For 206 days Mark Johnson tweeted asking to carry his hero's bag. The Spaniard finally said 'yes' and this is what happened at the British Masters...
I would like to clarify that I'm not some kind of super fan or celebrity stalker, nor was it ever my intention to get my five minutes of fame. Although my Twitter crusade has landed me interviews with the BBC and Sky Sports, it was never about getting my name in the paper or my face on TV. All I wanted to do was turn my dream into a reality.
It all started when I was having Sunday lunch with my family last year and we were taking it in turns to pick something we'd love to do, but had no chance of doing. I said I wanted to caddie for a top golfer, somebody like Sergio Garcia who I've always idolised. Everyone started laughing and thought the chances of me doing so were ridiculous, and I think their reaction spurred me on to accept it as a personal challenge.
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I remembered seeing someone messaging Gary Barlow every day on Twitter, trying to get him to sing at a friend's wedding. That was my inspiration behind messaging Sergio; the only problem was I didn't really know how Twitter worked. I finally managed to send him a tweet, but then I thought one message alone isn't going to cut it.
So, I sent him another tweet the next day with the hashtags #Letmecaddieforyou and #Day2. After I did that, I knew I had to keep it going and what started with a one-off message turned into a 206- day campaign. There was only one day when I didn't tweet him, and that was when I went away for my 40th birthday.
And the only reason I didn't was because I had no wifi. The hardest part was not knowing whether he was reading the tweets. Eventually, he started liking a few and that gave me the motivation to keep going. Even so, I'll admit I nearly gave up – it did take 206 days after all – but eventually he relented and said I could caddie for him during the British Masters Pro-Am. When he messaged, I was in the bathroom cleaning my teeth before work and ended up jumping around with my toothbrush at 5.30 in the morning.
For the next week, my phone was going nuts and I was getting calls in the middle of the night from journalists. The Washington Post and New York Times contacted me, but the most surreal thing was seeing my appear name on the ticker tape on Sky Sports. That all happened back in January, so I had more than six months to mull everything over. In the months leading up to it, I went to play the course at Close House but didn't actually hear anything from Sergio or his people.
That was slightly disconcerting as I was unsure whether it was going ahead. It didn't help that my mates were taking the mickey out of me, saying I was going to turn up on the day and get turned away at the door! A week before, I sent Sergio's management company an email, explaining the version of events (which I admit probably sounded ridiculous), and they emailed straight back telling me that everything was all sorted, just turn up on the day.
I ended up travelling to Newcastle with my wife, two kids and parents the night before, which is when I got a call from adidas asking me to collect a box of goodies from the TaylorMade tent in the morning. When I arrived, there was a note attached which read:
Carrying my bag is no easy task. Here's some gear to help you get ready!
Inside, there was a jumper, polo shirt and a pair of shorts. That was a nice touch, especially as adidas had already sent me a pair of shoes, trousers, belt, hat and top earlier in the year. They've certainly been incredibly generous, but caddieing for Sergio was never about getting freebies or selfies with celebrities like Alan Shearer in the hospitality tent.
The biggest gift was always going to be meeting him for the first time. Sergio's management team had asked me to be on the driving range for 8.30am, but my family and I found Sergio on the putting green five minutes before. There were a few autograph hunters clambering for his attention, and when he eventually looked up he instantly recognised me. He shook my hand, gave me a man hug and then asked whether I was ready for this.
Honestly, I wasn't really sure how you can prepare yourself to caddie for a Masters champion, especially when you've never done it before. One of my first duties was soaking a quarter of a towel in water so I could clean his clubs going around. That was easy enough, and then he got me lobbing golf balls at him – just like Tiger and Steve Williams used to do – so he could tee them up on the range.
It was only then, being in such close proximity, that I was able to appreciate how pure his ball-striking really is. If he wanted to shape a shot, there was only about a three-foot movement either way. I've never seen such a controlled ball flight in my life. Although he was trying get into the zone, he showed a lot of interest in my game and wanted to know my handicap and where I played.
The funniest bit was when he asked where I lived. I told him Peterborough, to which he replied: 'Is that near Manchester?' I ended up giving him a bit of a geography lesson as we got on a buggy and headed for the first tee. He got off to a birdie-birdie start and things seemed to be going well until I put his bag down on the third hole and it toppled over.
He looked over at my family, and shouted: 'He's got one more chance. If he drops it again, he's out.' In a strange way, that incident probably helped to settle my nerves. After that, it felt like I was walking around the course with one of my mates. We were just chatting away and laughing the whole time. Prior to the round, Sergio had joked to my kids that he hoped I was still going to be able to walk after 18 holes.
Apparently, I was carrying the lightest tour bag they've got (minus any waterproofs), but it certainly didn't feel like it. It only had one strap and it didn't help that the course was one of the hilliest I've ever experienced. Sure enough, I was feeling my back after we'd finished and it certainly made me realise what a difficult job a caddie has actually got. And not just from a physical standpoint. They've got to look after their player in so many different ways from lending strategic and psychological advice to supplying them with food and drink.
Sergio's usual bagman Glen Murray was absent for the week, so his brother Victor was the acting caddie and in charge of the yardage book.
As soon as we stepped foot on the greens, Victor was pacing around analysing where all the humps and bumps were and making notes on possible pin positions and where the best places to miss were. By the time we reached the 13th hole, I hadn't given Sergio any reads on the greens but I told him I wanted to get involved in this one.
He laughed and asked me what I thought. It was downhill, at least 25 foot and looked to be coming in two foot from the left. That's what I told him anyway, but he disagreed and said it was one foot from the left. I then walked away, reiterating what I said previously, and to my surprise he actually started the ball off on the line I suggested. Time seemed to stand still as the ball rolled towards the hole before dropping in. We celebrated with a fist bump and of course I took credit for it being my read.
He ended up shooting three-under-par, but he could have shot 80 and it wouldn't have taken the gloss of an unbelievable experience.
What really stood out was how Sergio came across as just a normal bloke. He wasn't arrogant at all and gave my two boys a couple of high fives which was really nice. After the round, he posed for a few pictures with my family and gave me and my son a signed golf ball. I returned the favour by handing him a Peterborough United football shirt which had Garcia and the number one printed on the back. I'd like to think it's now taking pride of place in his home alongside the Masters trophy!
I saw Angela, Sergio's wife, the day after the pro-am and she told me that he thought I was excellent. That meant a lot, especially coming from someone I've idolised throughout my adult life. I can now say I've caddied for the Masters champion and had a really good laugh doing it. I just hope he considers me again if he ever needs a caddie at the last minute. That read on 13 must have boosted my chances!
What Sergio said before...
"I noticed him the first time from the first Tweet he posted at me. I thought it was quite funny and it was very sincere, and obviously I was wondering how long it was going to keep going. Angela and I, we kind of talked about it, and I said how long should we make him wait? We decided that probably 200 days; if he held on for 200 days, it would probably make the cut. So I think that he showed a lot of perseverance and a lot of strength and energy throughout it."
What Sergio said after...
"He's done well. I didn't know how he'd get on because it's a tough course, especially with the hills and carrying a bag. But he held on well. It's been really good fun. He gave me a great read on the 13th hole, so he's been very impressive"