Today’s story features Leonardo Verde, my Venezuelan friend. For those who don’t know Leo, he is a legend for many reasons in the New Orleans and Baton Rouge area. We went to De La Salle High School in the early 1980s where his soccer team won a state championship. After college, Leo started working in the restaurant industry where he quickly became one of the best operators in New Orleans. A town known for great restaurants.
Leo and I’s relationship was rekindled in the early 90s when he became the front door manager for Emeril’s flagship restaurant in the Warehouse District. I was living about 2 blocks away and would visit Emeril’s on the weekends when I missed the cut on the PGA TOUR. Unfortunately, this happened often (like every other week). The 90’s were an amazing time to be hanging out in the Warehouse District, it was on fire socially. It’s almost worthy of a book of its own, but that is for another post.
Like, I could tell you about the night I met Britney Spears through Leo, but I won’t.
So, here is the story. In the late 90s, my game was suffering and I was bouncing around between PGA Tour and Nike/Buy.com Tour. Fast forward to 2001, Buy.com Ozark Open. I missed a few cuts in the row, and Leo says, “I want to come caddy for you and really experience what it’s like to be inside the ropes.” In a very Spanish accent, “I dink I can help you.” I say, “REALLY, how is that?” He said just like Seve would say, “Because I am da champion.” I say, “It’s on.”
We fly to Springfield, Missouri for a Buy.com event. It’s the middle of summer, hot as hell, and it starts raining the moment we get off the plane. It rained every day, but we did manage to get our 1st round in on Thursday. Here we are, 8am in the morning, paired with Chad Campbell (future Ryder Cupper) and Heath Slocum (future multiple tour winner). Leo does not play golf, but maybe one day a year. And these pros are about to find out why. 1st hole is a par-5, we all have birdie putts inside 10 feet, and I am first to go, so Leo is holding the pin off to the side of the green by the other caddies. Now, we worked all week on the process of caddying. Where to stand, what to say, and how to act. Apparently, my Spanglish did not translate. I make the putt from 10 feet, and Leo screams out “YEAH, THAT’S MY BOY” as if he was a fan in the gallery. To my disbelief, he walks right past Chad Campbell, who has already put his ball down on the green, right into Heath Slocum’s line, and sticks the flag into the hole. The pros didn’t flinch, but the caddies went nuts. You talk about getting put in the icebox on the 1st hole. It happened. I tried to apologize on the next tee, but no one wanted to talk to us. Leo couldn’t figure out what he did wrong. I was like Dude, you did EVERYTHING wrong. LOL
The rain came again, and our second round was postponed until Saturday. On Friday night, we decide to go to Outback Steakhouse for the 4th NIGHT IN A ROW. Leo decides to order a Caesar salad with anchovies. I yell out to our bartender, who was taking our order, “ANCHOVIES, no way.” They both look at me like, “what are you talking about.” I say, “It’s going to rain tomorrow, and we’ll be under an umbrella for five hours. I don’t want to smell dead fish.” They both start laughing out loud. Then Leo precedes to say, “Double it up on the anchovies.” I then said, “Okay CHAMPION, give me the chicken and DOUBLE up the barbeque beans.” We couldn’t stop laughing. We leave Outback to head to the movie theater to see Leo’s choice, Serendipity. We walk in late, and it’s all married couples, including 8 tour players with their wives. I immediately move three seats away from Leo, and ask “What is the movie about?” He says while moving next to me and putting his arm around me, “It’s a romance.” I lose it and move two rows over. All the players were laughing.
Back to the golf, we tee off on the back nine first. The 18th hole is downhill dogleg left par 5, that has an island green. The cut line was around even par, and I was 2 over. I bomb my drive (like Phil Jonas would), both pros lay-up, and I’m debating what club to hit to the green. We are 2 hours into the anchovy aroma. Heads up Leo, its payback time.
I’m feeling a little nervous cause it’s time to make my move if I want to be around for Sunday. The Golf Channel was now filming our group. As the camera man and sound man move in, Leo starts to freak. He’s frozen still underneath the umbrella, and says, “What do I do?” I reply, “Just stand still.” A 4 iron puts me onto the back of the green, hard 2 putt. But a 5 iron could get me close to the hole. If I mishit the 5 iron into the water, we are down the road. As serendipitous as it was, my stomach started to shake loose as I grab the 5 iron. I set up over my shot, the rain hits my glove, and I head back under the umbrella again to dry it off. Leo is still freaking about the camera man. Then I ask him, very slowly, “Leo, do you know what pros and caddies talk about during moments like this?” He was scared to answer, but he whispered, “No.” I proceeded to drop the biggest barbeque bean fart bomb of all time on national television. I stood there and milked it for about 30 seconds. I get back over the shot with a relaxed muscles and a smile on my face, hit my 5 iron 10 inches from the hole. The camera crew, Leo, and I were dying laughing. It was the shot of the day on the Golf Channel. We played good on the back nine (course front nine), made the cut, and took home a whopping $2K. Final round was canceled because of rain. Love me some Leo Verde.