A Caddie’s Tale: Jeff Cushanick Looks Back at 30 Years at “The Riv”
“I told Tiger we had something in The common, we both started our careers at the Riv in 1992.”
Yep, Jeff Cushanick, Tiger Woods, Riviera Country Club, Los Angeles Open … first time in the field for each of them. You were thinking the line came from 1992 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Mark Carnevale?
If you’re confused, it’s cool. Cushanick is a caddie, an amateur caddie, at that. A now-retired defense/aerospace guy who for 30 years volunteered as a pro-am caddie in what today we know as the Genesis Invitational.
And this year he hung up his bib.
“Thirty years. Hard to believe,” Cushanick shares, now 64. “I never dreamt I’d do it for 30 years, but I did. The first doesn’t seem all that far away, really. Is it bittersweet? No. I had my time, I loved it, and I’m fine it’s concluded. I’m also to the point where I wouldn’t want to be out there and my back goes out or my feet quit on me. If you’re carrying for someone you gotta finish the round.”
His caddie saga started back when he worked at Edwards Air Force Base as a civilian contractor. In the late 1980s, a few officers had volunteered at the L.A. Open, and that effort morphed into Edwards employees and military personnel looping during the pro-am. Cushanick started his “hitch” in 1992, and over time he came to oversee a cadre of several dozen volunteers dubbed, logically, the “Edwards Caddies.”
The cast of notables he’s assisted, the A-List pros paired with them, is impressive: Caitlyn Jenner, Bobby Flay and Mark Wahlberg; Tiger, Sergio and Rahmbo — to drop a handful of names. As for anecdotes, in the Pro-Am one year, noted bon vivant Jerry Kelly rifled a shot at his partner’s driver, which was leaning on the port-a-let in which said amateur was seeking relief from, umm, casual water. Kelly nailed the driver and unbeknownst until the player hit his next drive, the pro had busted the shaft under the grip.
Perhaps more fitting for star-addled/fame-is-fleeting Los Angeles is the time … well, let’s let Cushanick tell the tale:
“I picked an amateur named Mike O’Keefe. We get down to the range and he says, ‘Jeff, you didn’t recognize me when you grabbed my bag at the clubhouse.’ I said, ‘Well, Mike, how would I know you?’ He says, ‘I’m Danny Noonan, from Caddyshack.’ I could not believe I randomly picked one of the most iconic golf-movie characters, and the crazy thing is no one else recognized him, either.”
Just another guy from the lumberyard.
An L.A. Story
The golf side of being Sancho Panza to an entertainer or a jock isn’t the tough part of the gig at Riviera. “It ain’t rocket science,” Cushanick says. “You shoulder a bag. The sprinklers have front/middle/back yardages, and the flags are always in the middle of the green. I didn’t read putts because we always have a Riviera caddie in the group and of course there’s a PGA Tour guy right there. The walk at Riviera is the challenge.”
TV, indeed, does not do the terrain justice.
Some Pro-Am participants turn up with a caddie in tow; a friend or relative who’d do anything to be on the ground at a place like Torrey or Riviera, a plus-one considering a Faustian bargain to get five hours inside the ropes with a singer or actor. And in days of old it was common to have local kids show up, shut up and keep up.
But as with so much in golf, all aspects of tournament week have been ratcheted up, professionalized. Sadly, if you’d like to follow in Cushanick’s footsteps and your bestie isn’t in the event, you can’t just call up the clubhouse at Riviera and say, “Hey, put me on the caddie roll.” (The PGA Tour volunteers list — ticket-takers, marshals, standard bearers — yes.)
That’s understandable. Pro-ams are bread-and-butter items for professional golf’s charitable activities, and admission isn’t cheap. If you’re handing over five, 15, 25 grand or whatever for you and/or the gang, you want the caddie in the game.
Riviera now uses a professional service to provide the bulk of the Genesis’ Pro-Am caddies, as Riviera CC Director of Golf, Todd Yoshitake, explains “Our tournament now has graduated to the point where the caddie company that we use, CaddieMaster, brings in all the caddies, professional caddies from their various [high-end resort and other] properties. The tour wants trained, professional caddies for Pro-Am participants.”
But there’s always a caveat: The gang from the base is grandfathered in.
“We keep room for the Edwards guys,” Yoshitake continues, “because they have been such a loyal group for years. Jeff and those Edwards guys are dependable. Rain or shine, and we’ve had some bad rain weeks here, they show up. I can always count on them.”
Cushanick — a Canyon Lake resident now who plays to an 11.8 — isn’t out of golf, even if he’s not picking up another’s bag this month. In Year 31, he’s “just” a golfer, still loyal to the Genesis, still helping how he and the “gang” can, but it’s his game now.
“I am like most golfers,” he shares, “who enjoy the challenge of the game, the wonderful outdoor settings, and the very important social aspects of playing all 19 holes.”
A beautiful day, outdoor fun, a good drink.
That sounds very L.A.