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Posted April 1, 2011, 12:00 am
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Caddie for the ages

  • Article Photos
    Caddie for the ages
    Photos description
    Carl Jackson, who will caddie in his 50th Masters, has carried Ben Crenshaw's bag since 1976.
  • Article Photos
    Caddie for the ages
    Photos description
    Jackson, who will be caddying in his 50th Masters in 2011, is the caddiemaster at the Alotian Club near Little Rock, Ark.
  • Article Photos
    Caddie for the ages
    Photos description
    Jackson has missed one Masters since 1961. He couldn't caddie in 2000 after colon cancer surgery.
  • Article Photos
    Caddie for the ages
    Photos description
    Ben Crenshaw hits out of the crowd as Carl Jackson looks on.
  • Article Photos
    Caddie for the ages
    Photos description
    Ben Crenshaw's caddie Carl Jackson signs autographs for patrons just before a practice round at the Augusta National Golf Club in 2010.
  • Article Photos
    Caddie for the ages
    Photos description
    Jackson has caddied for 11 other Masters competitors, including Gary Player at the 1970 event.

Out of curiosity, Carl Jackson liked to take the short walk from his home on Mount Auburn Street in Augusta down to where Weed Street ends.

There, he'd peer through a chain-link fence into another world, where golfers were playing Augusta Country Club's sixth hole.

"Then one day I followed someone to the golf course," Jackson said as he looked through the fence again on a recent visit to his old Sand Hills neighborhood.

Jackson was 11 the day he started his caddie career. Now, 53 years later, Jackson is on the verge of a milestone: This week he'll caddie in his 50th Masters Tournament.

Two years after starting at Augusta Country Club, Jackson was walking down nearby Gardner Street when Augusta National Golf Club caddiemaster Freddie Bennett stopped and asked whether he wanted to caddie at the home of the Masters.

"I was standing right here (on Gardner Street)," said Jackson, who jumped at the opportunity to caddie at the "Big Course," part of which borders Augusta Country Club.

Jackson would caddie in the 1961 Masters the next year -- at age 14 -- on his way to becoming the most recognizable Augusta National caddie in the club's history.

Jackson, who will be working his 35th Masters as Ben Crenshaw's caddie this week, has owned the record since 1995 for most Masters caddied. The late Willie Peterson, who spent 25 years as Jack Nicklaus' caddie (1959-83), is second with 34, according to research by Golf Digest 's Ron Whitten.

Among caddies in this year's Masters, Mike Cowan -- who has worked for Peter Jacobsen, Tiger Woods and now Jim Furyk -- is second to Jackson with 27 trips over Augusta National.

For the past 10 years, Jackson has been intent on reaching 50 Masters as a caddie.

"Fifty is a nice number," said Jackson, who plans to continue caddying in the Masters as long as Crenshaw, 59, wants to play.

Working 50 Masters "is one of the most remarkable things I've ever heard of," said Augusta National member Warren Stephens, the son of former Masters Chairman Jack Stephens, who died in 2005.

"Fifty years as a caddie. ..." said Stephens, who is Jackson's boss at the exclusive Alotian Club in Roland, Ark. "It will never happen again. Nobody is going to start at 14, and nobody's going to do it until they're 64."

Dan Snider, the chief operating officer at the Alotian, said the milestone "is hard to fathom. It's hard to get my hands around it that somebody could do something like that for 50 years. If you knew Carl, it's kind of about completing the mission. He started something and he wants to finish it. From that standpoint, it doesn't surprise me."

Said Crenshaw: "It's a testament to him; it's the will in his mind. He wants to keep doing it. It's something he wants to achieve in his mind."

"It's something different that's going to happen," Jackson said. "A lot of people are amazed one way or another. They say, 'Man, you're a legend.' I'm not a legend. I'm just old. That's all."

It is the passage of time Jackson will be reflecting on when he walks down the first fairway in the opening round Thursday.

