Vinny lends a crucial helping hand at the spiritual home of Irish golf

Six hours caddying for his pall ensures a pleasant and profitable day at the famed Portmarnock course

A spectator emerging from the gorse during an  Irish Amateur Open Championship  at Portmarnock Golf Club. Photo: Alan Betson

A spectator emerging from the gorse during an Irish Amateur Open Championship at Portmarnock Golf Club. Photo: Alan Betson

Wed, Jun 18, 2014, 12:00

As he entered the cool, dark, enclave of Foley’s before tea-time on Monday, Vinny Fitzpatrick had a distinctive pep in his step; almost akin to a swagger.

His face was more flushed than usual, which suggested he had been out in the sun; he was wearing over-sized canvass shorts, and had the stub of a wooden tee peg tucked to one side of his mouth like a toothpick.

If he resembled a caddy who had just wandered in on off the links it was because that’s exactly what he was, having just spent close to six hours looping for Charlie Vernon at the fabled Portmarnock course.

The midsummer outing of the Clontarf Knights Templar was strictly for the nobility of Dublin 3, which excluded Vinny, son of a Corpo worker. But there was nothing to stop him from attending, once invited, which he had been.

He had been as happy as a sand-boy to assist Charlie as he knew it was as close as he would ever get to hitting a ball on the famed links in north county Dublin – the Soiled And Ancient hackers from Foley’s would never be allowed near the place.

The track was in pristine summer-brown nick but was playing tricky, thanks to a gentle offshore easterly wind which gave the greens the piquancy of Pinehurst.

Vinny did his best to uphold the tradition of bagmen as he turned up, shut up and kept up.

He steadfastly declined to suggest a club, or advise lines off the tee or on the green for Charlie, a gnarly 25-handicapper, whose family owned half of Clontarf.

Instead, he was content to marvel at the fairness of the grand old links of Irish golf, where no more than three successive holes ran in the same direction, and where there were only three par threes, all gems.

On this day, he could banish fears of his wicked slice, snap hook and twitchy short putts, for he was no more than a spectator, and a giddy one at that.

Noisy pheasants

He spied a heron swooping graciously over one hole and interrupted a couple of noisy pheasants on another as he nosed about for one of Charlie’s errant tee shots.

To be present on the Monday of Irish Open week, under blue skies, was heaven for Vinny and reminded him of the time through the ’70s and ’80s, when sports fans, young and old, swarmed to the ’Marnock for a glimpse of the golfing gods.

Every summer, it was always Himself (Christy O’Connor) versus ‘De Yank’ from Lee Trevino one year to Billy Casper and the towering Tom Weiskopf the next.

Two of them, Ben Crenshaw and Hubert Green, each won the Irish Open as sponsors Carrolls pushed out envelopes containing more than free cigarettes.

Vinny’s favourite place of worship had been on the bank at the rear of the 12th, a devilishly tricky short hole, played to a crowned green, ringed by deep bunkers.

Here, par was a precious commodity and Vinny had his antenna at full twitch when Charlie’s four-ball, hackers all, arrived on the tee with the match level.

Charlie went first, courtesy of a six at the 11th where he had two shots, and he sent a seven-iron skywards before watching it drop daintily on the lawn.

Instantly, Charlie turned to his playing partners with a clenched fist and a half-stifled yell of satisfaction, without realising his ball hadn’t come to rest.

As Vinny coughed politely and pointed to the green, Charlie watched in horror as his ball, slowly at first, and then with gathering pace, ran back down the face of the Eiger before coming to rest fully 40 yards from the pin.

Charlie’s woe wasn’t over as he fluffed three chips and didn’t even get to putt. In anger, he swished his errant Top Flite into the whins, while muttering darkly under his breath.

As he dutifully placed the flag back in the cup, Vinny couldn’t but snigger to himself for he knew Portmarnock would have chewed him up too.

Instead, he got to see the trials of others, safe in the knowledge that he wasn’t going to lose his temper, and several balls. As a plus, he was being paid for his services.

Vinny kept a keen eye on the fourball and was aware that Charlie and his partner, were all square coming up the last, a demanding par-four played to a raised green.

After tee shots were sprayed left and right, and balls hacked hither and thither, Charlie was presented with a golden opportunity to win the hole after his brassie approach finished just short of the apron in two.

With the pin to rear of a virgin green, Charlie turned to Vinny and called for his pitching wedge. He then proceeded to take two practise swings, both of which churned up divots.

Fluffed chip

For the first time all day, Vinny broke his vow of silence. “I think the putter is yer only man here, Charlie,” he suggested. Charlie broke away from his pre-shot waggle and stared at Vinny.

“Convince me, you’ve got five seconds,” he growled.

Vinny rushed in. “The best either of your opponents can do is a six. Three putts from here and the match is yours. A fluffed chip and you open the door. Play the percentages Charlie, not the ego shot.”

Charlie Vernon paused. He looked towards the pin, back at his ball, and then at Vinny again. “You’d better be right,” he said quietly, handing back his wedge in exchange for his blade.

A few moments later, the deed was done, hands were shaken and caps doffed. “But for “Fluff” Vinny here, I risked making a right cobblers of my chip and blowing the match,” laughed Charlie, as he clasped an arm around the shoulders of his caddy.

“Vinny, you go on ahead to Foley’s. I’ll catch up with you at half-time in the Germany-Portugal game. Open up a tab. The drinks are on me.”

For such invites, Vinny Fitzpatrick needed little persuasion, especially when he had already pocketed a €20 win bonus on top of his €20 caddy fee. Grinning as he entered Foley’s, he caught Dial-A-Smile’s eye. “Make mine a pint,” he said aloud. Needless to say, it was the first of many.

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