned after a temperamental New England spring. A quintessential day for golf, or gardening.
A faded blue shag bag, weathered by years of salty air and short game practice, lies in the grass a few yards to his left. At least a dozen golf balls are scattered around it. Forty yards away, at the top of a modest incline, stands a large pine tree, one big enough to hide behind. Typically, that’s his target.
But today is for planting, not pitching. Walking among the garden beds, Brad Sr. stops behind a row of seedlings he put in the ground early this morning. There are about five or six of them, spaced equidistant from each other. He raises his left arm in front of his body, his fingers pointed forward as if to signal a first down.
“Look at how these are lined up,” he says, squinting with one eye. “Like a putt.”
From where he’s standing, it’s about eight steps through a sliding screen door into his house. Hanging on a back wall that frames the kitchen, there’s a black-and-white photo of Brad Sr., with his son, Brad Faxon Jr., taken during the final round of the 1983 U.S. Open at Oakmont. In the photo, Brad Sr., is leaned over slightly, standing directly behind his son, who is crouched down lining up a putt. It’s part of an article that ran on the front page of the Providence Journal sports section on Monday, June 21, 1983.
Underneath the picture, in large, bold type, the headline reads: “What a Father’s Day! They even beat Arnie.” Above the frame, tacked to the wall, is the rectangular green patch stitched with “FAXON” in gold lettering that Brad Sr. wore on the back of his caddie cover that day.
“Every time I go to see my dad, every single day I’m there, I see that picture of him caddying for me and I remember that day,” says Brad Jr., 54. “It’s one of the highlights of my golfing career.”
-Brad Faxon, Jr.
Late Friday at the 1983 U.S. Open, Faxon stood on the tee at Oakmont’s uphill par-4 18th, a dangerous driving hole with trouble on both sides, 2 over for the day, 8 over for the tournament. The sky was darkening, an ominous storm approaching. He had played himself somewhere near the cut line, but exactly how close he did not know. Still decades before digital scoreboards and 4G, the gallery surrounding 18 was also without much insight.
Despite a spring that came with high acclaim – most notably the 1983 Fred Haskins Award, the Heisman Trophy of college golf – the name “Brad Faxon” did not register with most golf fans.
Three weeks earlier, Faxon had won three of his four matches to lead the U.S. Walker Cup team to victory at Royal Liverpool. From England, he flew to Southern California to compete in 36-hole U.S. Open Sectional Qualifying at Pauma Valley Country Club. (He shot 73-67, including a final-nine 30.) Next, he ventured north to Fresno’s San Joaquin Country Club for the NCAA Championship, the final stop in a Furman University career that totaled 11 individual victories. (He finished one shot out of the playoff.) It was then on to Oakmont, an early practice round invitation from Gary Player, and, arguably at least, the toughest examination in golf.
At some point between Pauma Valley and Pittsburgh, Faxon learned that Furman teammate Jim Ireland Jr. also had plans to attend the U.S. Open, as an assistant to his father Jim Sr., a longtime FootJoy rep. “Next thing I know, Brad’s asking me to caddie for him,” says Ireland. “How many times do you get the chance to caddie in the U.S. Open?”
Faxon posted 6-over 77 in Round 1, but as he handed his putter to Ireland walking off the 18th green, there was a feeling of momentum. Following a bogey on 10 that dropped him to 7 over, Faxon played his final eight holes in 1 under, including a 40-footer for birdie on the par-4 11th. “I know I can play better than I did today,” he told a reporter from the Providence Journal (or “ProJo,” as the locals call it) after the round. “But I didn't think I played that badly, either."
“The golf course just played incredibly difficult, I mean, just incredibly difficult,” says Ireland, now 54. “In the first round Brad hit a drive on No. 9, it’s not two steps in the rough, you’ve got marshals out there, and after about two minutes we still can’t find it. I remember looking at Brad and feeling the panic set in.”
Meanwhile, there was Brad Sr., playing spy, ducking in and out of Oakmont’s pin oaks and flowering cherries – a longtime tradition that started during his son’s junior golf days in Rhode Island. (Mercifully for Brad Sr., Oakmont’s comprehensive tree removal project, restoring the course to its original links layout designed by Henry C. Fownes, didn’t begin until the early 1990s.) “That’s true,” says Brad Sr. “I watched from behind trees. He scared the death out of me, he really did.”