Jackson said he'll be thinking of that proud band of black men known as Augusta National caddies ("the old boys," he calls them) with whom he worked the tournament from 1961 until 1983, when the ban on outside caddies was lifted. After that, because of his bond with Crenshaw, Jackson was soon one of just a handful of Augusta National caddies still working the tournament.

Many of the famous caddies, such as Willie "Pappy" Stokes, Nathaniel "Ironman" Avery and Willie "Cemetery" Perteet, are dead. Stokes, who caddied for five Masters winners, was a mentor to Jackson.

"I'll be thinking of some of the things they told me" about the course, Jackson said.

'We were just poor'

One of nine children from a single-parent home in the Sand Hills district, Jackson needed the money he earned caddying to help support his mother and family.

"We were just poor," Jackson said. "At Augusta Country Club, I would go after school and shag balls when the weather was good. I made 75 cents up to $1.25 for a shag bag. If I got two shag bags, that bought us dinner at Lobo's," a grocery store near Jackson's home.

By the 1961 Masters, Jackson had been at Augusta National for 11 months and was an up-and-coming caddie.

"I had instincts for the game," Jackson said during an interview at the Alotian Club, where he has been the caddiemaster since it opened in late 2004. "I could go out there and pull clubs just like the old guys did. They would always say, 'Hey, that little bull can caddie better than most of y'all around here.' "

Nicknamed "Skillet" by his fellow caddies, Jackson carried his first Masters bag for Billy Burke in 1961 as a 14-year-old.

Burke shot 81-79 and missed the cut, but Jackson earned "$350 or something" for the week, he said.

"It was more money than I'd ever seen in my life," he said.

Since then, Jackson has missed just one Masters. That came in 2000, when he was recovering from reconstructive surgery and undergoing nearly a year's worth of chemotherapy for colon cancer.

A friend at the course

If it wasn't for Augusta National member Jack Stephens, Jackson's career as a caddie at the club would have been short-lived. By the fall of 1960, Jackson had quit school and was working full time at Augusta National.

He was interested in school and made good grades when he did attend eighth grade -- about half of the time because of his caddying -- but a dress code was instituted before the ninth grade. Jackson was so poor that he couldn't afford the proper clothes and quit school after one day of class that year.

Stephens liked his work and started using Jackson as his regular caddie. But there was a problem: Jackson was underage and not in school. Chairman and club co-founder Clifford Roberts and President Eisenhower, who was a member, told Stephens that Jackson couldn't continue to caddie at Augusta National because he wasn't in school.

Jackson got to stay when Stephens assured Roberts and Eisenhower that Jackson would get his GED, which he did. At age 17, Jackson passed the last test and graduated before his class.

"Mr. Stephens had a special way to solve a problem," Jackson said.

Jackson continued to be Stephens' personal caddie when he made trips to Augusta National from his home in Little Rock, Ark. In 1973, Jackson moved to Little Rock to work for Stephens, helping him manage properties and other duties. He worked with Stephens there until 1990, when he started caddying on the PGA Tour.

"He obviously saw something special in Carl," Warren Stephens said. "Something made Dad think, 'This guy can be more than a caddie.' Obviously, he was right."

Jackson would accompany Stephens when he made trips to Augusta National and caddie for him. In the mid-1970s, Jackson said, one of the Augusta National co-head pros approached Stephens during one of those trips.

"He said, 'Mr. Stephens, the policies have changed around here and Carl is not a full-time caddie, so we're going to have to let one of our regular boys caddie for you," Jackson recalled.

"Mr. Stephens went into his pocket and pulled out a couple of hundred dollar bills and said, 'Here, you pay the regular caddie, but Carl is going to caddie for me.' "

In the early 1980s, Jackson even played at Augusta National as Stephens' guest because Stephens didn't have a game lined up.

On that day, Jackson remembers Stephens telling him to "'call the golf shop and tell (co-head pros) Bob (Kletcke) and Dave (Spencer) that we want to play them today.' He said, 'Yeah, you and me.' I said OK.' "

Jackson didn't call the pro shop. He walked down the hill to tell the pros of Stephens' request. Spencer said he didn't want to play.

