May 19, 2013

Author Q&A: Father and son explore new links

Don Snyder tells the story of learning to be a professional caddie for his son and the journey they took while chasing a dream.

By Ray Routhier rrouthier@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Don J. Snyder did not want to break a promise to his son.

The Maine author saw early on that his child, Jack, had a talent for golf. So much talent that Snyder decided to make him this pledge: If Jack ever got good enough to turn pro, Snyder would caddie for him.

That promise led Snyder, at 58, to travel to Scotland to learn to be a professional golf caddie at some of the most legendary golf courses in the world.

Being an author, Snyder decided to write about his experiences and his son's golf aspirations in his latest book, "Walking with Jack: A Father's Journey to Become His Son's Caddie" (Doubleday, $25.95). The book went on sale earlier this month.

Snyder, 62, lives in Scarborough. His other books include the memoirs "The Cliff Walk" and "Of Time and Memory," and the novels "Night Crossing" and "Fallen Angel." 

Q: How and why did you decide to promise to caddie for your son?

A: When Jack was 5 or 6 years old, we rented a home at Prouts Neck in the winter when no one is there. In the fall or spring, we'd sneak out on the golf course there to play.

The golf swing is a very interesting thing. Out of 100 people, 99 are trying to sweep the ball off the ground. There is usually just one who hits down on the back of the ball, to make it fly straight. And for some reason, Jack was able to do that from the first time he played.

Later, the golf pro at Prouts Neck met Jack and noticed the same thing. So I think I knew then that the game would take Jack as far as he was willing to go.

The winter of his senior year in high school, I took him to Scotland to inspire him, and we played Carnoustie. We played in a sleet storm, with 40-mile-an-hour winds, from the championship tees. He shot one over par. I knew he had come into his own.

I told him if he ever got good enough, I'd caddie for him. He went to the University of Toledo and made the team as a walk-on. So I headed over to Scotland to fulfill my end of the promise.

Q: How did you make the time to do it? How did you find caddie jobs?

A: I've been writing on my own for more than 25 years, so I had the time. I did have to earn as much money as I could. I also have three daughters, and two were in college. You can earn good money there as a caddie. If you do two loops a day for the whole season, you can make $25,000 to $30,000.

I had to earn my way in. I spent two full seasons there. I was worried about the physical part. I've been an athlete my whole life, but to prepare, I played two rounds of golf a day all winter (the first year in Scotland) with my golf bag filled with rocks, to get myself in shape.

I was worried about keeping up. When you're licensed to work at one of those courses, it's with the understanding that if you can't keep up, you have to resign. 

Q: While you were learning to caddie, was Jack getting closer to becoming a pro?

A: When I flew home from Scotland (in October 2008) I went to Charlotte (N.C.) to see him play his first big NCAA tournament. It was sleeting, so he was in his element.

He shot a round of under par, just one of three that day. So everything was looking great.

But later, his grades fell and he was dropped from the team. I was very disappointed in him. My father died (in 2010), and at the funeral I took one look at Jack and could tell he had given up on himself.

I decided that I would go back to Scotland to show him I hadn't given up.

When I got back (from Scotland), I turned on my phone for the first time in six months and had a message from Jack. He had passed his (test required to join a pro golf tour). He said he was thinking about turning pro and he asked, "Are you still up for it?" 

Q: So you went on a pro golf tour?

A: It was the Adams Golf Pro Tour, in Texas. We were there about four months, and there were 12 tournaments. We lived in one motel room, on a diet that would have killed most people.

It turned out to be a privilege, spending that time with him, chasing a dream.

Jack did well, he held his own. But he had made a pledge to himself that if he didn't win a tournament, he was going to get a job and settle into the real world.

You have to raise a lot of money to keep going on these tours, and he said to me, "If I don't win, I'm never going to ask anyone to put up money for me."

Q: Is that the end of your golfing odyssey then?

A: I talked with Jack on the phone a few days ago, and I was telling him about this amazing book I read by a PGA master teacher in Florida named Judy Alvarez who was helping wounded veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq play golf.

We talked about this for a while. The truth is, if Jack hadn't had the chance to play college golf, he might have become one of those wounded vets. And if I hadn't made the all-state football team in 1968, I probably would have had to go to Vietnam instead of college.

And Jack said, "Daddy, we should go back to The Old Course (in Scotland) one more time and take some of those soldiers with us."

So we are going to try for this in October. And Judy Alvarez is coming with us. We are reaching out to everyone we know in the world of golf to help us.

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

rrouthier@pressherald.com

 

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