Not long after his son’s Titleist balata was finally rescued in the rough, Brad Sr. was forced to take refuge in a different place, still one constructed predominantly of lumber. “I had to go in the clubhouse and have a drink. I had two drinks,” he told the ProJo reporter. “It just gets to you too much.” He would be back out shortly, albeit still unprepared for the day’s anxious conclusion.
-Brad Faxon, Sr.
Aiming for the left center of the 18th fairway, Brad Jr. pulled his drive and watched it settle in the deep rough. A forecaddie marked the ball as it came to rest. He stood over his second shot, opened the face of his sand wedge, and swung hard. The ball barely went anywhere. He punched his third shot into the fairway, leaving about 130 yards from the hole and only one alternative. He went flag hunting, the ball landing 10 feet below the hole, but with a bit of backspin.
Faxon was left with a 25-footer for bogey, a 74 and two-day total of 151 – precisely where the cut line would fall. The ball rolled toward the hole, hit the cup and spun at least halfway around it before dropping in. The ensuing celebration by Brad Sr. & Co. was described in the ProJo as “an explosion.”
“There were still about 1,000 fans sitting in the stands around the green. Everyone seemed to wonder what was going on," the reporter wrote.
“If I did something well, whether I made a nice par or a birdie, I could always hear my dad above everybody else,” says Brad Jr. “He’s the loudest person in the world. When he whispers you have to duck.”
- Brad Faxon, Jr.
It felt like all the steel in Pittsburgh had been lifted from his shoulders, the second Brad Sr. realized his son had made the cut. Only two players who advanced to the weekend had shot first rounds higher than Faxon’s opening 77, while the likes of Crenshaw, Miller, Couples, Pavin and Zoeller were headed home. “I’m all right now,” he told the ProJo. “I think I’ll make the next two days. Easy.”
For caddie Jim Ireland, however, Faxon’s bag felt a touch heavier, as if a wedge had been replaced with an I-beam. It was a tough spot, to be sure, by all odds the only caddie in U.S. Open history who had to skip out on Sunday because of Statistics – a summer session class Ireland needed to take in order to graduate on time. That was a fact his parents did not let him forget.
Faxon had missed the cut in his previous two U.S. Opens, and it just never occurred to Ireland that there’d be weekend work. (Ireland recalls he and his Furman teammates recognizing Faxon as a great player, but admits their constant proximity may have dulled the reality.)
“I felt terrible. I’m his buddy and I’m bailing on him, not knowing really what he was going to do,” says Ireland. Neither Ireland or Faxon can recall exactly when Ireland’s itinerary was brought to light. “But, knowing myself, I probably waited as long as I could to tell him. I probably didn’t tell him until after the round on Saturday.”
No one can pinpoint when Brad Jr. asked his father to caddie, either, or when they realized that Sunday was also Father’s Day. “But I definitely remember him being nervous,” says Faxon. “I was a little nervous, too.”
- Brad Faxon, Sr.
For the record, Brad Sr. had caddied in a major before. When he was 17, and the PGA Championship came to Blue Hills Golf & Country Club in Canton, Mass., Brad Sr. drove over and got on a bag. While the rest of the details, now 60 years old, are fuzzy, it’s an important detail in remembering that caddying is as much a Faxon family pastime as playing.
In the 1920s, Raymond Faxon – father of Brad Sr., grandfather of Brad Jr. – worked summers as a caddie at Hyannisport Golf Club on Cape Cod. Ray, who passed away in 2007 at the age of 99, later ran caddie camps at a few other Cape courses, including the Coonamessett Club (now Cape Cod Country Club), a track he would later lease and control for over a decade. “That’s where I learned how to caddie, how to play golf, how to pick up Coke bottles, how to fix clubs,” says Brad Sr., “how to do everything in golf.”
It was in the late 1960’s that Brad Sr. started bringing his son along with him to Rhode Island Country Club. “Brad loved it, absolutely loved it. Never had to ask him to go. And, in college, he just wanted to come home and caddie, make some money, and practice. That’s all he did,” he says.