"But Bob said, 'I'll play,' and he took one of his assistant pros with him."

Meeting Crenshaw

Jack Stephens helped in the formation of the Crenshaw-Jackson team at Augusta National. So did John Griffith Jr., an Augusta National member and Texan, as is Crenshaw.

In 1976, Crenshaw was 24 and about to play in his fifth Masters. Already a star on the PGA Tour with three victories (including two already that year), Crenshaw's record in the Masters was solid. He finished between 19th and 30th place in his first four starts.

Stephens and Griffith thought Crenshaw would have a better chance to win the Masters with Jackson, who is an expert at reading the breaks on Augusta National's tricky greens.

"I do remember Mr. Griffith had been out with Carl a few times," Crenshaw said. "He told me No. 1, that he really liked Carl, and No. 2, that Carl was very knowledgeable about the course. He told me that having Carl as my caddie would do me a world of good."

So Crenshaw, who had never met Jackson until he arrived for the 1976 Masters, hired him. They hit it off immediately, and Crenshaw finished second that year.

"We played well; I was listening to him as hard as I could," said Crenshaw, who shot 70-70-72-67--279 to Raymond Floyd's 271.

Jackson helped "Gentle Ben" win the 1984 and 1995 Masters. In 1995, swing tips from Jackson the week of the tournament helped Crenshaw suddenly find his game, which had been in disrepair. He went on to win the green jacket for his friend Harvey Penick, the famed golf instructor who had died earlier in the week.

Penick wasn't Crenshaw's instructor, but he would look at Crenshaw's swing when it was out of sync and offer suggestions.

"How would I have done (without those tips from Jackson)?" Crenshaw asked. "I don't think very well. It was like Harvey crawled up in Carl's body; it was just the kind of things he would have said."

Crenshaw has recorded 11 top-10 finishes with Jackson as his caddie. In addition to the two victories, he finished second twice (1976 and 1983). Crenshaw was fourth in 1987 and 1988, tied for third in 1989, tied for 14th in 1990 and tied for third in 1991.

Crenshaw created a stir through two rounds of the 2006 Masters. At age 54, he opened with rounds of 71-72 and was just five shots off the lead.

The rains came in the final two rounds, however, making the course play even longer than the 520 yards that were added since his last win. Crenshaw shot 78-79 on the weekend and finished 47th.

"We have been through so much together there," Crenshaw said. "Carl knows me very well. He knows that golf course as well as anyone. It's sort of different the way we approach it. I don't rely on yardage on the golf course that heavily. We know how certain shots play. We're very much a team there."

"Ben has a saying that of all the years I've caddied for him, I've misread one putt," Jackson said.

Jackson remembers when and where it happened. It was in the early 1980s on the par-5 15th hole.

"It was a silly mistake," Jackson said. "It was an eagle putt, and I probably went brain dead by the time we decided where he was going to putt the ball. I knew better. My mind just went somewhere else."

The magic Crenshaw and Jackson created in the Masters never carried over outside Augusta National, at least not for long.

They won their first PGA Tour event together, at the 1990 Colonial, but had only two top-15 finishes the rest of the year.

In 1991, Crenshaw and Jackson missed 10 cuts out of 21 starts and had only four top-10 finishes, including a tie for third in the Masters.

They ended their partnership on the PGA Tour after that season.

"It was a mutual agreement," Jackson said.

"I don't know why, but I don't think we work that well as a team in other places," Crenshaw said. "We got to feeling pressure. I was trying too hard for him, and he was trying so hard for me. It just didn't work on a full-time basis."

"I had a lot of pressure on me back home," Jackson said. "My wife was a registered nurse and I had four kids at home. It was too much."

Beating cancer

When colon cancer struck Jackson in March 2000, forcing him to miss the Masters the next month, he thought he'd never caddie again. Tumors had been discovered in the walls of his colon.

Jackson's doctor told him of a new procedure developed in South Africa that might save him. The cost of the operation was prohibitive, though.

