The year is 1995 and I’m playing in the Bob Hope Classic in Palm Springs, CA. Eric Egloff is on the bag. It’s a Tuesday afternoon late practice round at Indian Wells Country Club. There was quite a bit of excitement in the air that week because two former Presidents and current President Clinton were going to play together in the first round at Indian Wells with Bob Hope and the previous years’ champion Scott Hoch. When there wasn’t a big crowd around during practice rounds, I would let Eric gamble against me on the par three holes. Either closest to the hole or sometimes he would play the entire hole for $20 bucks. I would give him a few mulligans since he had been carrying the bag all day. Out of nowhere, three Secret Servicemen from President Clinton’s detail are on the gallery rope line. They are watching us very closely as they assessed the entire golf course security purposes. One of the agents calls me over and asks “do the caddies get to play during practice rounds?” I respond “no, not really. We are just gambling a little bit.” I invite them to hit a shot and after a few moments of contemplation they decline. The Secret Service agent that I spoke to was Tom Poitras. He was the Counter Assault Leader for the White House Secret Service team. After meeting Tom that day, he eventually became a close friend and caddied for me several times on the PGA TOUR. I hope to cover him in some future stories. The Bob Hope Classic is a five round tournament so we tee off first thing Wednesday morning. I’m in the celebrity rotation and my partner is the famous Chicago Bears football Coach Mike Ditka (Da Coach). We must have heard that catch phrase Da Coach at least 100 times during the round. Coach was quite the character. He has an amazing presence, almost like he is a commander or general in the military. Eric and I were excited; we hadn’t been in many of the celebrity rotations so this was a nice change of pace from the normal amateur pairing. The day proved to be epic. We get it going early and we are cruising around the front nine at -4. My putter was hot and we were on top of the the leaderboard. I make another birdie on the back nine. I’m now -5 playing the par five 15th hole. There is a big crowd on property because of the three presidents playing together and they are teeing off on the 10th hole as we are hitting our approach shots to the 15th green. The landing area for the 10th hole tee shots was adjacent to the 15th green. I’m on the green in two with about a 20 footer for eagle, Ditka has a 15 footer for birdie on the same line. Our other two amateurs were about to putt first when all of sudden we hear a loud scream. Someone had yelled “FOUR” and then we heard someone yell “Oh No!” Eric and I look over and see that an older woman had been hit right on the bridge of her nose with a golf ball. Her face was bleeding and her glasses were broken. It was a blood bath. It was maybe about 15 yards from where we were standing. Our amateurs hit their putts and then up walks former President George H. Bush. I start to giggle and Ditka says “no way he hit her.” Eric responds “oh yeah he did.” There is a lot of noise and it’s now my turn to putt. I look at Eric and say “this will be the first and last time you’ll ever get to tell the President of the United States to be quiet.” Eric and Ditka both start laughing. I tell Eric to say it out loud and I will start my pre shot routine. Eric with pin flag and hand in the air, looks at President Bush and says “Quiet please!” It was a mild whisper, it wasn’t very loud. Ditka immediately chimes in “you’re going to have to do better job than that, it wasn’t loud enough.” Some of the Secret Service agents that are guarding President Bush and some in the gallery heard Eric so they are now looking in his direction. But the President still had his head down and was talking to his caddy. Ditka and I wanted the President to watch this eagle putt so I tell Eric “say it again, louder.” Ditka is giggling. Eric yells right at the President “Quite Please!” And President George H. Bush froze like someone just started playing the National Anthem. It was awesome. Ditka with his cigar hanging out of his mouth can’t stop laughing. Eric is one proud caddy. I missed my eagle putt but managed to make birdie. Quick side bar, President Bush hit another spectator on the back of the leg on the 14th hole. And he wasn’t the only one, all the Presidents took a turn whacking the gallery that day. It was Presidential Whack A Mole at the Bob Hope Classic. On the very next hole some of the President’s gallery filtered over to watch Ditka. As we leave the 16th green, a woman starts to chase after coach in his golf cart. Eric and I are watching as he pulls away from the green and heads towards the 17th tee box. The lady is jogging beside the cart when she hits the gallery rope line and the cart path curb at the same time, she falls toward the golf cart, hits Ditka in the shoulder as he runs over her foot causing her to fall on the cart path. There was a big crowd around him and he never saw her go down. Ditka never looked back. Eric and I were in shock. I was like what the hell coach, you could have at least stopped. But it was a big crowd and he just wanted to get out of there. We go to help her up and she looks at us for a brief moment and says with a Chicago tinged accent “I need to get Da Coach’s autograph!” and then she runs off towards Ditka again. She got her autograph and a hug. Back to the round, I birdied 18 to shoot 65 and was the leader in the clubhouse. The next time I would see Ditka was when he was the coach for the New Orleans Saints. I actually did get to meet all the Presidents that played that day, but that’s a story for tomorrow.
Note, I played with Ditka a few times in New Orleans and we were having dinner at his steakhouse when it was suggested by Greg Bensel who is a Senior Executive with the Saints organization that maybe Kelly should be carrying a Ditka’s Steakhouse staff golf bag while he’s on TOUR. Greg said “Coach it would be great advertisement for the restaurant.” Coach replied, “that’s an interesting idea, how much would that cost?” I said “$150,000.” He quickly replied “that’s not too bad but the only problem is I don’t see your name enough on Sunday afternoons.” Story of my life.