Eventually, Brad Sr. and Brad Jr. would both win club championships at RICC, not to mention Metacomet Country Club, where Brad Sr. still belongs today. The titles came in reverse order, Brad Sr. winning first at RICC, Brad Jr. winning first at Metacomet. A large wooden plaque with gold lettering, listing Metacomet’s club champions since the 1930s – including BRAD FAXON Jr. (1979) and BRAD FAXON Sr. (1983) – now hangs inside Brad Sr.’s house. He won it recently at a club auction.
“I probably paid too much for this, but had to have it,” he says.
Three minutes into ABC’s Sunday telecast of the 1983 U.S. Open, a 53-year-old Arnold Palmer is seen walking up the 18th fairway to a standing ovation from his home crowd, a commemoration of what would be his final Sunday at a U.S. Open. The broadcast then cuts to a young man in a white polo shirt and khaki pants, hitting driver, with an introduction from legendary announcer Jim McKay: Now this is Brad Faxon. He finished just a couple minutes ago and will be the low amateur in this year’s U.S. Open Championship.
With dad on the bag, Faxon closed in 76 for a 302 total – one better than Palmer and two clear of John Sherman, the only other amateur to make the cut.
It’s a day that both father and son recall with pride, but recount with banter.
On the 15th tee Sunday, Faxon and playing partner D.A. Weibring wasted no time hitting their tee shots, having just been warned for being out of position. Brad Jr. hustled down the fairway, realizing about 200 yards later that his father wasn’t in tow. The 15th tee at Oakmont is immediately to the left of the landing area on 18. Brad Sr. was still standing there, bag on his back, watching Palmer hit his second shot into 18.
“I’m yelling at him, ‘Come on, we’re out of position’ and he comes running up as fast as he could,” says Brad Jr. “I said, ‘I can't believe that you did that,’ and he goes, ‘I’ve never been this close to Arnold before. There was no way I was gonna miss that chance.’ ”
“Oh he was pissed,” says Brad Sr., chuckling.
It’s clear now that Brad Sr., who wore a simple beige t-shirt shirt and jeans under his caddie cover that day, was just enjoying the ride.
Early in the round, Brad Jr. asked his father if he could help read a few putts. Brad Sr. told his son he didn’t need any help. “He’d been making them for three days,” he says. Yet there was Brad Sr. on the green at the par-3 13th, stone-faced underneath his white Ben Hogan-style cap, looking like a caddie who wanted nothing more than to uncover the blueprint of this 12-footer for birdie.
Truth is, he was lining up for another shot. “I noticed a photographer standing there and knew something fishy was going on because it was Father’s Day. So I said ‘Hey, Brad, let me get in back of the putt, I think that guy’s going to take our picture. I wasn’t looking at the putt, believe me.”
Brad Jr. made the putt. The next day, they both made a bunch of newspapers around the country. In the ProJo’s sport section, the picture took up the majority of the front page, as it now takes up most of Brad Sr.’s kitchen wall.
“To be able to make the cut was a big deal. To be able to finish low amateur was a big deal," says Brad Jr. “Then having your father to share that experience with you on Father's Day? That was tremendous.”
Sitting outside his house, in a wooden red deck chair that could use a fresh coat of paint, Brad Sr. stares out at the ocean, his thoughts confined to that one Sunday in 1983. His smile as wide as the sky, he begins to nod.
“That was a good day,” he says.
- Brad Faxon, Sr.
It’s a few weeks before the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont, and Jim Ireland Jr., is sitting in his office in Southern California. He is reminded of his 54-hole loop there 33 years ago, though it is not something that needs reminding. He looks over at a picture frame that includes two photos of himself and Brad Jr., taken that week by golf photographer Joann Dost.
“It’s one of the pictures through the years that I’ve kept,” says Ireland, a golf industry veteran and father of three (including a son, Jack, who’s currently playing Division 1 golf at Cal State Fullerton). He flips the frame over. Attached to the back are a few newspaper clippings from that week in 1983, two of them briefly mentioning the caddie substitution, another announcing the start of Faxon’s pro career two weeks later at the Western Open.
“Now that I’m a dad, knowing the fact that Brad's father got to caddy for him on Father's Day, the last day of the U.S. Open and he finishes low am… I mean, how does it work out any better than that?”
- Eric Soderstrom, Manager of Communications