"I said, 'I don't want to be the one that leaves my family in a lot of debt. If I'm that sick, let me go.' " Jackson recalled. "I had sort of given up. I thought I was a goner."

That all changed when Jackson's wife at the time called Crenshaw and his wife, Julie, and told them about Carl's condition.

Crenshaw was soon on the phone with Jackson at the doctor's office.

"I said, 'Carl, I don't know what we've got to do to make you well, but you tell them I said do it. Whatever it takes, they can call me.' " Crenshaw said. "I wanted to offer him some sort of solace so he could ease his mind."

Jackson broke down in tears after he hung up the phone.

"It was probably the first time I cried since I was a baby," he said. "It was showing, 'Hey, somebody cares.' "

At the same time, Warren Stephens was trying to reach Jackson. When he did, he told him the same thing Crenshaw did: Do whatever it takes and don't worry about the cost.

"Carl wasn't going to be in a position to probably get the best treatment he needed," Warren Stephens said. "He was gravely ill. It could go either way. It went his way, thankfully."

"Those two guys came to my rescue," Jackson said. "Between them, they allowed me to deal with my problem. I wouldn't be here without them."

Jackson's reconstructive surgery took place less than a month before the 2000 Masters.

"He kept telling me he was going to be OK; so many of us were worried," Crenshaw said. "He said, 'Buddy, I'll be fine, just go out and play.' "

Crenshaw used veteran pro caddie Len Stricker in Jackson's place and missed the cut by six shots.

"I had played so long with Carl, he had become part of me," Crenshaw said. "It was a very empty feeling for me, and the club. A lot of people missed him."

After a year's worth of worry, chemotherapy and recovery, the Crenshaw-Jackson team was thrilled to be reunited at the 2001 Masters, even if the results didn't show it (81-78).

"It was a special year and a hard year because of rain delays," Jackson said. "I think I had to go 31 holes one day. That's a lot of holes when you come back and you don't have your full strength. But I made it fine."

A name people know

Beating cancer has allowed Jackson to watch five of his six children (two are stepchildren) graduate from college. The sixth, daughter Carlilsa, is a sophomore at Loyola University in New Orleans.

"It could only happen in America," said Jackson, who said scholarships helped him with his children's education, as did some friends. "The blessing is that I'm still here. I live my life every day to see that my kids get that education that I was denied."

"He's proud of that, and he should be," Warren Stephens said. "You think about it: Carl had some other business interests, but he was a caddie. You think about Carl's odds. Quitting school at 13, the odds that Carl is going to be successful in his life probably weren't very high. He's so soft-spoken I don't think some people realize how determined he can be.

"He was determined to make something out of his life and his family's life, and he did."

Jackson is a celebrity of sorts at the Alotian Club, the exclusive Tom Fazio-designed course near Little Rock, Ark.

In the late 1990s, when Warren Stephens came up with the idea of the club, he knew Jackson would be the caddiemaster. He hired Jackson in 2003, a year before the course opened.

"I get requests through the season for people to meet him a couple of times a week," said Snider, the Alotian COO. "People will say, 'I hear Carl Jackson is your caddie manager.' I say, 'Would you like to meet him?' They say, 'Yeah, I would.' It's pretty neat."

On a cool and breezy late November day, Jackson was caddying for Stephens at the Alotian Club in a foursome that included U.S. Golf Association president Jim Hyler.

"Those guys were honored to be in the group with Carl," Stephens said. "They're golfers and they know the story and love the game and respect the game."

Soaking it in

Whenever Jackson's 50th Masters ends. he will remain in his caddie uniform for a while.

"I'm going to wear it exactly the way Cliff Roberts intended for all caddies in the Masters," Jackson said of the white jumpsuit. "White T-shirt or golf shirt, white socks and shoes."

With everything in order, Jackson will head to the "big oak" by the clubhouse to celebrate his accomplishment -- and to reminisce.

"I'd like to sit under that oak tree and have a mint julep to the memory of the boys," Jackson said of the late, great Augusta National caddies.

Reach David Westin at (706) 823-3224